Research suggests that the average person spends 90,000 hours at work over their lifetime.
It’s understandable then, that we’d strive to make our experience of this as uplifting and pleasurable as possible.
Whilst it might seem ideal to insist on a ‘good vibes only’ workplace mantra, and to invest in a fancy neon sign, this approach to creating a positive workplace culture could actually be harmful for your staff.
The dark side of positivity
Positivity isn't a bad thing, but it does have a shadow side if its used to mask, hide, or deny people of their real feelings and experiences. Enter the awkward guest – toxic positivity.
Toxic positivity is the attempt to enforce happiness by rejecting anything that is perceived as negative or undesirable.
What’s the problem with that you ask? Better make that plural.
The world isn't just good vibes only
It’s good and bad. When we demand that people only see the positive, it becomes about us and our own discomfort. We need to ask ourselves what it is that we are avoiding – difficult conversations? Feelings? Rejection?
It’s not realistic (or healthy) to expect humans to be perpetually positive, or happy on demand. In fact, when we reject or disapprove of uncomfortable circumstances and feelings, it only makes them worse in the long run.
Comments such as “be positive”, “look on the bright side” or “good vibes only” may be well intentioned, but have a tendency to minimise feelings and encourage artificial smiles.
Unfortunately, this approach to managing employee difficulties and feedback only undermines trust, encourages shame and sacrifices psychological safety in the workplace.
As human beings, we all have the drive to survive and the longing to connect, and these needs are always competing. If employees don't feel safe enough to be honest and authentic, the absence of trust leads to a lack of buy-in, resulting in costly implications for employee health and business outcomes.
Toxic positivity is a method for avoiding and brushing off problems.
Encouraging words don't solve or address problems. To create positive cultures, we need to dig a little deeper, ask difficult questions and hold space for open and honest conversations.
When we face our problems and fears, we are learning, moving and growing.
Here’s a thought-provoking quote to leave you with.
“You will encounter frustrations, losses will occur, you will make mistakes, bump up against your limitations, fall short of your ideals. This is the human condition, a reality shared by all of us.”Dr Kristen Neff