The Five Causes of Employee Negativity  



The typical workplace has its ups and downs in terms of employee negativity. Many workplaces are trying to be employee oriented. But, even the most employee oriented workplace can shudder under the weight of negative thinking. When employers understand the causes of employee negativity and put in place measures to prevent employee negativity, negativity fails to gain a foothold in the work environment. 

I've written about how an  employer can prevent negativity  from occurring at work. Ive also written about  what to do about workplace negativity  that already exists. The persistent question I receive from managers is: What really causes employee negativity? 

Causes of Employee Negativity 

A recent study answers the question about what causes employee negativity. The study, conducted by Towers Perrin and researchers Gang & Gang, surveyed a randomly selected group of 1,100 employees and 300 senior Human Resources executives working for mid-sized and large-sized companies in the United States and Canada. Participants were asked to describe their feelings about their current work experience, They were also invited to describe an "ideal" work experience. According to Employee Benefit News, the study used a unique emotion-based research technique called Resonance, which captured participants' spontaneous emotional responses to the total work experience. 

The study determined that the  reasons for most of the employee negativity  included these that I call the big five: 

  • An excessive workload
  • Concerns about managements ability to lead the company forward successfully
  • Anxiety about the future, particular longer-term job, income and retirement security
  • Lack of challenge in their work, with boredom intensifying existing frustration about workload
  • Insufficient recognition for the level of contribution and effort provided, and concerns that pay isnt commensurate with performance. 

The Employers Challenge in Addressing Employee Negativity 

In my own experience, intensifying any of these factors causes employee negativity. Knowing about these causes of employee negativity enables you to take action to prevent or eliminate employee negativity. Here are several examples. 

  • If you lose an employee and divide the work across several remaining employees, you foster employee negativity unless employees have the end in sight a new employee with an expected arrival date.
  • Companies that experience a business downturn will experience negativity. Employees are concerned about both management and their future with the company. Insecure employees are negative and looking for the worst to happen. Following a period of financial woes, management has to work hard to  regain employee trust.
  • An employee who applies for a promotional opportunity and does not get the job can be extremely negative, especially if promotional opportunities are perceived as limited. You must take great care to make sure your promotion system is fair and that employees know exactly what they need to do to get ready for the next opportunity.
  • Employees  love recognition  for their work. They also like to see salary increases for contributing employees. One of the most significant causes of employee negativity occurs when employees believe poor contributors received raises especially when their own raise was below their expectations. 

This is a snapshot of causes of employee negativity. If you can eliminate these five, you have gone a long way in the direction of building a positive, supportive work environment. Youve minimized the potential for employee negativity. 

Susan Heathfield is a Human Resources expert. She is a management and organization development consultant who specializes in human resources issues and in management development to create forward thinking workplaces. Susan is also a professional facilitator, speaker, trainer, and writer. 








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