Toxic Positivity in the Workplace

What is toxic positivity in the workplace ?

It is good for one’s mental health to have a positive mindset and it’s hard to argue with the intention to be optimistic and positive at work. Such positivity enables us to feel connected, upbeat and productive. However, it is unrealistic to think that you will never face a challenge at your workplace. With those challenges may come negative emotions relating to an aspect of your workload, environment, role, or colleagues, and the validation of this authentic human emotional experience is important.

Toxic positivity exists in workplaces when excessive happy and optimistic mindset across all situations is promoted, regardless of how dire or difficult situations may be.

A person in a workplace with toxic positivity may feel their emotions are minimised, invalidated, dismissed, ignored and/or suppressed. For instance, you may have been told that you “need to focus more on the positives” or that you are “bringing everybody down”. There may not even be a place to voice your concerns in the first place because negative emotions are not spoken about in the open, nor are they sought out from management.

So how do we identify toxic positivity in the workplace?

Toxic Positivity is prevalent in a workplace, when negative emotions are unable to be discussed without feeling shame or guilt.

Common signs may include:

  • The brushing off of problems rather than facing them
  • Ignoring problems
  • Hiding painful emotions
  • Reciting positive quotes about hard situations
  • Dismissing others difficult feelings
  • Experiencing guilt about feeling sad, angry or disappointed
  • Shaming other people when they don’t have a positive attitude
  • Trying to be stoic or “get over” painful emotions

Why it is not good for business

Toxic Positivity is shaming, telling people that their feelings are not acceptable. It causes guilt by telling people that if they can’t find a way to be positive they are doing something wrong. It can lead to burnout as people are unable to discuss capacity or acknowledge when they are struggling. However most significantly toxic positivity is not good for business because it prevents growth by denying us the ability to face challenging emotions and develop insight and develop.

How to address toxic positivity?

Below are some helpful tips to address toxic positivity in the workplace:

  • Be realistic about what you feel. It is normal to feel stressed, overwhelmed or worried when something is difficult
  • Work on taking steps to improve the situation
  • Challenge the person that is demonstrating Toxic Positivity towards you, (they may not be aware they are doing it) Using “I” statements can be useful in these discussions
  • Put your emotions into words e.g., talking to a friend, therapist, or writing in a journal can help to understand what you are feeling and reduce the intensity of these emotions
  • Search for meaning behind the difficult situation
  • Look for areas of growth and insight
  • Practise self-care and find ways to reduce stress in your life
  • Give yourself permission to feel these feelings they are valid, real and important

Workplaces should ask themselves

  • Can our employees express concerns and or reservations? If so, then how?
  • Are we the leaders in the company, encouraging and demonstrating open and honesty communication?
  • Do we foster understanding between co-workers?
  • What happens when someone tells us something negative?
  • Is there evidence that people are voicing their concerns?
  • Are people allowed to challenge or seek to change the culture that is established?
  • Are people allowed to play “Devil’s Advocate” without recriminations?
  • Is there evidence that our employees feel supported?

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