Originally created 03/28/04

Negative attitude in workplace can spread, cause loss



Small businesses are faced with many dilemmas, ranging from finding and retaining good employees to offering attractive benefits packages.

An issue many small businesses and organizations neglect to address, however, is negative attitudes among employees.

Workforce magazine defines workplace negativity as "an attitude that people have toward their work, bosses, colleagues or customers. It causes conflict and the lowering of morale, productivity, and profitability."

Consultants at the Canada-based Aviary Group estimated that one customer service representative could cost a company $500,000 a year if his negative attitude drove off one $50-a-week customer each day.

Most small businesses would definitely notice such a drop in revenue.

In order to avoid such devastating losses, small-business owners must understand the sources of negative attitudes and stop them early. The Aviary Group defines two primary sources of negative feelings: 1) external, imposed by others; and 2) internal, caused by one's thoughts or feelings.

Internal factors may be completely unrelated to the job. Some people might temporarily exhibit negativity because of stress, while others have an overall negative attitude on life and will find something negative about any situation.

External causes might be job-related, including being passed over for a promotion and constant organizational changes. External forces outside the workplace can include divorce and financial strain.

While the causes can vary, there are some commonalties. First and foremost, negativity is like a virus, it's contagious. One bad employee can negatively affect other employees and customers. Secondly, negativity flows both up and down. Employees with negative attitudes will eventually cause a manager to become negative, and vice versa.

It is important to stop the behavior early. Employees often talk among themselves, leading to rumors that get blown up and make everyone uneasy about work. Many situations can be avoided simply by open communication.

Another way to help prevent negativity in the workplace is to treat everyone equally. Don't be afraid of hurt feelings or the perception of being too hard on employees.

Never ignore negative attitudes for a long period. Negativity should be addressed quickly before it spreads. It is much easier to prevent damage than to repair the damage once it is done.

Rori Chandler-Bailey is a business consultant for the Georgia Small Business Development center at State University of West Georgia. Reach the Augusta office at 737-1790.