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Defeating defeatism is crucial

Published on Friday, 26 Nov 2010
Michael Haid, senior vice-president for Right Management’s global solutions team, says negativity can take the form of withdrawal, silence, passive resistance, personality conflicts, sarcastic remarks and unconstructive criticism.
Photo: Felix Wong

Think of it as a kind of organisational flu or, in its most virulent form, a corporate "cancer" that is not only malignant but also contagious.

When negativity strikes the workplace, it can damage staff morale and the bottom line. Office pessimism is often a self-inflicted condition, usually bred by management's poor handling of change and business shifts.

With rampant companies gobbling each other up, or constantly shifting in size and business focus, Asia is especially susceptible to the negativity virus.

In a global study concluded last year, human resources consultants Right Management - a unit of Manpower - interviewed 29,000 people, including 9,000 from Asia, to determine levels of job satisfaction and commitment to their companies.

"We found that over 50 per cent didn't like what they were doing, or they liked what they were doing but they didn't like who they were doing it for," said Michael Haid, senior vice-president for Right Management's global solutions team.

Based on a survey this year, Haid's group found 67 per cent of senior executives and HR professionals said change at work was frequently having a negative impact on workers' attitudes.

The same survey showed 61 per cent of respondents noticed excessive negativity in the form of criticism, gossip and lack of teamwork in their organisation.

"Negativity is contagious. It's important to stop it as soon as you start to see signs of it in your workplace," the report said. "When employees are bewildered by change and struggling to cope and adapt, negativity grows."

Haid said negativity could also take the form of withdrawal, silence or passive resistance. Other symptoms are personality conflicts, sarcastic remarks and unconstructive criticism.

The report said companies that mismanaged change were four times more likely to lose talent. Hence, managers must learn how to break this cycle of defeatism and decline. To do this, they must keep communicating with their workers.

"Even if the message is not good news, if the workforce sees it as authentically held and believed, they're going to feel better about it," Haid said.

He noted that in Asia, there seemed to be less negativity if the workforce could align themselves with the company's values and culture. Also some families dominate big conglomerates. This creates unique problems, as when controlling clans are torn by conflicts, which can then disrupt the company and drag down staff morale.

Haid acknowledged the difficulty of diffusing such a situation, but said managers should be honest with themselves. "Look inside first, then figure out how you are manifesting those feelings at the workplace. Are you contributing to the negativity? How do we create workforces, leadership, structures and processes that are agile, so we're not being slammed from one change to another? That's the next challenge," he said.


Don't worry, be happy  

  • Understand your reaction to changes and where these may take the firm
  • Check your behaviour - don't tolerate negativity and lead by example
  • Keep employees informed and be available to listen
  • Talk to the complainer and challenge negative thinking and beliefs
  • Recognise positive behaviour, ask open-ended questions, listen and help develop solutions



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