The Grinch Who Stole Business

Why the Sad Face?

Like most employers, Tina Hart, co-founder and CEO of Luna, a Columbia, South Carolina-based women's contemporary clothing and lifestyle store, has seen negativity creep into her workplace. It's been especially prevalent over the past four years as her business has expanded to additional locations and 50 employees. Last year she dealt with one female sales-person who was becoming increasingly negative toward customers and co-workers. Hart saw it affecting other employees and took action, meeting with this salesperson regularly over a three-month period to find the source of her negativity. But nothing helped, and Hart eventually let the employee go to improve morale.

Today, Hart, 34, is learning how to nip negativity in the bud. She admits she's put up with negativity to keep positions filled in the past. "That one [negative] person can really hurt you," Hart says. "[Negativity] will start rubbing off on sales and changing the way your employees feel about your business."

When dealing with a negative employee, it comes down to a chicken-and-egg type of question: Is the employee negative by nature, or are there broader issues in the company that are making him or her that way? These broader issues can include on-the-job stress, a work environment where employees feel they can't voice their opinions and concerns, excessive time demands, lack of growth opportunities, poor compensation, and ever-changing policies and procedures. "Employers need to look at things from the employee perspective," says Chandra Louise, founder of Research Triangle Park, North Carolina-based Toxicboss.com, a Web site that helps employees cope in the workplace.

Often at the heart of a "negaholic" attitude are fear and uncertainty. In fact, Topchik found in his research that the way companies handle change is the biggest single cause of workplace negativity. Even if that new invoicing procedure really is for the better, employees will automatically ask themselves: What am I losing? For employees, change automatically equals the loss of something comfortable, and they will resist it. Topchik relates this to the loss of what he calls the "Three C's": control, confidence and community.

Changing who an employee reports to, increasing a quota, taking away creativity in a project, or something as simple as altering the lunch schedule can set employees off. With any change, employees want to know why it's being made and want to be a part of the decision-making process. When they don't get input and answers, the seeds of negativity are sown.

Chris Penttila is a Washington, DC-based freelance journalist who covers workplace issues on her blog, Workplacediva.blogspot.com.

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This article was originally published in the March 2001 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: The Grinch Who Stole Business.

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