Three strategies for dealing with toxic positivity in the workplace

Nov 15, 2023

2 min

Jill Panté

Every workplace needs its cheerleaders who work lift their teammates up when the chips are down. But sometimes things really are that bad, and according to UD career expert Jill Gugino Panté, if that’s not acknowledged and dealt with, the situation will go further south.

Panté, director of the Lerner Career Services Center at the University of Delaware, offered three tips for dealing with what is known as “toxic positivity.”

Don’t force it. One example of toxic positivity in the workplace is always having to display and present positive emotions even when you might be feeling the opposite. So, feelings of frustration, anger or sadness are not acceptable on any given day. Forcing this type of toxic positivity can actually do the opposite and create feelings of resentment and burnout.

Share with your supervisor. As an employee in this environment where toxic positivity runs rampant, you may want to have a one-on-one conversation with your supervisor to discuss the culture and ramifications of not being able to display authentic emotions. Perhaps letting your supervisor know that there are negative feelings festering under the “positive outside” that should be addressed. If you don’t feel comfortable going to your supervisor, find an advocate within the organization. And if you feel brave enough, try playing devil’s advocate in a meeting and state that discussing all angles could be helpful in problem solving.

Be proactive with direct reports. Another example of toxic positivity is that everything, no matter the situation, is going to be alright. Sometimes situations are not going to turn out for the better. Sometimes situations are awful and horrible and people need to be allowed to feel that way. This constant “look on the bright side” can diminish a person’s experiences and feelings. It silences those who want to be able to express outrage, anger or sadness and doesn’t provide a supportive workplace. Eliminating this behavior starts at the top with creating an environment where people feel safe to express dissenting opinions or feelings.

Panté is available for interviews. To set one up, simply click on her profile.

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Jill Panté

Jill Panté

Director, Lerner College Career Services Center

Prof. Panté can comment on workplace issues such as hiring, professional etiquette, personal branding, interviewing, and job search.

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