Staying Positive in a Negative Workplace

2010 Update: I made the decision to bring Say “Alaka‘i” here to Talking Story in late May of 2010 when the Honolulu Advertiser, where the blog previously appeared, was merged with the Star Bulletin (Read more at Say “Alaka‘i” is Returning to the Mothership).

Therefore, the post appearing below is a copy of the one which had originally appeared there on December 21, 2008, so we will be able to reference it in the future when the original url it had been published on is no more…


Staying Positive in a Negative Workplace

Welcome to Sunday Koa Kākou. Sunday is the day I answer questions you send to me. If you have a question connected to management and leadership, leave a comment here, or email me.

From the Say “Alaka‘i” mailbox:

How do I stay positive working in a place where most of the employees are so deeply negative? All people seem to talk about here is how much they hate their jobs. I was excited about getting this job, and I like the work itself, but the crew here makes things miserable.


I suppose I could come up with some tips for you with staying positive, but I am not convinced that is enough: It will be tough if you are still surrounded by so much negativity, and the root causes of it have to be dealt with.

My recommendation is that you put your manager to work, asking them to do what they must in providing you with a better (more positive) working environment. I know that may take some bravery, but you’re worth taking the risk, and surely this cannot continue for you as is!

If you feel that working with your managers will be too difficult, or that others there will ostracize you for it versus getting on board, or that the management team will not be effective enough in making the changes needed, you should get out and work somewhere else. Life is too short, and if you are a good employee and a positive person you will find something else worthy of you, even in this tough market we are in (for the cream still rises to the top).

No one should have to work in an environment similar to the one you describe, and I have to wonder why your managers and leaders are not doing something about it, unless they can’t see it as clearly as you do. Help open their eyes to it. Negativity is a cancer in the workplace and for any business. It will eventually have a damaging effect on virtually everything, and both internally and externally; I am sure your customers already sense it.

How will you know if your managers are up to the challenge?

The managers you now have will be able to help you if the work they most often do concerns people, workplace, mission, and vision as opposed to work that is heavily task related to the industry you are in.

Let’s look at those separately: I believe that managers have four primary responsibilities (and providing employees with a positive, healthy working environment has to do with the second one):

1. People: Managers concentrate on strengths and make weaknesses irrelevant.
Managers discover what strengths each of the people they manage possess. They then place people where they are called on to employ those strengths and capitalize on them, giving them the authority to completely own their responsibilities and perform brilliantly.

2. Place: Managers create great workplaces where people thrive.
Managers focus on creating an environment where rewarding work happens. They continually work to remove obstacles (such as negativity), barriers, and excuses, while adding the needed support, tools and resources. Great managers are the stewards of healthy organizational cultures.

3. Mission: Managers get the work to make perfect sense.
Managers connect the work to be done with the meaning why. They plan to succeed with a viable business model, so people always see realistic possibility, and they encourage people to work on the enterprise with them, not just within it.

4. Vision: Managers expect and promote the exceptional.
Great managers never settle for mediocrity; they champion excellence so people rise to the occasion. Managers lead too; they mentor and coach, harnessing energy and driving action. They foster sequential and consequential learning so people continue to grow.

Judge objectively: They may want to help you, but can’t

These four pursuits concerning people, place, mission and vision take time and effort, and managers cannot concentrate on them if they are pushing paper, manning desks, or stuck in other immobile or task-related work. You may need to give your manager some task-relief, helping them in order for them to help you.

Step back, and try using my 4-part responsibility checklist for managers as objectively as you can with judging the flexibility of the workplace you are in: Can you realistically work with your manager and your co-workers to change things for the better?

If the answer is no, please don’t be a victim or martyr and sacrifice the quality of your working life for a workplace that has little prospect of changing. Get out and into a healthier environment.


  1. says

    Well, obviously there must be some history behind it, conflicts, bad experiences whatsoever. Often when new people arrive at a workplace, they are not aware (and cannot be) of such things. I think, too, that it is the responsibility of the manager to get the whole team together and to clear things up. Maybe it is an occasion to for having another try to do something for the atmosphere when someone new arrives.

  2. says

    I agree Ulla, that something must be done and it is the manager’s responsibility to address it immediately: Managers must be stewards of a healthy organizational culture where people can be more than productive – they can learn, grow, and thrive.