How to Counter Toxic Positivity at Work
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How to Counter Toxic Positivity at Work

Everyone appreciates an encouraging word when they’re having a bad day on the job. But if you’re in a workplace that regularly brushes aside employees’ frustrations, that encouragement can do more harm than good. It’s called toxic positivity, and it’s a common problem.

Dr. Sonia Kang, an associate professor of organizational behaviour at the University of Toronto, says there are many situations where toxic positivity might occur, including customer interactions, working with colleagues, or receiving negative feedback from a manager.

“Even when people are in situations where naturally they might experience negative emotions, they’re encouraged to push those below the surface and then act like everything is okay,” she says. “It’s promoting this kind of false optimistic state that takes a lot of work for people to maintain.”

Toxic positivity at work can manifest in comments like, “Good vibes only,” “Reframe your thinking,” “Look on the positive side,” or “You’ve got this,” even when you definitely don’t. Women more often than men face this expectation of a perpetually sunny outlook.

“Women are ‘supposed’ to be more relational, more communal,” says Dr. Kang. “So, there’s this expectation that women are nice and warm. When women break those expectations . . . it’s seen as a personal failing.”

Ignoring or minimizing negative realities can have consequences for mental and physical health. Over time, a forced positive attitude can lead to burnout.

“You’re forced to suppress negative thoughts, feelings, or even negative bodily sensations,” says Dr. Kang. “That can lead to burnout, where people are spending all this energy on managing their emotions rather than just doing their work.”

Creating a more communicative workplace culture can alleviate toxic positivity. Talk to your managers and union stewards about how to make this happen. Dr. Kang recommends “creating a culture of openness where people are allowed to express their emotions in constructive ways.”

If a workplace prioritizes talking openly about challenges, there will be less toxic positivity. “You [will] have a culture where even negative feedback is acceptable,” says Dr. Kang.

Source: Globe and Mail

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