Does your company suffer from toxic positivity?
A recent study by Leadership IQ, an employee engagement and leadership training company, found that an organization that pretends everything is fine or sends companywide memos avoiding topics that can’t be positively spun might be suffering from “toxic positivity”.
Toxic positivity in organizations is often seen when leaders avoid sharing or discussing the tough challenges they’re facing. The study showed that only 15% of employees believe that their organization always openly shares the challenges facing it. By contrast, 42% said their company never or rarely shares its challenges.
There’s a long-standing belief among many leaders that talking about tough issues scares people and worsens the situation where the reality is the opposite. The study found that if an employee believes their company openly shares the challenges facing it, they’re about 10 times more likely to recommend it as a great employer.
It’s not just sharing organizational challenges where toxic positivity appears, however.
In a complementary study, The State of Leadership Development, more than 21,000 employees were asked to what extent their leader responded well to hearing about problems. Disturbingly, a mere 26% of employees said that their leader always responds constructively when employees share their work problems.
The key to developing resilience, optimism, self-efficacy, and a host of other emotional-wellness skills is to acknowledge reality, not to deny, avoid, or dismiss it. Wallowing in misery will, of course, increase negative feelings. But denying misery or tough challenges is even worse.
To avoid toxic positivity, leaders need to accept that their employees are not clueless and can’t handle reality. In fact, ignoring or dismissing reality is one of the fastest ways to undermine employees’ trust in leadership. Instead, leaders should acknowledge reality and then focus their efforts on developing and explaining plans to make that reality better.
“Toxic positivity is an excessive and distorted form of positive thinking. It’s putting a positive spin on all experiences, no matter how dire or tragic,” explains clinical psychologist Dr. Andrea Burgio-Murphy. “For example, you could be experiencing toxic positivity when a friend or boss minimizes or refuses to acknowledge your negative feelings. Or perhaps they go further and try to spin your dire situation in a positive way, like ‘this is a blessing in disguise’ or ‘all things happen for a reason.”
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