Negativity at Work – An Emotional Drain

Negativity at Work – An Emotional Drain

HCIS Senior Care Blog

Negativity at Work – An Emotional Drain

Author – Cyndi Siders, RN, MSN, CPHRM, DFASHRM, CPPS

“You Heard It Through the Grapevine…”

Rachel, a recently graduated nurse that was excited to pursue her dream of caring for the elderly, was hired six months ago. Rachel’s grandmother had lived with her family for many years while Rachel was growing up. Rachel loved hearing the life stories from her grandmother and her grandmother’s friends when they visited. Rachel was determined at a rather early age that she would become a nurse and care for people in their senior years.

Rachel was enthusiastic and engaged during her orientation, and her manager heard many positive comments from the residents about the “new” nurse. Her manager was surprised when Rachel submitted her resignation. The nurse manager “heard through the grapevine” that Rachel did not feel welcome in the organization’s culture.

During her exit interview, Rachel hesitantly told the human resource director that the staff member “cliques” created a challenging work environment to feel welcome. When encouraged to share additional details, Rachel adds that the small-town gossip, the negativity and the unwillingness to share information and help a new person created a stressful work environment. Rachel said she tried to share to some new ideas from school and was quickly told “that is not how we do things around here.” Rachel concluded by saying that she is looking for a positive work environment where she can feel like she is a valued member of the team.

Most Teams Have One…

Most likely every team has at least one; the gossiper, the complainer, the person who frequently displays a bad mood, negative Ned or Nellie, the person that brings personal problems to work, the bragger, the person who regularly doesn’t do their work, the person that does not support new team members, and the workplace saboteur.1

The Gossiper – The gossiper talks about people (often behind their backs) and spreads rumors (which may be untrue or exaggerated versions of the truth) often to gain attention, create drama or in an effort to bond with people that share similar habits.2

The Complainer – The frequent complainer is someone that expresses dissatisfaction, displeasure, distrust, discomfort, discontentment3, etc., about the work environment, management, leadership, co-workers, residents and families. Frequent complainers often thrive in environments where managers and supervisors remain at a distance4 or the ones in which managers and supervisors participant in the complaining sessions.

The Moody Person – A person who is frequently in a negative or bad mood often presents in one of the following ways: frustrated, cranky, annoyed, apathetic, grumpy, impatient indifferent, etc.5 This person can impact the mood of the entire team.

Negative Ned or Nellie – Negative Ned or Nellie often sees the glass as half-empty. “This is never going to work”, “This is too hard”, “This is too much work”…

Some refer to this team member as the workplace Eeyore. Eeyore is a cartoon donkey that is part of the Winnie-the-Pooh family and often portrayed as being “pessimistic, gloomy and depressed.”6

Christine Porath in a recent Havard Business Review article stated,

“…The effect of one de-energizing tie is four to seven times greater than the effect of a positive or energizing tie.” “This means that countless coworkers are often sucked into the negativity, bringing about a host of ill effects…”7

Sharing Personal Problems at Work – Everyone has life going on, and may be experiencing a hard time, a set-back, an illness, a disappointment, a failed relationship, a disruptive teenager, etc. Feeling connected with co-workers is an important part of being a member of a team. However, sharing too much information can be overwhelming, uncomfortable, unproductive, and draining for other members of the team.

The Bragger at Work – Social media encourages free expression of life in living color, what and where we eat and drink, who we socialize with and what we do, where we go, vacation plans, hobbies, kids, dogs, families… This comfort level of sharing, too much in some cases, can spill over into the workplace and create hard feelings, jealousy, and discomfort.

The Person that Regularly Doesn’t Get Their Work Done – Five types of individuals are often seen in the workplace:

  • The Procrastinator (never done on time, work always yet to be done)
  • The Vanisher (always absent when help is needed or team effort required)
  • The Victim (always has excuses and often it is someone else’s fault)
  • The Delegator (very good at pushing work off on other people when not in a supervisory role)
  • The Chatterer (is often involved in a conversation and likes to move around and chitchat or gossip)8

The Person that Does Not Support New People – The phrase “nurses eat their young” has been around for decades. This common phrase refers “to the sometimes-high levels of hazing or initiation new nurses experience at the hands of their more experienced coworkers.” But, it is not just nurses, this phenomenon happens in other clinical departments, to doctors, to police officers, to teachers, etc.9

“Forty-eight percent of graduating nurses are afraid that they’ll become the target of workplace bullying.More than 60 percent of all new nurses quit their first job due to the bad behavior of their co-workers.”10

Speaking in a condescending tone, ignoring phone calls and requests for information, belittling, criticizing in front of co-workers, residents, and family are examples of bullying behaviors.

The Workplace Saboteur – A workplace saboteur often engages in activities such as backstabbing, taking credit for another’s work, over-powering people, not passing on vital information, being highly critical of others, etc. The saboteur often focuses on people that are timid, insecure, and unassertive.11

“Negativity is like a virus that spreads causing problems with productivity and morale, and may ultimately prevent a department from achieving success, so you are wise to seek ways to remove it before it increases. Although everyone has moments of negativity about his or her work, when it becomes a habit, it becomes a problem.”12

Risk Management Strategies to Support a Positive Culture

  • Define a Culture of Respect – Establish an organizational Code of Conduct that defines expectations for a Culture of Respect in which all co-workers, managers/leaders, medical providers and contracted vendors treat each other, residents, and family members with courtesy, honesty, respect, and dignity.13
  • Define Specific Behaviors that Support a Culture of Respect – The following are examples:

•Approach each interaction with respect even if you do not agree with the person

•Develop an awareness of personal respect shown to others – active listening, body language, voice tone, what is said, etc.

•Respect individual differences – Create an inclusive work environment

•Appreciate the value of diverse opinions

•Utilize a positive, solution-driven approach to manage conflict

•Assume good intentions from co-workers, avoid presumptively assuming negative intent

•Avoid gossip and negativity; address frustrations with solution-focused comments and suggestions

•Be sensitive about sharing personal information at work. Avoid sharing “TMI” (Too Much Information)

•Be supportive of the team; be engaged, responsive and complete your work on time. Proactively communicate any challenges

•Be supportive of co-workers, managers, leaders, and the organization with internal and external communication

•Share your knowledge with others, be a mentor14

If you’re lucky enough to do well, it’s your responsibility to send the elevator back down.
— Kevin Spacey15

  • Provide Staff with Talking Points to Address Challenging Co-Worker Behaviors (e.g., gossip, backstabbing, negativity)
  • Hire for Fit with the Culture. You can train skills, it is much harder to change disruptive behaviors
  • Hire and Promote Managers and Supervisors that Model Behaviors of a Respectful Culture
  • Provide Regular Opportunities for Staff to Share Solutions –
    • Create aWhat is Not Working” and “What is My Suggestion” board in the staff locker room
    • Maintain an open-door manager policy where concerns and suggestions are welcome
  • Recognize Team Members that Consistently Treat Others with Respect. Send a note of recognition from the Administrator and/or Director of Nursing.
  • Establish Consistent and Effective Methods for Managing Disruptive Behavior. Provide manager and supervisor training; including human resource support for managing challenging behaviors.
  • Define a specific process for measuring unit and organizational culture of respect. Additional questions can be added to culture of safety survey questions.
  • Determine the Impact of Culture of Respect on Staff Turn-over. Ask specific questions during exit interviews.


  1. Bullying Prevention Strategies for Nurses. Downloadable Graphics: Preventing Bullying and Civility Best Practices. http://www.nursingworld.org/MainMenuCategories/WorkplaceSafety/Healthy-Nurse/bullyingworkplaceviolence/Preventing-Bullying-and-Civility-Best-Practices.html
  2. Civility Best Practices for Nurses. Downloadable Graphics: Preventing Bullying and Civility Best Practices. http://www.nursingworld.org/MainMenuCategories/WorkplaceSafety/Healthy-Nurse/bullyingworkplaceviolence/Preventing-Bullying-and-Civility-Best-Practices.html
  3. American Nurses Association. Position Statement, Incivility, Bullying, and Workplace Violence. (July 2015)


  1. Burge, J. How to Positively Slay Your Office Dragons (August 2016). https://officedynamics.com/positively-slay-office-dragons/#more-10096
  2. 10 Difficult Workplace Personalities and How to Deal with Them. https://www.universalclass.com/articles/business/difficult-workplace-personalities-and-how-to-deal-with-them.htm
  3. The Free Dictionary, Complainers. http://www.thefreedictionary.com/complainers.
  4. Petty, A. Best Way to Deal with Chronic Complainers in the Workplace. (January 2017). https://www.thebalance.com/how-to-deal-with-chronic-complainers-4125163
  5. Your dictionary, Mood Examples. http://examples.yourdictionary.com/mood-examples.html
  6. Gicante, R. Corporate Wellness Magazine.com. The Office Eeyore: How They Negatively Impact the Workplace. http://www.corporatewellnessmagazine.com/worksite-wellness/office-eeyore-negatively-impact-workplace/
  7. Porath, C. Harvard Business Review. Isolate Toxic Employees to Reduce Their Negative Effects. https://hbr.org/2016/11/isolate-toxic-employees-to-reduce-their-negative-effects
  8. Boitnott, J. 5 Kinds of Lazy Employees and How to Handle Them. (March 2017). Due.com. https://medium.com/due/5-kinds-of-lazy-employees-and-how-to-handle-them-d5e489a4196e
  9. Katz, K. Bullying in Nursing: Why Nurses ‘Eat their Young’ and What to Do About It. (June 2014). Rasmussen College. http://www.rasmussen.edu/degrees/nursing/blog/bullying-in-nursing-nurses-eat-their-young/
  10. Thompson, R. Nurses Eating Their Young: Bullying or Hazing? (January 2016). American Sentinel University, The Sentinel Watch. http://www.americansentinel.edu/blog/2016/01/22/nurses-eating-their-young-bullying-or-hazing/
  11. Lathrop, R. Snakes at the Nursing Station. (August 2007). American Nurse Today. https://www.americannursetoday.com/snakes-at-the-nursing-station/
  12. Frandsen, B. American Association of Nurse Assessment Coordination. Negativity in Nurses: Help Staff Reverse Bad Habits (May 2015). https://www.aanac.org/Articles/ID/1764/Negativity-in-Nurses-Help-Staff-Reverse-Bad-Habits
  13. Leape, L., et al. Perspective: A Culture of Respect, Part 2: Creating a Culture of Respect. Academic Medicine: July 2012 – Volume 87 – Issue 7 – p 853–858, doi: 0.1097/ACM.0b013e3182583536, Culture of Medicine. http://journals.lww.com/academicmedicine/Fulltext/2012/07000/PerspectiveACultureofRespect,Part2.11.aspx
  14. Legacy Business Cultures. 10 Actions You Can Focus on to Influence Culture of Respect, Civility in your Workplace. http://legacycultures.com/10-actions-you-can-focus-on-to-influence-culture-of-respect-civility-in-your-workplace/
  15. Be Leaderly. Leaderly quote: Send the elevator back down. http://www.beleaderly.com/leaderly-quote-send-the-elevator-back-down/


This blog, which does not reflect any official policy or opinion for Vaaler Insurance, Inc. or Siders Healthcare Consulting, LLC, is provided for informational purposes only. It is not intended to provide legal or medical advice, nor is it intended to be an exhaustive list of all risks that need to be addressed for a healthcare organization. While every effort is made to provide accurate information, changes may occur and inaccuracies happen despite best efforts. This information is not a substitute for individual consultations with professionals in these areas and should not be relied on as such. Please work with your legal counsel and business advisor(s) for a plan that is specific to your organization. © 2017 Vaaler Insurance, Inc.

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