How negativity affects the workplace

How negativity affects the workplace

Negativity is the enemy of creativity. Cliché as it may sound, when it comes to creativity in the workplace — i.e. the way people think and inventively approach problems — the impact of negativity is tremendously corrosive. To elaborate, negative feelings and behaviors in the workplace may block action, complicate collaboration and discourage contribution; among other things. 

What is negativity in the workplace, what causes it and why does it matter?

Believing there’s no room for emotions at work is naïve; to say the least. Emotions matter and the negative ones can be reasonably damaging. Just think how regressed annoyance — or even anger — may take the form of passive-aggressive behaviors between colleagues and/or managers; and you’ll get the picture of how destructive it may be. 

But what is the root cause of negative emotions and behaviors in the workplace? Well, negativity may stem from people overly set in their ways or people who are not considerate of others. Equally, it may even be the result of managerial or organizational deficiencies. 

Negativity in the workplace can take the form of ill-chosen behaviors, words and actions; exactly the way it works — or even worsen things — in life outside work. And to give a more precise definition, negativity may even be conveyed with facial expressions or body language. That is to say, sometimes it only takes an eye-rolling as an expression of disapproval or a buttoned-up person to initiate a vicious cycle of negativity within a team. All in all, when people communicate negative feelings with conscious or unconscious movements, postures or attitudes they — deliberately, or not — trigger negative emotions in the people around them. To make things worse, negative emotions, feelings and attitudes are overly contagious; and, thus, are likely to spread and affect others like a wildfire.

Examples of negative behaviors in the workplace 

Plenty of behaviors and various scenarios may trigger negative emotions or even cultivate workplace negativity, in the long run. Below, we only briefly mention three representative cases that refer to work-related and water-cooler interactions; and, also, to interactions between members holding different roles. 


One of the most annoying and destructive negative behaviors that flourish within organizations is when people engage in negative talk about other members, currently not present. Simply put, that’s the so-common and, at the same time, not-that-innocent gossiping. Casual and — usually — unconstrained conversation, though it serves as glue between the people engaging in it, may eventually alienate team members.

Unproductive behaviors during meetings

It is also worth examining negative behaviors that take place during work-related discussions. That is to say, when people uncritically interrupt meetings, in order to pose irrelevant questions; especially when discussing an important subject matter. Or when people generally disrupt the meeting flow, simply by asking too many questions.

Abusive supervision, micromanagement and other managerial derailments 

Another behavior that negatively affects workplace balance comes from people that hold managerial roles. To elaborate, when managers use high involvement management techniques or engage in abusive supervision, such as micromanaging, then it is highly likely that workplace relations and produced outcomes will not be optimal.

How does workplace negativity affect emotional culture, relations and business, as a whole?

Negative behaviors and emotions in the workplace affect different aspects of work life. 

You’ll probably take notice of negativity by paying attention to how people in your team or in your company behave, in general.

In a similar fashion, you may also find that several problematic and challenging scenarios you may have been struggling to solve for a long time simply trace back to negativity cultivated up to this point. Some of the most critical effects of negativity in the workplace, among other things, include: 

1. Job dissatisfaction and increased absenteeism

An unhealthy work environment that tolerates negativity may lead to increased absenteeism. When people don’t feel respected and valued chances are that they’ll try to get away from such an environment, as regularly as possible.

2. High employee turnover

Sooner or later, negativity may lead people to make more radical decisions. That is to say, some of them may withdraw, change jobs. Workplace negativity, undoubtedly, increases turnover.

3. Difficulty in attracting talent

As a second consideration, letting people leave disappointed, due to an ill-chosen emotional culture — which has potentially long been established — may harm your company’s reputation, for good. As a result, it may be difficult to attract new talent in the future.

4. Increased customer complaints

In addition, when people in the frontline — responsible for all communication with your clientele — express themselves in negative ways, you’ll probably notice an increase in complaints you receive from customers. Or even increased churn rates.

5. Emotional exhaustion and burnout 

In a similar fashion, negativity affects employees’ mental and physical health. To elaborate, individuals may suffer from increased stress, which then leads to burnout, with several mental and physical symptoms.

6. Slow development

When colleagues are reluctant to help and support other team members, this doesn’t only affect their collaboration on tasks at hand. Knowledge-sharing is also limited; and, thus, development is slow.

7. Low levels of dedication, commitment and attentiveness

In a similar fashion, development is also hindered, as people are less likely to take on extra responsibilities and/or accept new challenges. 

8. Business stagnation

As expected, you may miss out on opportunities with potential partners or fail to make the most out of prospects, which leads to revenue loss. Why? Simply, because team members will be less motivated to go the extra mile.

9. Sagging employee morale

All in all, negativity in the workplace drains away confidence, enthusiasm and discipline;

and leaves your employees worried or unhappy.

Given these points, identifying negative behaviors, such as the ones mentioned above, should be a top priority for both managers and HR people. That is to say, on the positive side, being on your toes to recognize these signs early on and make an effort to soothe things, when possible, helps keep a tight rein on negativity. 

In a similar fashion, managers and HR professionals should be extra careful when it comes to hiring or promoting people. That is to say, they can use tools such as TraitForward to evaluate parameters, such as emotional stability and emotional intelligence. 


There are several reasons that lead people to express themselves in negative ways; or to experience negative emotions in the workplace. Managerial styles and practices, organizational deficiencies and even personality traits trigger said unpleasant emotions and behaviors. 

And when negativity is dominant, it’s not only emotional culture that is adversely affected. A negative work environment will, sooner or later, bring the burden of high employee turnover, business stagnation and sagging employee morale; among other things. HR people and managers should be extra careful, so as to notice and soothe such undesirable phenomena early on; and should also adopt preventive strategies, by hiring people with the preferred personality profiles