Toxic optimism has continued to grow in the workplace. We aren’t talking about whether the glass is half empty or half full. No matter what your situation is or how difficult it is, there’s a huge difference between toxic optimism and being an optimistic person.
Optimism in the workplace becomes toxic when someone wants to put a bandaid on something rather than understand and address the root of the issue. If a company is toxically optimistic, how can they ever expect to create positive change?
An environment in which toxic optimism is nurtured can easily lead to hostility. When someone expresses a difficult situation, they are looking to feel heard and/or seek resolution. They are not looking for fake comfort in the form of, “Everything is fine.” Without understanding the cause and addressing the issue accordingly, pent up feelings and emotions can lead to resentment and hostility. Healthy support and psychological safety in the workplace allows employees to express how they’re feeling and know that it won’t fall on deaf ears.
Unseen and Unheard
When an environment is created with continuous positivity, an employee is effectively understanding that their issue or situation is not welcome. What do we do when a thought or feeling is unwelcome? We stop sharing. I can’t think of anything scarier than a leadership team that doesn’t offer a safe space for difficult or challenging situations. Whether it’s constructive or a complaint, a company must always have a clear policy that communication is important and encouraged. Without it, the culture – and eventually the company – will fail.
When one mouth closes, another door opens. We are in the land of opportunity, and you can bet good money on employees leaving for someone who is open to change and unafraid of difficult situations. All my life, I’ve been told not to burn bridges when parting ways. In today’s world, employers should follow that same credo. When an employee has a negative and potentially damaging experience, they’ll take the words you refused to hear and share it with someone who will.
While some people may think they’re doing the right thing by always being optimistic, it actually stigmatizes negative emotions. If someone feels open enough to express themselves and the difficulties they’re experiencing, listen. It’s important to validate feeling, remind them of the safe space, and develop a plan of action that is to the betterment of everyone at the table. This will lead to happier employees who remain loyal and know that you have their back!