We’ve all heard the phrase positive vibes only. To be honest, it drives me nuts. It’s something meant to reinforce the idea that you should focus on all the good things that are happening instead of dwelling on the bad. Which is good in theory, if you don’t amplify it out of control. However, from a certain point on, it will turn into an ugly monster, also known as toxic positivity.
Under the magnifying glass
For example, if you drop your phone in the ocean, a positive vibes only mentality would focus on how you can enjoy the sunset without distractions, texts, or alerts. Not the fact that you need a new phone. And you certainly do!
While the idea of having a positive outlook on life isn’t inherently bad, the idea of being upbeat and only focused on the good can have its drawbacks. It is possible to push yourself to the extreme to the point where you reach toxic positivity.
Let’s explore more about this concept, especially in relation to the workplace, so you can understand and avoid it.
What does toxic positivity look like?
Toxic positivity asks people to ignore their negative feelings and only focus on the good. It takes the phrase that “every cloud has a silver lining” to the extreme. In the workplace, toxic positivity comes into play whenever someone complains about a problem or issue. Instead of acknowledging the problem and validating the employee’s emotions, the issue is ignored and the team member may be called out for having a bad attitude.
The problem is, toxic positivity can actually boomerang on itself and make people feel worse. For example, if someone feels sad or lonely, they have no outlet for their emotions or someone to help validate them.
Instead, they’re shamed for having a negative attitude and told to have better thoughts. This shaming compounds the initial negative feelings, causing the team member to feel guilty or ashamed for not always having a positive attitude.
Toxic positivity doesn’t acknowledge stress
Even companies with healthy corporate cultures experience stress. Employees sometimes make mistakes or high-value clients put teams on tight deadlines. In this instance, it’s natural for people to experience stress and to occasionally lash out in anger or frustration.
In fact, Mental Health America found that a third of employees have missed work because of stress at some point in their careers. Also, 63 percent of people say stress in the workplace has a negative effect on their health.
Toxic positivity fails to acknowledge and validate these emotions. Instead of allowing an employee or manager to express their frustrations, those team members are expected to put a good face forward and work through any challenges.
Toxic positivity through digital spaces
Toxic positivity can be found everywhere online. If you’re looking for an outlet to learn more about it, turn to social media. People often try to convey their best selves while hiding their flaws and problems. Scrolling through your feed, you often only see smiling photos of a happy couple on their wedding day or a friend on vacation at the beach. You don’t see the hours of planning, family squabbles, and tears that lead up to that moment.
A similar level of toxic positivity can be found in the digital workplace. With so much pressure to be productive and resilient in the face of a pandemic, it’s hard not to feel anxious and stressed, and yet it can feel impossible to share with your team or your boss.
Not only is there less face-to-face time, but it’s easy for everyone to put on a brave face, rather than acknowledging their own sad or unhappy feelings or those of their coworkers.
If this continues, we risk pushing employees to further mental health demise. Business.com suggests that stress causes:
- Lack of energy and focus
- Constant worrying
- Reduced creativity
Thus, if those needing support don’t get it, everyone suffers, including the business because stress impacts productivity. Here’s some objective advice on how to break the mental health paradigm at work.
Objectivity as the antidote
If toxic positively is a threat to the workplace, then what can replace it or prevent it? The answer is objectivity–the ability to clearly evaluate the situation as it is and react appropriately.
Not only is it okay to admit that a lost client or a blown sale is frustrating, but it’s healthy to mourn the failure before moving on. Admitting your anger objectively can help you blow off steam and collect yourself before facing the next challenge.
For example, think about the last time you stubbed your toe—and the curse words you let fly after. Studies have shown that releasing these words and expressing your pain and anger reduces pain and makes you feel better. You’re actually better off yelling out some creative adjectives instead of ignoring the pain in the name of being zen all the time.
Simply put: expressing anger doesn’t necessarily mean your team won’t be productive. People need to release their frustrations or unhappiness before moving forward.
Balance the positive and negative vibes
Your workplace doesn’t need to be filled with negative Nancys who tear down every idea and constantly complain. They also don’t need zen people flying on their puffy clouds all the time, either 🙂
There must be balance! And your team members should be able to express themselves. Enable them to voice their opinions, give empathy where needed, and strive to have a fair, objective workplace.