Your workplace may be seething with negative feelings, but you can still do your part to help change it. Start with these five action items.
Knowing how to stay positive at work is a valuable skill, right up there with time-management and good communication. After all, it's easy to stay positive when things are going well. But when negative energy permeates your life, it can be emotionally and physically draining, crushing people's spirits and productivity. Add the extra pressure of these unprecedented times with Covid-19, and suddenly having a positive attitude feels like a genuine struggle.
Anxiety, hostility, and depression can quickly set in, and they can linger. “It’s not healthy for workers to dwell on negativity emotions,” says Joffrey Suprina, positivity expert and professor of professional studies and advancement at National Louis University.
The bright spot: You have the opportunity to be the beacon of light for your co-workers. By your actions and responses, you can lift everyone's spirits, including your own.
Having the right tools and strategies at your disposal can help you be more positive and feel more in control during difficult times. No matter what is going on around you, learning how to stay positive at work can help you manage your inner environment and how you choose to respond to external events and situations.
Here are some ways to stay positive in the face of negativity and bad vibes.
Assess your own feelings and behaviors
Self-awareness is the first step to learning how to stay positive at work and it's crucial to achieving job satisfaction, says Sonja Lyubomirsky, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Riverside and author of The How of Happiness. Determine what ways you may be contributing to the negativity around you.
Are you circulating gossip or participating in conversations where the only focus is to denigrate, diminish, or criticize? Are you doing things to alienate co-workers? Do you have a habit of making off-color remarks or dirty jokes? Do you have a glass-half-empty mindset?
Once you’ve identified how you’re contributing to the negative atmosphere in your office, make a concerted effort to curb your behaviors and strive for a positive attitude. Ask yourself: What is the point or purpose of what you're saying? Is it to hurt or help? Become the kind of person who takes your time and words seriously.
Learn to respect people's humanity and their right to be themselves, says leadership coach and speaker Julie Fuimano. Complaining without end does not focus on creating solutions; rather, it perpetuates and magnifies the problem, wasting everyone's precious time and energy.
If someone else is bringing you down, don't let them. Tell the other person how you feel by saying, "This doesn't work for me." It's nonjudgmental, since you're making it about you, not them.
Also, people often don't realize they are being negative. Point it out in a gentle, caring way: "Do you realize you are complaining?" Just bringing it to their attention can be enough to shift the conversation. If you say nothing, your silence conveys permission to continue.
If you’re having a bad day, don’t let that ruin everyone else’s day. “Performing small acts of kindness can make you and the person you’re helping feel happier,” Lyubomirsky says. “It’s about taking the focus off yourself and your problems, and focusing on other people.”
In the workplace, that entails being proactive and extending a lifeline when you spot a co-worker in need, giving your cubicle-mate a pep talk when he’s feeling down, and praising a colleague when they’re doubting their performance.
If you’re a manager, simply saying “thank you” to people who work for you can make your direct reports feel motivated to work harder, researchers at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania found. “It's amazing what a few words of praise and acknowledgement can do,” says Fuimano.
Carve out a little time for exercise and meditation
Exercise is one of the most effective ways to improve motivation and mood levels. The endorphins that you get from physical activity can even prevent depression from happening in the first place. In a 2019 study at Iowa State University, psychologists found that walking for just 12 minutes is a powerful mood booster.
In addition, meditation and mindfulness exercises can reduce aggression, irritability, and anger, research shows.