WorkZone: Look for 'win-win' solution with co-worker who's a critic

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Employees complain that they are under pressure from working harder for less pay and worrying about job security, but work-related stress is 10 times worse if the environment is tainted with negative people.

"You've always heard the statement of one bad apple ruining the whole basket. Well, that's how it plays out in the workplace," said Krishna Pendyala, chief operating officer at Waldron Wealth Management in Bridgeville.

Mr. Pendyala, author of the recently released self-help book, "Beyond the Pig and the Ape," said negativity in the workplace often stems from unsatisfied expectations. The complaints include not receiving a raise or being paid less than co-workers, not being supported by co-workers or not being valued by bosses.

He said the way to deal with negative co-workers is to try to connect with them in a way that helps you understand their needs and meet them without ignoring your own needs or the needs of the company.

The price of allowing negative employees to contaminate the workplace can be dear if the negativity is allowed to spread.

"Everybody has a certain amount of energy to give in a day," Mr. Pendyala said. "That energy can be devoted to nonproductive activity and productive activity."

Most people keep track of only the time that is lost in nonproductive activity, but not the energy lost, he said.

"Energy is actually used up in nonproductive conversation," he said, "even if the conversation takes place at lunchtime. People will come back to the office with nothing left to give. The energy is drained, and that is the real loss."

Robert Half International, a specialized staffing firm with an office Downtown, found that managers spend about a fifth of their time dealing with conflicts and negativity in the workplace.

That comes out to about an hour and a half of an eight-hour work day, said Liz Griffith, branch manager of the firm's Pittsburgh office.

"Although it's part of a manager's job to deal with conflict, if too much time is spent handling disputes, it can distract from business priorities," Ms. Griffith said.

Steve Langerud, director of professional opportunities at DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind., said the ironic thing about negativity in the workplace was that the behavior can be perpetuated if it's not addressed properly.

"Often the last person to know [she is] being negative is the person everyone is talking about," Mr. Langerud said. "But the employee can't change what he or she doesn't know.

"If we don't address it, we are condoning it by saying 'it's OK.' And we are creatures of imitation. You could suddenly have a whole department acting negative," he said. "It's not productive, and it's not good for business."

Ms. Griffith said there were a few ways to cut down on conflicts in the workplace.:

1. Managers must know when to step in. They shouldn't intervene every time a minor issue arises.

2. Don't let one bad apple spoil the bunch. If the friction is coming from one person, remind that person that he or she has the ability to treat co-workers with respect and that it is a requirement.

3. Reward positive role models. Recognize staff members for being team players.

Tim Grant: or 412-263-1591.


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