‘On the rise’ | How HR can tackle toxic positivity

How HR can tackle toxic positivity

Toxic positivity is the belief that no matter how terrible a situation is, an individual should maintain a positive outlook and mindset to push past it.

While this term has been around for some time, recently it seems that this way of thinking has increased, likely due to the uncertainty and anxiety that the global coronavirus pandemic has caused.

But one neuroscientist has shared that this way of thinking can have harmful, long-term consequences because toxic positivity “inhibits people from feeling perfectly normal emotions, which if left unchecked can lead to longer lasting deeper issues like anxiety, diminished self-esteem and burnout”.

Dr Lynda Shaw, neuroscientist, business psychologist and change specialist, recently made this statement. She also pointed out that toxic positivity is on the rise and has “flourished” throughout the last year, as many have been forced by others or pushed themselves to think positively during times of hardship.

While trying to maintain a positive outlook can help to improve our mood, in the workplace this mindset might not be the most appropriate as it can lead to burnout and an increase in anxiety.

With this in mind, Shaw shared five tips HR can implement to help steer employees away from this mindset in the workplace.

Read on to find out more.

1. Embrace emotions

Shaw stated that all feelings are valuable and contribute to our human experience, therefore encouraging employees to embrace feelings such as anxiety, fear and anger are all important to allow individuals to respond to them.

2. Don’t compare

Both inside and outside of the workplace, it is easy for individuals to compare themselves to others, particularly during this period of time, where some have coped better with lockdown that others. But this way of thinking can be incredibly harmful to an individual’s mindset, therefore it is crucial for HR teams to encourage staff not to compare themselves to their peers.

3. Focus on health

Encouraging staff to get out for a walk in the day is a great way to improve real positivity. To do this, HR teams should consider allowing employees to have longer lunch breaks while the weather is improving and introduce initiatives that allow employees to virtually ‘meet up’. Hair product manufacturer ghd has introduced a similar scheme known as Walk & Talk, where employees are encouraged to invite a colleague to a 30-minute Walk & Talk where they can both speak with one another over the phone.

4. Importance of mental health

Shaw shared the stigma around mental health also needs to be tackled: “Too much emphasis is placed on ‘being positive’ in order to maintain good mental health. Rather than pushing negative feelings aside, give them space and attend to them accordingly. By shifting the focus, accepting and understanding our feelings can lead to powerful learning through life’s ups and downs.”

5. Be authentic

Lastly, it’s important that HR teams encourage their staff to be authentic at work. Shaw said that giving employees permission to “experience all emotions, including ‘negative’ ones” allows staff to work through them, as if we don’t act with authenticity Shaw warned that it will affect “our ability to make social bonds and destroys trust in us”.

Practicing transparency

As Shaw shared the negatives toxic positivity can have, rather than encouraging this mindset, HR teams could instead practice transparency and be as up front as possible about the uncertainty they are in during times of crisis to avoid staff practicing toxic positivity. This is a notion that Harriet Shurville, Chief People Officer at Iris Worldwide pointed to, adding that this can in fact be a benefit for a business.

She previously told mygrapevine+, HR Grapevine’s membership site: “There is so much uncertainty. There is nothing to hide, even if we ourselves are unsure of things, it is important we say that, so we are constantly being transparent. People really valued it.”



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