4 Steps Nonprofit Leaders Can Take to Tackle Workplace Negativity
Call it gossip, scuttlebutt, tittle-tattle or rumor—workplace negativity is an insidious morale buster that can distract even the most dedicated employees. And nonprofits aren’t immune to it. People are people, even when working for the greater good. According to Jon Gordon, author of “The No Complaining Rule: Positive Ways to Deal with Negativity at Work,” workplace negativity can cost organizations millions of dollars, as it affects morale, productivity and overall institutional health.
So, what can you do? Here are four steps nonprofit leaders can take to tackle workplace negativity head on.
1. Address the Issues
Knowing what employees are complaining about is the first step. Keep abreast of exit interview topics, GlassDoor review feedback and HR inquiries. Talk with managers and team members to understand the exact issues and the degree to which they are causing a distraction in the workplace. Provide a means for employees to express concerns anonymously. When you discover a key concern address it—publicly or privately—but always in person if you can. Give employees an opportunity to ask you questions directly on the topic to help gain clarity.
2. Put the Protester to Work
One of my mentors always said, “Don’t bring up a problem without a solution.” If you have a competent chief complainer and a complex issue, ask them, “What would you do?” Better yet, have them head up the project or task force to fix the issue and present to you their findings and recommendations. Be sure to give them realistic feedback and ample credit if their solution solves the problem
3. Disagree Agreeably
When disagreements arise, as they always do, show respect for others’ opinions. Take time to see—and articulate—the opposing point-of-view. As author Douglas Stone said in the book, “Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most,” “People almost never change without first feeling understood.” At the end of the day, choices will be made, and they may not be popular. Provide context for your decisions and communicate your decision consistently. Don’t dilly dally. Move forward with your decision and move on. When handled correctly, disagreements and debates can bring about positive change.
4. Celebrate Success
The best way to combat a negative environment is with a positive one. As leaders, we spend a good deal of time giving critical feedback. We often run short on praise. Provide recognition, so employees feel their contributions are valued. A few kind words can go a long way. Celebrations also enable an entire team to share in the success of an individual or the organization as a whole. Reward, recognition and celebration are powerful tools a nonprofit leader can use to bolster staff morale.
Last, but not least, remember that you’re always being observed. It sounds creepy, but it’s true. Your attitude toward your organization’s policies and programs is paramount. If you present a confident, authentic, positive face, you’ll inspire your team to accept change, move forward and give 100 percent.
Angela Struebing is president of CDR Fundraising Group, a multichannel agency focused on helping nonprofits maximize their online, direct mail, telemarketing and DRTV fundraising results. As president, Angela is responsible for overall agency management and strategic planning for national nonprofit clients to include The Wounded Warrior Project, Shriners’ Hospitals for Children, MoMA and the Marine Toys for Tots Foundation. Angela is a frequent speaker at industry events and is recognized for her strategic expertise. She has also served as Education co-chair for the Bridge Conference.