Study: Employees with Negative Attitudes Bring Down Performance of Co-Workers

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Coworkers with negative attitudes can not only put other employees in a bad mood, they can drag down the job performance of those around them, says new research from the University of Michigan.

"We were able to shed some light on the question of whether de-energizing relationships are just a hassle, or if they have deeper consequences," says Gretchen Spreitzer, professor at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business and co-author of the study with Alexandra Gerbasi and Andrew Parker of Grenoble Ecole de Management, Christine Porath of Georgetown University, and Rob Cross of the University of Virginia.

Spreitzer found that the more an employee had negative attitudes, or what she calls “de-energizers,” the lower their job performance. In fact, it was associated with the lowest levels of job performance.

She asked employees of a management consulting firm questions about relationships and performance at work, and followed up with another survey to measure how much employees felt they were thriving. The results found that employees who thought they were succeeding at work received better job evaluations despite exposure to de-energizers.

"Thriving mitigates the negative effects from negative people," Spreitzer says. "It shows that there are things people and organizations can do to buffer themselves when they have to deal with de-energizers."

She says employees should limit their exposure to people with negative energy, while managers should set standards for appropriate behavior and consider behavior when promoting people.

"A lot of times people think that positive business is just about everyone being nice to each other," Spreitzer says. "It's really about improving outcomes, and one way to do that is to reinforce your culture."

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