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

By April Y. Pennington

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

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

Managing Workplace Negativity How serious is thisnegativity issue? Just ask Gary Topchik, founder and managingpartner of SilverStar Enterprises Inc., a Los Angeles-basedconsulting firm specializing in management development,team-building and executive coaching. His recent book, Managing Workplace Negativity tackles thisconcern, which affects every business owner. Why do youthink workplace negativity is overlooked as an important factor ina business's success?

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

"Ifthe employer is negative or builds a negative environment, thatalmost sanctions the employees to be negative. Small-businessowners have to look at what kind of attitude they themselves areportraying in the workplace because that's what really sets thetone for the culture of the organization." A timelyissue right now is the recent surge in dotcom layoffs. What typesof negativity typically arise from this situation?

Topchik: There are feelingsof lack or loss of community and control. People who once had jobsare now gone, and the people who are still around may feelthey're lost in the situation and are now at the whim of theeconomy. People who've been in the workplace for the past sevenor eight years haven't had to experience that-half the peoplein the high tech industry are under 30-so they've never reallyexperienced an environment where they're not in control. Twoyears ago, they could've picked themselves up and gone anyplace they wanted to and found a job waiting for them. That'snot going to be the case for the next few years. Why is itso important to help negative employees change their ways?

Topchik: There are twocrucial business reasons that make it important to point outnegative behaviors and try to rectify them: It usually affectstheir performance, and it definitely affects the performance of thepeople around them. You'vesuggested solutions for each type of negative employee, but how doyou know when it's time to just let the person go? Or is therealways hope for improvement?

Topchik: If you can clearlyidentify what the negative behavior is and how it's impactingthe workplace, it's pretty easy to come up with a solution forit. The ultimate solution, which I discuss in the book, is that youjust may have to hold your person accountable for changing.You've got to treat negativity like any behavioral orperformance problem. Change inthe workplace can be a major catalyst for negativity. What can asmall-business owner do to prevent or lessen the possible negativeeffect when change is coming?

Topchik: It's usuallythe way the change is introduced that brings negativity. Icame up with a model in the book called VISAR(Vision-Incentives-Skills-Action Plan-Resources), a method ofmanaging change that reduces negativity toward change. I think iforganizations followed that method of giving people the reason orvision for the change, discussing how the change will beimplemented, involving them in its process and giving them all thenecessary resources, people may still be resistant, but theirresistance will go down. And the less resistance you have, the lessnegativity you'll have to a change. How muchpower does an owner have in influencing the workplaceenvironment?

Topchik: If the employer isnegative or builds a negative environment, that almost sanctionsthe employees to be negative. Small-business owners have to look atwhat kind of attitude they themselves are portraying in theworkplace because that's what really sets the tone for theculture of the organization. Ask for feedback from others becauseoften, you don't know how you're coming across. Askyourself, "Do I build a motivating environment?" Mostpeople who are negative in the workplace don't know it becauseno one gives them that feedback, especially [when you're the]boss. When a manager is negative, it has even more of an impactthan when a particular employee is negative because of your biggersphere of influence.

I think the best thing a small-business owner can do is to makeit their responsibility to build a positive work environment, wherethere is little opportunity for the negativity bug to breed. Ifthey're proactive about it, they'll have fewer individualswho are negative. And when you do hire someone and you noticethey're exhibiting negative behavior, address it as soon as itoccurs. Let the person know that [negativity] is something youdon't want in your workplace.

Wavy Line

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