You may have a great job (on paper) along with a solid salary, but even the best employments become unpleasant when you walk into a negative environment, day in and day out. Maybe it's a complaining co-worker dampening the spirit of the office, or a boss or supervisor who's perpetually in a bad mood. Whatever the case, learning how to deal with low morale in the workplace can ensure that a fellow employee's misery doesn't impact your joy or success.
Unfortunately, negativity is contagious, and it's easy to fall into the trap. "Complaining to colleagues feels good, and you can commiserate together," points out Jennifer Brick, a career success coach at Capdeca Solutions. "But this brings more people in, and as negative perspectives are shared, others adopt the perspective, and it spreads like wildfire." Worse, it can spark conflict with a co-worker that can multiply your stress level even more.
Luckily, there are ways you can avoid the blaze with a little awareness and a few techniques. Ahead, three career experts share their best advice for overcoming low workplace morale and re-discovering the enjoyment in your job. From strategically dealing with negative colleagues to deciding whether your workplace is actually a toxic one, these women have dealt with their share of bad office vibes — and helped other women do the same.
Remember What You Can Control
Brick agrees. "There are two things that require deeper work and support to establish, and when you have these two things, you can weather any storm and grow your career through it: A success mindset, and knowing that you are fully in control. You are not in control of the people around you, but you are always in control of yourself and your experience."
Resist Participating In Negativity
So how should you put the above advice into action? For starters, try to avoid pessimism like the plague. "Participating in negativity is a choice," Brick says. "When you choose to complain, berate, or carry a disgruntled attitude, you are deepening the problem."
Lee admits that this is often easier said than done. "Sometimes [negativity is] unavoidable when [it's from] your bosses, or people on the same team or staffed on the same project," she says. "However, it is important to set boundaries, and do your best to interact with them only to the extent it is absolutely necessary." For instance, she says, if someone corners you to vent, make up an excuse to leave, like a scheduled meeting or a looming deadline. Also, avoid eating lunch or grabbing after-work drinks with people who are likely to complain (and encourage you to do so, as well). "Remember, we are the average of five people we spend the most time with," Lee concludes.
Focus On Building Meaningful Relationships
A thriving work environment is about more than steering clear of pessimistic people. Lakshmi Rengarajan, director of workplace connection at WeWork, which builds shared workspaces and communities, says that adapting the mindset of fostering positive vibes is the way to go. "I believe building meaningful relationships at the workplace is essential to maintaining employee engagement and morale," she explains. "Negativity thrives when people don’t have positive associations to offset whatever negative feelings they have."
She offers a genius way to promote camaraderie amongst colleagues. "At WeWork, we create interest-based communities for our employees and members based off of shared interests that exist outside of the workplace," she says, citing running clubs, book clubs, and parenting groups. She adds that gatherings can also include topics that are more specific. "For example, we held Game of Thrones breakfasts for the final season knowing that people were spending their Monday mornings processing and analyzing the previous evening’s episode." If the office mood is less than cheery, consider establishing your own after-hours club, or start smaller simply by finding shared interests between you and your co-workers.
Another way to boost team spirit is by calling out individual accomplishments. "Be as detailed in your praise as you are in your criticism," advises Rengarajan. "Instead of jumping on the email thread bandwagon with exclamation points for a success, call out the specific behaviors that someone brought to the table. At WeWork, when we celebrate the closing of a deal, we don’t just talk about the transaction, but we spotlight the specific behaviors, actions, and attitudes that made it happen."
Be the first to shell out compliments, and who knows, maybe you'll start a positive movement that's even more catchy than the negative one.
Work On Maintaining Perspective
"I certainly have had a lot of experiences working in a highly stressful and low morale environment with a lot of overachievers," recalls Lee of her former career. "However, after leaving those environments, I realized that the people who were a big cause of misery and unhappiness in my life at the time are completely gone. Someone who seems so important in your life will not be important at all at [another] point in your life."
Plus, these obstacles can become catalysts for making some drastic life changes. "Being in a negative environment teaches you about what is important to you," Lee continues. "I achieved my childhood dream of writing a book, which led to me starting a community called Give One Dream, and it has grown into a global movement and inspires many people around the world to pursue their dreams."
Again, seeing outside your current situation is easier said than done. That's why practicing self-care and having a life outside of work is an absolute necessity. "Pursue hobbies and interests that excite you and fuel your energy," Lee suggests. "Make sure your work is not all consuming and is not the entirety of your life. Having something to look forward to at the end of the workday or the weekend may help to shift focus from the negativity at the workplace, and focus energy and attention on the positive aspects of your life."
Know The Difference Between Low Morale & Workplace Toxicity
Brick clarifies that there is a difference between a low morale workplace and a toxic one, but identifying which is which can be tricky. "It's hard to differentiate low morale from toxic when you're in it because your experience may be the same," she explains. "The key differentiator between the two is that low morale is often situational." For example, she says, one person's pessimism may be fueling low morale, but it's possible to turn this around. A toxic workplace, on the other hand, "often either stems from leadership, or from leadership that is complicit in supporting a negative or hostile work environment; there may even be a level of intent to the negativity." She recalls working with one client whose leader "was openly hostile to women, and the behavior was passively supported by human resources and the executive team. This had a trickle down effect within the company in both how women were treated and the opportunities they were given."
She concludes, "If you are in a toxic workplace, there is nothing you can do to fix it and you need a fast and effective exit strategy before it impacts your career and your emotional wellbeing." While you shouldn't just quit on the spot, start seeking alternative opportunities ASAP. If you need more guidance, consult with a career coach to help you clarify your goals and make a successful transition.