Effectively addressing negative employee interaction requires singling out what truly engages the minds, actions and hearts of individuals. Leaders must identify the factors producing the need in some employees to act negatively and callously toward others. In almost all cases, negative interaction among employees is the result of functioning in a less than meaningful workplace. To stifle interactive negativity, leaders must identify both the factors defining and methods creating a meaningful, reciprocal work environment.
It is important for leaders to understand every employee has a personal set of factors defining a meaningful workplace. When leaders fail to apply practical strategies for making the workplace more reciprocal, with people respectfully and productively working toward a common goal, they can expect continuous negative interaction among employees. This creates havoc that slows productivity and advancement for both the individual work unit and the organization.
How employees define a meaningful work environment determines how they function within their current environment. Some factors are more important than others. For one employee, the top factors may be a desire for a deep sense of purpose, the freedom to be innovative, and the opportunity to build strong relationships in the work setting. Other factors might include ownership in ideas and solutions, an atmosphere that encourages overcoming challenges or a feeling of success within the work unit.
The leadership challenge for reducing and eliminating employee interactive negativity is to reflect on what it is that makes a work environment truly rewarding and fulfilling. Leaders need to create a workplace that keeps its employees busy and productive, but one that also keeps their minds and hearts actively engaged. The only way personal negativity and accompanying actions are displaced is with security, trust, comradery, positive interaction and mutual respect.
Leaders assess their workplace and put into word and action what employees desire to see in a meaningful and rewarding environment. In order to do this, leaders:
Conduct An Environmental Climate Check
Leaders analyze their own negative feelings regarding the workplace. They ask, “Do I often find myself dwelling on the negative aspects of my work and performance and the atmosphere that exists?” If the answer is “yes,” the reasons behind their feelings are a good indicator of why employees feel the same way and negative interactions are taking place.
Taking the time to complete an analysis of the entire work unit atmosphere is the first step in dealing with negative employee interaction. In order to effect positive workplace change, leaders should both ask themselves the following questions and take appropriate actions wherever a “yes” response exists:
- Is there an unspoken understanding that work should always be first in every employee’s life?
- Does the organizational culture favor workaholics?
- Do employees that don’t share this “work first” philosophy feel guilty?
- Is there undue pressure on employees to make trade-offs with tasks and assignments against time, resources and availability?
- Do individual assignments have more importance than collaborative efforts, trial-and-error methods and interactive positive communication?
- Is praise a lower priority than the completion of timelines and tasks?
Seek Out Specific Areas in Which to Focus Your Efforts
Every organizational work unit has room for improvement. The key rests in a leader’s ability to know where to focus his or her efforts for maximum effect. The following are actions proven to transform the work environment in the quickest and most effective way:
- Finding out what is most important to employees as far as creating a non-threatening, secure and fulfilling work environment.
- Understanding each employee’s top priorities as they relate to work and themselves personally. This can be the starting point for creating a more meaningful and productive workplace for all.
- Allowing employees to pause after a major completed task or project in order to gain a sense of closure and to savor their accomplishments.
- Acknowledging all progress and getting upper management to recognize major milestones and hurdles employees reach and overcome.
- Making challenges exciting, somewhat demanding, but realistic.
- Allowing employees to make best use of their talents and to freely use others whenever needed as resources for input, ideas and suggestions.
Track the Fit of Your Employees
Getting to know what fires up your employees is crucial in fostering a rewarding work environment. Identifying the skills and talents they have outside the workplace can help place them into a better fit inside the organization. One of a leader’s responsibilities is to find out what their employees’ interests are, or their sources of motivation and energy. It is vital to talk to each employee about their passions, talents and creative abilities, and then tap into them however and whenever possible.
Negativity permeates an employee’s attitudes when they feel misplaced in their jobs, tasks, assignments and responsibilities. In order to overcome this, leaders assess:
- Whether the big picture of the organization is thoroughly discussed with employees so that they clearly understand their personal place in it and how they specifically factor into its success.
- If there are any employees who feel a particular job or assignment “just isn’t right” for them. It is important to find out what employees feel they can take on more capably, then match them with projects, assignments, and duties where they can better achieve success.
- If there are some employees who feel a clash between their values and goals and those of others in the workplace. When work makes employees feel they need to be a different person in order to “fit in,” a leader can expect negative employee interactions to occur repeatedly.
- Whether employees are allowed to consistently tap into their strengths and spend a great deal of their assignment time in activities best matched to their interests and talents.
Analyze Your Unit’s Flexibility
Nothing creates more negative interaction among employees than a work environment that remains inflexible to their needs. Leaders need to establish a more meaningful work environment by making certain that flexibility exists for all employees. They need to make sure the corporate rulebook does not overshadow the positive accomplishments taking place within the unit and among its members. Leaders need to consider:
- Are work unit rules flexible when certain situations arise, or are they rigid to the point where the rulebook is still the ultimate word?
- Are policies and procedures followed to the letter without allowing employees to question their validity and necessity?
- In order to accomplish certain things do employees feel they must sidestep rules and hope they don’t get caught?
Addressing and changing areas needing improvement allows leaders to spend more of their time doing that which works to motivate employees and move the organization forward. Strengthening these areas is best accomplished by interacting with every employee, and taking action to build stronger personal relationships and subsequently a more secure, meaningful workplace.
Excerpt: Improving Workplace Interaction: Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series (Majorium Business Press, Stevens Point, WI 2011) $ 16.95 USD