“Don’t worry about it. It will all work out.”
“Everything happens for a reason.”
In today’s fast-paced and demanding work environments, fostering a positive atmosphere is important. When we are feeling down, it is natural to want to hear encouraging words. Dismissing negative emotions in favor of a positive façade can be harmful. This is known as toxic positivity, and it can come from even the most well-meaning people. We’ve all seen the slogans “Positive Vibes Only,” or signs like “No Complaining Zone.” In an effort to promote positivity, many people — and workplaces — put their focus on positive emotions, to the exclusion of all else.
However, the excessive promotion of positive thinking without acknowledging and addressing negative emotions can lead to toxic positivity. This phenomenon undermines well-being and hampers open communication. So, what is toxic positivity and what are the actionable strategies that can be used to combat it in the workplace? How can we create a healthier and more supportive environment for all employees?
What is toxic positivity?
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, toxic positivity, often also referred to as positive toxicity, is an emotional phenomenon based on the belief that no matter how hard or bad things get, people must maintain positive thinking or a positive mindset.
Toxic positivity can show up in the workplace in a number of ways, including:
- Dismissing or minimizing negative emotions. When someone is struggling with a difficult situation, a toxically positive coworker might say something like, “Just look on the bright side!” or “Don’t worry, everything will be okay.” This can make the person feel like their emotions are not valid and that they should just “suck it up.”
- Encouraging constant positivity. A toxically positive workplace might have a culture where it is not okay to express negative emotions. This can create pressure to always be happy and positive, even when it is not realistic.
- Failing to acknowledge challenges. A toxically positive workplace might avoid discussing challenges or problems. This can make it difficult to address issues and can lead to resentment and frustration.
The costs of toxic positivity in the workplace
Toxic positivity is harmful to the workplace because it can Invalidate employees’ feelings and experiences. When employees are told to “cheer up” or “look on the bright side” when they are struggling, it can make them feel like their negative emotions are not valid. This can lead to employees feeling isolated and unsupported, and it can make it difficult for them to cope with stress and difficult situations.
When negative emotions are constantly dismissed or minimized, it can create a culture of avoidance in the workplace. Employees may be afraid to speak up about problems or concerns, for fear of being seen as negative or complaining. This can lead to problems festering and not being addressed, which can ultimately damage the workplace. At Fierce, we call this “gradual then sudden” failure.
Toxic positivity can also lead to burnout in several ways. First, it can pressure employees to always be positive, even when they are feeling stressed or overwhelmed. This can lead to employees feeling like they have to suppress their emotions, which can be mentally and emotionally exhausting.
Second, toxic positivity can create a culture of unrealistic expectations.
When employees are constantly told that they should be positive and optimistic, they may feel like they are failing if they experience negative emotions. This can lead to employees feeling guilty or ashamed of their feelings, which can contribute to burnout. Overall, toxic positivity can be harmful to the workplace because it can invalidate employees’ feelings, create a culture of avoidance, and lead to burnout.
If you believe your workplace has or is leaning towards an environment of toxic positivity, here are some actions you can take to help eliminate it and foster emotional well-being:
- Encourage employees to express their emotions. It is important to create a workplace where employees feel comfortable expressing their emotions, both positive and negative. This will help to prevent bottling up emotions and leading to burnout.
- Acknowledge challenges. It is important to acknowledge challenges and problems, even if they are difficult to discuss. This will help to create a culture where problems can be solved and where employees feel like they are being heard.
- Promote a culture of empathy. It is important to promote a culture of empathy in the workplace. This means being understanding of others’ emotions and experiences. It also means being willing to listen to others and offer support.
- Set realistic expectations. It is important to set realistic expectations for employees. This means acknowledging that there will be challenges and that it is okay to feel negative emotions sometimes.
- Model positive behavior. Leaders should model positive behavior by being open about their own emotions and by creating a supportive environment.
By encouraging employees to express their emotions, acknowledging challenges, promoting a culture of empathy, setting realistic expectations, and modeling positive behavior, we can create a workplace where toxic positivity is diminished and emotional well-being is prioritized.
Remember, the goal is not to eliminate positivity but to create a workplace culture that embraces authenticity, emotional well-being, and a balanced approach to emotions.