The Tipping Point (Negativity in the workplace)

Recently this article ended up coming across my social media feeds – an article about dealing with negative emotions at work, which I think is a really good read.  I know as a manager, figuring out how to deal with employees who are dealing with something negative – outside or inside of work is one that is a tricky thing for me.  Potentially more when it’s outside, because then it’s out of my control other than as a support mechanism.  So the article, I really appreciated for that reason.

Outside of that however, one phrase that stood out to me was about how it ‘can spin into long-lasting resentment and unhappiness’.  That really resonated with me, because I’ve been there previously. I worked a job where by the end of my time there I hated every morning I got up, every time I went in.  I cared less, I felt less, and I couldn’t wait to go out there.  But that on its own wasn’t enough to make me look for change.

No, there was another tipping point.  You can handle frustration, anger etc. at work – people have to, as the article points out with it’s ’stop ignoring it’ message (as good for internal negativity as it is external as mentioned).  There will always be periods of roughness in any job, whether you love it, hate it, or really don’t care.  And yes, that negativity will impact your work no matter what you do.

I was surprised when I found the tipping point wasn’t ‘when you don’t think you can take the current situation anymore’ – that it actually was not the long-lasting resentment and unhappiness part.  For me the tipping point was the moment where I realized that even if everything changed for the better, even if everything went sunshine and roses for the workplace, I couldn’t go back to that.  That resentment and bitterness taints everything – outlook at the workplace, feelings for the work, and sadly often your own behaviour (no matter how hard you’ve tried).  And you can hit the point where it’s now just corrupted forever to you.

I think there’s always hope at first, even if unhappy, even if resentful.  You believe in something – that it’ll get better, ‘if we just get over this hump’, or even ‘well, I’d rather this then x/I can’t do better’.  That belief sustains you even if every thing has fallen apart. Or the flip side to hope, cynicism – there’s nothing better out there, or at least here I don’t have to care.  Either of these emotions can sustain you beyond what you originally thought was your breaking point.

When I was in that situation, I had colleagues who were as unhappy as much as I was.  Who after I left I would go back an meet occasionally, and listen to them complain, just as we both had, about how horrible things are.   Time after time we’d have this discussion – you’re so unhappy? then why don’t you leave too? – until I realized that they were never going to leave, because in one case they still believed things would get better, or in one case they looked at the tradeoffs of finding a new job and realized that they’d rather live in anger then make that change.

Unhappiness and resentment will colour the work, will make you sloppy, will make you put in less effort – all the things that the article points out.  But the tipping point is when you truly give up.  Whether that’s just after too much frustration, or if it’s when you finally hit the ceiling, or from seeing how others are being treated and realizing that the trend is going somewhere you can’t handle?  It’s still the true thing that breaks you. And when you actually break and tip over, it does even more damage, because now there’s a bit of desperation too.

Learning to recognize it before that breaking point – I guess that’s the golden ticket isn’t it?  Both in your own self, and in seeing it in those you manage. I only hope I’ve gotten better at it from experiencing it myself. If not to hopefully make me a better manager, then at least to have gotten something positive out of that experience.

Also published on Medium.

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