Thanks to the generally depressed IT climate, it’s not surprising that workplace negativity is increasing. And while it may seem harmless at first, negativity should be viewed as a virus that not only hurts team interaction but productivity as well. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. companies lose around $3 billion a year due to the effects of negative attitudes and behaviors. This cost is defined primarily in terms of increased sick leave and lost productivity.

The signs that negativity has taken root within your department are easy to spot: high staff turnover, increased absences, loss of motivation, low morale, attitude problems, little loyalty to the team or the organization, and no desire among team members to socialize.

Recognizing and acknowledging negativity are the first steps IT managers need to take in order to thwart its spread and potential impact.

Identifying the plague
Gary Topchik, author of Managing Workplace Negativity, (AMACOM, Jan. 2000) said, “Negativity is often the result of a loss of confidence, control, or community.” When IT staffers feel powerless—that they have no control over their environment, or that their voice isn’t being heard—they will soon start showing signs of negativism.

Consider this example from an IT manager and TechRepublic member who works for a major electrical manufacturing company. When asked whether negativity is something serious and if it is happening in her organization, the manager replied with a resounding ”Yes.“

“Each department here is run like a mini-kingdom, and if you happen to have a bad boss, you’re stuffed. There’s one manager who uses coercive behavior with his staff to the point of humiliation. This causes them to have low self-esteem and no motivation to try harder because they always get the same result,” she wrote in her e-mail note to TechRepublic.

In the manager’s service department, there are a number of people who have been working at the company for over 10 years, “but all you hear about is how bad their lot is,” she explained, adding that most are only coming to work to get a paycheck.

That prompts a big question: Why would they continue working there and not seek other employment? The answer is that most negative staffers don’t have the motivation to find another job, a situation that is another fallout of negativity. A lack of motivation for the work, advancement, or even moving on is a key identifier that negativity has taken control.

To help avert the company’s negativity levels from impacting her department, this IT manager has established a strong open door policy for staff with one stipulation:
“They know that if they want to complain, I have an open door policy, but they have to come to me with a suggestion to fix the problem along with the complaint.”

Stopping the negative vibes
That kind of personal communication is crucial to thwarting negativity and its potential damage. But what if that kind of personal communication isn’t possible due to bad management?

All too often, the root of the negativity problem lies at the top. The negativity and lack of motivation commonly stems from poor working relationships with immediate supervisors.

So how can you make sure you don’t serve as the ignition point for a negativity issue? The answer is to start by examining your own leadership style for contributing factors and by asking these questions:

  • Do you actively listen?
  • Are you a good communicator?
  • Have you got a feel for what’s going on “behind the scenes?”
  • Do you provide adequate guidance?
  • Do you give constructive feedback?

Lack of feedback is a contentious point with many employees and is often at the crux of real or perceived issues that team members have with managers. In many cases, this can be because a manager is new to management and is reticent about dealing with confrontational situations. This, in turn, creates an air of unresolved conflict and tension.

Robert Crosbie, managing directorof Echo Project Management, a Sydney-based sales and marketing firm, believes negativism is derived from three sources: authority figures, peers, and self.

In Crosbie’s experience, negativity reinforces the glass-half-empty syndrome and has a direct impact on a person’s self-perceived capabilities versus his or her actual capabilities. Those in leadership roles need the skills to help employees reduce these self-perceived limited capabilities and reach their full potential, he advised. People who do this then shine as managers—in turn enhancing their own worth and career, as leaders.