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Management Expert Gary Topchik

Workplace negativity seriously affects you, your employees and your business. Gary Topchik explains what you can do about it.

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Computer viruses aren't the only bugs threatening our ever-changing workplace. The negativity bug has the power to spread through an entire organization and before you know it, everyone's infected. And just like an actual virus, this bug is resilient to any half-hearted attempts to treat it.

Managing Workplace Negativity How serious is this negativity issue? Just ask Gary Topchik, founder and managing partner of SilverStar Enterprises Inc., a Los Angeles-based consulting firm specializing in management development, team-building and executive coaching. His recent book, Managing Workplace Negativity tackles this concern, which affects every business owner.

Entrepreneur.com: Why do you think workplace negativity is overlooked as an important factor in a business's success?

Gary Topchik: People don't realize the impact negativity has on a business. When you're working in a negative environment, people tend not to want to be there and when they are, they don't perform up to their peak capacity. As a result, productivity goes down, absences and turnover increase, and the number of customer complaints rise. It affects the organization's bottom line, [but] people don't look into it because it's really hard to change culture. A lot of people don't want to confront negative people because they think they can't be changed. They don't want any hassles and try to just live with it [even though] they don't have to.

"If the employer is negative or builds a negative environment, that almost sanctions the employees to be negative. Small-business owners have to look at what kind of attitude they themselves are portraying in the workplace because that's what really sets the tone for the culture of the organization."

Entrepreneur.com: A timely issue right now is the recent surge in dotcom layoffs. What types of negativity typically arise from this situation?

Topchik: There are feelings of lack or loss of community and control. People who once had jobs are now gone, and the people who are still around may feel they're lost in the situation and are now at the whim of the economy. People who've been in the workplace for the past seven or eight years haven't had to experience that-half the people in the high tech industry are under 30-so they've never really experienced an environment where they're not in control. Two years ago, they could've picked themselves up and gone any place they wanted to and found a job waiting for them. That's not going to be the case for the next few years.

Entrepreneur.com: Why is it so important to help negative employees change their ways?

Topchik: There are two crucial business reasons that make it important to point out negative behaviors and try to rectify them: It usually affects their performance, and it definitely affects the performance of the people around them.

Entrepreneur.com: You've suggested solutions for each type of negative employee, but how do you know when it's time to just let the person go? Or is there always hope for improvement?

Topchik: If you can clearly identify what the negative behavior is and how it's impacting the workplace, it's pretty easy to come up with a solution for it. The ultimate solution, which I discuss in the book, is that you just may have to hold your person accountable for changing. You've got to treat negativity like any behavioral or performance problem.

Entrepreneur.com: Change in the workplace can be a major catalyst for negativity. What can a small-business owner do to prevent or lessen the possible negative effect when change is coming?

Topchik: It's usually the way the change is introduced that brings negativity. I came up with a model in the book called VISAR (Vision-Incentives-Skills-Action Plan-Resources), a method of managing change that reduces negativity toward change. I think if organizations followed that method of giving people the reason or vision for the change, discussing how the change will be implemented, involving them in its process and giving them all the necessary resources, people may still be resistant, but their resistance will go down. And the less resistance you have, the less negativity you'll have to a change.

Entrepreneur.com: How much power does an owner have in influencing the workplace environment?

Topchik: If the employer is negative or builds a negative environment, that almost sanctions the employees to be negative. Small-business owners have to look at what kind of attitude they themselves are portraying in the workplace because that's what really sets the tone for the culture of the organization. Ask for feedback from others because often, you don't know how you're coming across. Ask yourself, "Do I build a motivating environment?" Most people who are negative in the workplace don't know it because no one gives them that feedback, especially [when you're the] boss. When a manager is negative, it has even more of an impact than when a particular employee is negative because of your bigger sphere of influence.

I think the best thing a small-business owner can do is to make it their responsibility to build a positive work environment, where there is little opportunity for the negativity bug to breed. If they're proactive about it, they'll have fewer individuals who are negative. And when you do hire someone and you notice they're exhibiting negative behavior, address it as soon as it occurs. Let the person know that [negativity] is something you don't want in your workplace.