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Managing Workplace PessimismAccording to Topchik (2001), pessimism is the tendency to see only the negative or worstaspects of all things and to expect only bad or unpleasant things to happen. Workplacepessimism is prevalent in corporate organizations and growing rapidly. Pessimism is a decidingfactor for success or failure and can be an uphill battle for managers and organizations.Individuals who display negative emotions experience negative stress at a greater level thanothers do and they tend to find dissatisfaction in their job and life in general. Some individualsare born with pessimism while others become pessimistic because of their environment.Psychologists argue that an individual’s personality is a combination of genetic make-up and lifeexperiences. Individuals who constantly convey pessimistic thoughts and actions are more likelyto engage in destructive actions. Looking at the Bureau of Labor Statistics, companies in theUnited States stand to lose three billion dollars annually because of pessimism. Generally, whereyou find exhibits of pessimistic behavior by employees, you will find resistance to change andfresh ideas.He further states that pessimistic employees complain tremendously, unmotivated, createa nonproductive environment and always expecting the worst in a situation. Companies losemoney because of increased customer complaints and error rates, elevated employee turnover,absences, reduced morale, loyalty and creativity. Much of the problem comes from, but is notlimited to, workers who have lost confidence in their ability to perform assigned taskseffectively. Moreover, they feel they do not have any say or control over the decisions maderegarding their work. Therefore, they have lost familiarity with their co-workers throughdownsizings, reorganizations or remote-work alternatives. If managers do not address or dealwith pessimism, it can take over. This review will attempt to outline what causes pessimism and
3the impact faced by managers, employees and the overall workplace environment. Moreover, itwill reveal important factors managers feel are important in dealing with insidious individualsand team pessimism. During this review, topics of discussion will be causes of workplacepessimism and the types of pessimist. In addition, tips that management, as well as, employeescan use in their organization to reduce and prevent pessimism in the workplace will be identified.II. Causes of Workplace Pessimism: Internal/External Contextual IssuesAs noted in the Aviary Group Newsletter (2011), when we think about what causessomeone to be pessimistic we look back upon stereotypical views regarding environment versusheredity. Moreover, we reflect what we learned in school from a scientific viewpoint that it is amixture of both heredity and environment. Scientist bases their claim on people’s actions,behaviors, personality and moods. Pessimism is a pattern of negative thinking that spreads like adisease, creating morale problems that affect the success of an organization. Like all diseases,there are symptoms and for pessimism, they are loss of employee motivation, loyalty, creativity,and innovation. These symptoms progress and produce negative outcomes such as, increasederrors, decreased quality, increased interpersonal conflicts, increased tardiness or absence, andincreased turnover. In his book, Managing Workplace Negativity (2001), Gary Topchikdescribes the primary roots of negativity that lead to problems in an organization:Lack or loss of competence when employees are unable to meet the needs of their workenvironment, possibly due to insufficient orientation or training, or a loss of self-confidence when they think they cannot perform as well as others.Lack or loss of a sense of community when workers are required to float rather thanhaving regular assignments where familiarity and a comfort level develop.
4Lack or loss of control that comes from a feeling of powerlessness from not being part ofthe decision-making process that affects ones work.Lack of stability or loss of familiar guidelines through constant change at work thatmakes staff question our competence as leaders (Tomchik, 2001, pg. 9, 10).There is another important contributor to workplace pessimism, poor communication.Unclear, inconsistent, and lack of open communication, in addition to poor conflict managementskills and systems contribute to unhealthy working relationships and negative workenvironments. When employees are unable to change something in their workplace they feel thatthey are stuck, they feel as though they are powerless. This is largely in part becauseorganizations and managers failing to empower their employees which in turn causes them tocommunicate inappropriately or pessimistically. Pessimistic communication can be verbal ornonverbal expressions. In order to understand how verbal communications play a role inpessimism in the workplace, we must first understand that it is nothing more than verbal ornonverbal abuse. Verbal abuse is an ongoing emotional environment organized by the abuser forthe purposes of control. The abuser having low regard for him or her is the underlying factor ofverbal abuse. The abuser attempts to place their victim in a position to believe similar thingsabout him or herself, a form of warped projection. Examples of pessimistic verbalcommunication is expressing one’s frustrations or point of view by shouting, cursing,humiliation, ridicule, criticism, harassment, manipulation and blaming.On the other side of pessimistic verbal communication is pessimistic nonverbalcommunication. Nonverbal abuse generally has nothing to do with what was said, however, thereis no mistake about it, nonverbal abuse is intended to send aggressive messages such as ―I don’t
5like you‖, or, ―I am fed up‖, or even ―In my eyes you are worthless‖. In addition, pessimisticnonverbal communication includes body posture, facial expressions, gestures, and interpersonaldistance. It is behaviors such as, standing in your personal space, staring at you (long eyecontact), table pounding, and throwing things, leaning over you, fearsome facial expressions,loud sighing, flipping the finger, pointing or other offensive gestures. Pessimistic nonverbalcommunication is abusive because they have manipulating effects and reflects an unconsciousattempt to get one’s way without considering the needs of others. In addition, to communicationsor lack thereof contributing to workplace pessimism, there are internal and external influencesthat create a hostile environment. Generally, not all issues are associated with the workplace;however, there are good reasons to believe that most do occur from work. Some internal causesof workplace pessimism are the constant criticizing of others. Speaking badly about otherscauses others to speak badly in return and this is probably one of the quickest ways to stir uppeople’s emotions. When one-person talks behind the back of another, what said become publicand generally amplified in intensity. Everyone in the work place may become frustrated andgang up on the person criticized while backbiting becomes prevalent throughout the workplaceand causing cliques to form. Another internal cause is lack of job security. Workers who feel thattheir job is at risk will experience anxiety and feel that they have nothing to lose. Pessimism inthe workplace is easily subjective and fueled by these types of workers.According to Julie Jansen (2006), ―I’d really like my job if only I didn’t have to work with otherpeople!‖ This simple statement may sound laughable at first, but it actually reflects a seriousproblem in the workplace that has reached epidemic proportions. One of the biggest causes ofpessimism in the work environment is the inability of colleagues, at all levels, to get along withone another. Knowledge, experience, education, and skills certainly contribute to any
6individual’s success at work; the quality of an employee’s relationships with bosses, coworkers,and clients that will ultimately determine their happiness and productivity in the workplace. Inother words, if you have difficulty relating to or coexisting with other people at the workplace,your chances of having a satisfying and successful work life will be severely limited. The firsttime that most people really realize this is when they run into a thorny problem, conflict, ormisunderstanding with someone at work. The incident soon becomes a situation, and thesituation takes on a life of its own. It either keeps recurring or remains unresolved until a majorupheaval or unwanted change becomes inevitable.III. Social Identity: Intergroup Conflict That Influence ConflictKarina Korostelina (2007), notes that Social identity is now considered one of the mostpopular and controversial concepts in social science. Probably no other social phenomenon hasreceived such intensive and rapt scrutiny from philosophers, psychologists, sociologists, politicalscientists, and anthropologists. Social identity has become a prism through which the mostimportant aspects of social life are explored and assessed. At the same time, it is one of the mostdiffuse and loose concepts in social research. The interrelation between social and individualidentity is one of the most complex and contradictory conundrums in social science. Mostidentity theories clearly state that identity has two main components: individual or ―self‖ identity(which includes role identity) and collective or ―we‖ identity (which includes group identitiesand social categories). Social identity is usually described in terms of group similarities andreflects shared interests, values, and beliefs, while individual identity is defined as a set ofindividual features and provides a basis for differentiating an individual from other people. Thesefeatures have a certain constancy or at least continuity in time and space. The notion of
7individual identity reflects the idea that each individual is unique. The term still does not have acommon definition, but all theories concur that individuals are aware of their being distinct. Thisunderstanding can be developed only through interaction, through which individuals assessthemselves as identical to or different from others. In other words, individual identity includesself-sameness, continuity in time and space, as well as differentiation from other people. Itsstability depends on the social context and can change over time.Personal stereotypes are made apparent in most of an individual’s actions: they reflect aperson’s social position. Stereotypes lead to explanations of events in ways that furtherstrengthen the positive views about the in-group and negative views about the out-group(Crocker and Luhtanen 1990). Pettigrew (1979) defined predispositions as involving a tendencyto make internal attributions for successes of the in-group and external attributions for in-group’sfailure and to make internal attributions for out-group’s failure and external attributions for out-group’s success the fundamental attribution error. Hewstone (1989) reviewed many studiesdocumenting the fundamental attribution error and found that this error leads to increasedconflict between groups,; the greater the perceived difference in the typical characteristics of thein-group and the out-group, the greater the predisposition to hostility (Oakes 1987; Turner et al.1994).IV. TYPES OF PESSIMIST: Why is it so hard to work with other people?According to Gary Topchik (2001), there are 14 different types of negative people:The Locomotives – express their negativity by steam rolling over people. They are veryangry and hostile and take out their frustrations on others.
8The Ice People/Resisters – any change no matter how small, can upset the ice peopleand cause an outbreak of negativity. They love the status quo; try to change it and theirresistance will flare up.The Perfectionist – this person’s standard of performance are not realistic, and evenexcellent work that is praised by others is unacceptable.The Not-My-Jobbers – these individuals express their negativity by refusing to do anytask no matter how simple, if they decide it is not part of their job responsibility.The Rumormongers – these individuals take out their negativity toward work byspreading rumors.The Pessimists – pessimists experience the world as an unpleasant place. They expectthe world to fall down on them, and if it does not, they do everything possible to helpbring it down.The Uncommitted – These are the people who do not take their jobs seriously, makingtheir teammates work more difficult. Work is a very low priority for them.The Criticizers – Their mission is to disagree with anything that is said. They like to beright no matter what.The Crybabies – Crybabies behave like children who don’t get their way. They frown,withdraw, go off on a tirade, and literally cry.The Sacrificers – Sacrificers are the bleeding hearts of the office. They come in earlyand stay late. They will do anything you ask them to but they will, in a self-depreciatingway, complain about their workload, difficult employees, and customer or bosses.
9The Self-Castigators – These people get upset with themselves and then becomenegative. They find fault with their work performance, appearance, career progress,socioeconomic status, educational background, and so on.The Scapegoaters – Because they cannot accept the responsibility or take the blame fortheir own mistakes, scapegoaters shift the onus to others especially when they are in theirnegative moods. They seem to feel better seeing others squirm or get into trouble.The Eggshells – The eggshells are very sensitive people, and the slightest thing said tothem if misconstrued, causes them to crack. When they get too many cracks, they becomenegative.The Micros – Micros like to focus on the smallest details. When they do that a lot, orinappropriately, they come across as being too meticulous and too negative.Julie Jansen (2006) outlined many reasons why it is so hard to work with other people: Reason#1: People Are Difficult, difficult people are everywhere, and each one exhibits a different brandof bad behavior. In other words, not anyone who behaves in a way that irritates you or who dosomething that you do not approve of can be labeled a difficult person. When ManchesterConsulting, a national outplacement firm, surveyed 358 U.S. organizations about the mostserious behavioral problems among their senior management, ―poor communication skills‖ wasranked number one. ―Poor interpersonal skills‖ was cited as the major employee-relationsproblem of top-level executives. Regardless of what the specific traits are, there are manydifficult people in the workplace, and there always will be.Reason #2: Work Is Stressful Constant change, competition, technology, globalization, sterilework environments, unrealistic expectations, and the endless pressure to communicate instantly,without much thought or reflection— all typical of today’s workplace— can create an
10environment so stressful that it can bring out the worst in any person, even one who is typicallypleasant and easygoing.Reason #3: Employers Don’t Facilitate People Problems Many companies talk up theimportance of working as a team, collaborating and creating consensus, yet offer compensationplans and reward systems geared solely toward individual contribution and achievement. Soundfamiliar? This mixed message, prevalent in many companies today, can promote competition andinsecurity, which can lead to self-centered, self-preserving behavior on the part of employees,which always results in strained working relationships. Unfortunately many companies don’tanticipate these issues and don’t do much to handle them once they have occurred. The generalconsensus is that everyone is too busy to deal with people problems, focusing instead on businessresults.Reason #4: People Have Problems Personal issues can prevent anyone from nurturing andsustaining healthy relationships at work. If you are bored, stressed out from over 4thwork orfamily problems or generally frustrated or depressed, you are at high risk for neglecting orabusing your relationships with colleagues or clients. Unhappiness breeds unhappiness. Walkingaround with your head in a dark cloud can lead to friction or misunderstandings between you andthe people with whom you spend at least half your waking hours— your coworkers.Reason #5: People Are Complex Most companies try to hire employees who will fit into theirspecific corporate culture. Even if employers are reasonably successful at making the ―righthires,‖ each individual they bring on board still has personal baggage— expectations, biases,memories, perceptions, family dynamics, values, ways of doing things, and intangible qualities—that he carries with him onto the ship. This unpredictable mix of different personalities,communication styles, and work habits can lead to confusion, miscommunication, and conflict.
11RecommendationsPersistent workplace pessimism affects employee morale more than anything else does. It divertscritical attention from the tasks and robs the energy of the organization. Knowing what peopleare pessimistic about is a first step in solving the problem. Managers should talk with employeesin order to understand the degree to which the problem(s) are affecting the workplace. Whateverthe cause may be, it must be addressed before further problems are created. Although anindividual’s personality cannot be changed, their behavior in the workplace can. If managers areseeking to improve pessimism, they must avoid certain pitfalls. Topchik (2001) outlines fiveelements for successful change called VISAR:1. Vision – The better people understand the reasons for a change, the more they will remainpositive about it.2. Incentives – If individuals realize that a change will benefit them or the organization,negativity subsides.3. Skills – People become anxious - and anxious people become negative when they feel theylack the skills needed to perform.4. Action Plan – Individuals like to know the specific steps involved in a change. The more theyknow about how it will be implemented, the more positive they remain.5. Resources – Staff members need time, tools, money, and other resources to implement changein a positive manner.If you are missing one or more of the VISAR elements in a change effort, the consequences willbe negative and to manage effectively the imbalance between trust and enablement, theorganization should get as many people as possible into the peak performer category.
12The best way to keep pessimism out of the workplace is to keep it from occurring in the firstplace. Some steps that will help make this transition possible are as follows:Provide opportunities for people to make decisions about and control and/or influencetheir own job. The single most frequent cause of negativity is traceable to a manager orthe organization making a decision about a person’s work without their input. Almost anydecision that excludes the input of the person doing the work is perceived as negative.Make opportunities available for people to express their opinion about workplace policiesand procedures. Recognize the impact of changes in such areas as work hours, pay,benefits, and assignments of overtime hours, compensation pay, dress codes, officelocation, job requirements, and working conditions. These factors are close to the mind,heart and physical presence of each individual. Changes to these can cause seriousnegative responses. Provide timely, proactive responses to questions and concernsTreat people as adults with fairness and consistency. Develop and publicize workplacepolicies and procedures that organize work effectively. Apply them consistently. Do notcreate rules for all employees, when just a few people are violating the norms. You wantto minimize the number of rules directing the behavior of adult people at work. Treatpeople as adults; they will usually live up to your expectations, and their own.Help people feel like members of the in-crowd; each person wants to have the sameinformation as quickly as everyone else. Provide the context for decisions, andcommunicate effectively and constantly. If several avenues or directions are underconsideration, communicate all that you know, as soon as you know it. Reserve the right
13to change your mind later, without consequences, when additional factors affect thedirection of ultimate decisions.Afford people the opportunity to grow and develop. Training, perceived opportunities forpromotions, lateral moves for development, and cross training are visible signs of anorganization’s commitment to staff.Provide appropriate leadership and a strategic framework, including mission, vision,values, and goals. People want to feel as if they are part of something bigger than theyare. If they understand the direction, and their part in making the desired outcomeshappen, they can effectively contribute more.Provide appropriate rewards and recognition so people feel their contribution is valued.This is such a broad and important topic. Suffice to say, reward and recognition is one ofthe most powerful tools an organization can use to buoy staff morale.More and more companies are increasingly addressing the issue ―pessimism‖ for theiremployees. If one person in the department is negative, there is a possibility that the entireworkplace can become negative. It is always best to address the situation when it starts and notlet it prolong. If management really cares about their employees, they will do whatever they canto keep them happy and productive. When management starts to show that the work is moreimportant than the people are, pessimism will arise. Managers must remember that withoutpeople, there would not be a need for managers. Making sure that every employee feelappreciated is one of the best things a manager can do to prevent pessimism in the workplace.
14Summary/ReflectionsGiven the broadness and importance of this review makes it easy to come to theconclusion that rewarding and recognizing employees is an effective tool that organizations canuse to reduce and prevent pessimism in the workplace. As organizations are widely addressingthe issue of employee pessimism they are coming to terms with the fact if one person is apessimist can cause others in the workplace to tack on this same pessimistic attitude. Managersat all levels of an organization understand that addressing a negative situation at the onset is thebest practice to ward off an extensive conflict. Moreover, they understand that they must show agenuine care and concern for their employees to ensure positive productivity. When employeesfeel that work is more important than they are, this brings about negativity. Managers mustremember that they exist because of the people they manage and without them; the need formanagers is invalid. Making sure that everyone understands his or her role is important to thesuccess of the organization will aid in the prevention of pessimism in the workplace.
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