How Much Workplace Positivity is too Much?


Authentic leadership styles can boost job performance, aid in navigating difficult situations, lift employee spirits, and boost productivity. Positivity can be a great attitude to have in workplace settings, but can there be too much of it?

The term ‘toxic positivity’ refers to maintaining an optimistic mindset without acknowledging the individual’s situation. It can negatively impact mental health and breed feelings of guilt when we start experiencing negative emotions. This can result in discrediting one’s own pain and hiding emotions from loved ones.

To understand more about toxic positivity in the workplace, the Trauma and Mental Health Report spoke with Sam Klarreich, an author, international speaker, and positive psychologist with over 25 years of experience working in multiple settings from hospitals to corporations. Klarreich tells us that in the work environment, the way people speak to each other, approach work problems, and interact with co-workers are different when an overly positive mindset is enforced. In such settings, the workplace needs to be upbeat and ignore any negative sentiments.

This type of environment, Klarreich explains, can lead workers to become dissatisfied with management.  People may start to feel undervalued and insignificant to the company. As a result, employee morale decreases. The atmosphere becomes judgmental and ostracizes people who move away from the positive mindset. An example of a toxic positivity work environment is employee alignment; the senior manager enforces the maintenance of positivity within the workplace and any feedback seen as criticism is disregarded.

Beyond the workplace, how can such an environment affect personal life? Klarreich says that workers may take the positive mindset home and expect partners to conform. This may conflict with a partner who has a more realistic outlook and can lead to interpersonal problems. Conversely, Klarreich explains employees may also experience depression and mood swings due to the constant positive atmosphere. If an individual is unable to express concerns, fears, or areas of improvement for the task or work environment, they instead suppress their feelings.

Toxic positivity is different from optimism. Klarreich explains that optimism can be defined as having hope that is not unrealistic. Positivity on the other hand, is an extreme version of confidence and hope, often with unrealistic expectation that a positive mindset will lead to positive outcomes.  Toxic positivity enforces an ‘everything is going to be okay’ mentality, and when things go awry, Klarreich says, “we blame the person for not being positive enough.” Rather than striving for positivity it would be best to aim for optimism, as it is important to acknowledge when something isn’t working and put active effort toward improving the situation.

Klarriech also explains that we need to be more accepting of failure as it is an inevitable and important part of life. We must learn how to make improvements and understand why there is failure. We can identify obstacles that are impeding success and learn how to overcome them to improve the situation. If the pandemic has taught us anything, it is that change is inevitable. And yet, we can learn to adapt and grow from that change.
-Abigail Ramos, Contributing Writer & Senior Editor

Image Credits:
Feature: Brett Jordan at Unsplash, Creative Commons

First: Charles Deluvio at Unsplash, Creative Commons

Second: Tim Mossholder at Unsplash, Creative Commons



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