What is toxic positivity and why is it bad for business?

Thursday August 26, 2021

Positivity can be great for business. From collaboration to problem solving, a positive outlook is a desirable attribute to have.

When then, does positivity become toxic, and how can managers and team leaders find a balance to reap the benefits of a positive workplace without creating a toxic working environment?

What is toxic positivity?

Toxic positivity refers to excessive positive thinking. It is the assumption that a positive outlook should be sought no matter how difficult or painful a situation may be.

This might be through the use of phrases such as “it could be worse” or “look on the bright side” in response to truly grave situations.

The trouble with this is that it can invalidate problems and leave little room for discussion; thus, resulting in real problems or painful emotions being ignored.

In response to toxic positivity, a person may shutdown and avoid voicing their concerns. This can leave them feeling isolated which can have a negative impact on mental health.

It also means that opportunities to resolve people problems can be missed, leading to potentially risky HR situations in the workplace.

Risks of toxic positivity in the workplace

A manager seeking to reassure their team that everything is ok, even when it is not, runs the risk of toxic positivity.

Sweeping big company changes under the rug in an attempt to keep the mood light can create a culture of distrust.

Human beings all need hope, but it must be realistic to avoid creating a false sense of security.

If there is a disconnect between words and actions, staff are likely to pick up on this and come to their own conclusions about what’s going on inside the business.

If you are forced to make redundancies due to the pandemic, be transparent with staff about this. They may not like what they are hearing but being informed can help them to be better prepared.

Letting those who remain know what the plan is going forwards can provide hope, helping them to feel more secure and able to perform well. Acknowledging that things are different can also reduce the risk of Remainers developing Survivor Syndrome.

Avoiding toxic positivity in the workplace

Some people will naturally see a glass half full, whilst others see the glass half empty. Neither outlook is right or wrong and understanding this is key when managing a diverse group of people.

Complex human emotions mean that your team are unlikely to be peppy all of the time. However, a welcoming and inclusive working environment, that allows people to be themselves, can see happiness levels and positivity increase naturally.

When negativity does occur, see it not as something to be quashed, but rather an opportunity to listen and welcome discussion. You may be able to help someone in need or learn new information about areas of the business that could be improved.

We as humans are naturally attracted to people who are like us. People who have the same outlook or come from similar backgrounds for example. This can lead SME’s to recruit in a very narrow field of applicants.

When considering your growing team, think about having people with different skills, backgrounds and outlooks, this gives a real 360 degree capability and prevents ‘group think’. Remember that phrase from the banking crash in 2008? or the “old school tie network”.

It’s good to have ideas and strategies challenged, to examine if they are a hairbrained idea or a genuine opportunity. We can assess your candidates or current staff on their soft skills tendencies. This will enable you to grow your team with many different skills and outlooks, improving your teams capability.

Communicate with confidence

Approaching negativity or other difficult situations in the workplace can lead to some emotionally fuelled conversations with staff. If you need a helping hand to communicate confidently, give us a call.


Preventing People Problems

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