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When business is going badly, it’s difficult to find positive things to talk about with your employees. But research conducted by Thomas O. Davenport, a principal at the human resource consulting firm Towers Perrin, illustrates why doing so is crucial to encourage a team to overcome negative currents.
Threats and losses have a negative impact on the human psyche that is asymmetrical to gains and victories, according to psychologists. One social scientist has even suggested that for a marriage to succeed, favorable interactions must outnumber unfavorable ones by at least five to one.
Recently, Davenport conducted a survey of employee attitudes to see how this asymmetrical impact was playing out in workplaces. He discovered that in the throes of the recession from August to December of 2008, employees became much more concerned about job security, while their interest in maximizing earnings and doing exciting work dropped.
Not coincidentally, employee participants mentioned negative incidents involving managers 26% more often than positive ones. Worse, 82% of the negative emotional responses were experienced with high intensity, whereas 88% of the positive emotional reactions carried low or moderate intensity.
“Managers have a special power to evoke workplace anxiety, and an equal capacity for helping employees deal with it,” Davenport writes. Employees work harder for managers who consistently provide small uplifts— like a word of praise, or an expression of confidence— for them throughout the day.
But the reverse is also true. Managers who create downdrafts in employees’ emotional states encourage more so-called “withdrawal behaviors” like absenteeism and turnover. “When managers fail to acknowledge and appreciate employees, employees report frustration, fatigue, apprehension, distress and anger,” Davenport writes.
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