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Ninjas were 14th century Japanese martial artists hired to conduct covert missions like assassination, espionage, and sabotage. Modern day workplace ninjas behave much the same way, maneuvering their way through the rank and file, sabotaging workplace rules, uncovering secrets, and assassinating creativity, passion, and energy.
If ninjas have invaded your work territory, do not worry. You can defeat those ninjas if you take charge of the problem and commit to restoring positivity to your organization.
IDENTIFY THE CAUSE
One of the first steps to combating negativity in the workplace is to identify the ninjas or causes. Is there an insidious gossiper who works his way around the office, unsettling co-workers with news about impending changes, terminations, or other subversive information? Is there a group of co-workers who take lunch together and regularly turn the time into a complaint session? Perhaps corporate downsizing, turnover, or budget cuts have created a mood of apprehension and mistrust among employees. Or could it be the boss himself is the worst ninja, zapping the office of positive energy every time he walks through the door? Whatever the reason, you need to identify it.
If the cause is not obvious, an informal investigation will help you get some answers. Interview a few key employees about what they think the problem could be. If this group doesn't provide you with enough information, keep looking-but don't let the investigation slow to a crawl. You need to get to the bottom of things as soon as possible; otherwise, the negativity will continue to grow.
TIME TO FIX THE PROBLEM
Once you've identified the cause, you must take action. Sometimes, it is what we are NOT doing that can have the most damaging effects. If you tolerate negative ninja behavior, things will get worse, and like a virus, the negativity will spread. Negativity is contagious. It does not take long for everyone in the workplace to catch it. Do not be afraid to confront an individual or a situation. Permitting the negativity to continue will be costly to your organization, and unfair to your employees.
FIXING ORGANIZATIONAL PROBLEMS
Sometimes, negativity in the workplace is a result of corporate decisions: downsizing, staff reassignments, reduced budgets, lack of employee recognition, change of work hours, new dress code, suspended bonuses, or overall poor communication. If the organization adversely affects its employees in some way, you are in a prime position to do something about it.
The first thing you can do about it is listen. Let your employees tell you what is on their minds, as this can provide them with the sounding board they are looking for. Employees want to know that their opinions matter, so try scheduling some one-on-one sessions with employees in which they are allowed to express their opinions and make recommendations for positive change. Repeat what they say, assuring them that they have been heard. But be careful-these sessions should not turn into runaway complaint sessions. Try to keep the employees focused, allowing them to speak not only about the things that need improvement, but also about the ways to improve them. Then, compliment them when they produce positive, realistic suggestions.
Another suggestion is to hold a group meeting in which your employees are encouraged to speak about the negativity and suggest solutions. This requires a skillful moderator. You do not want employees fueling each other's gripes. Instead, make the session about uncovering issues and resolving them. Of course, if your organization's issue is a lack of pay increases, it may be difficult to come up with an alternative solution that is both realistic and satisfactory to your employees. If an immediate solution is not viable, then after repeating their concerns back to them, letting them know that they are communicating effectively, explain the reasons why a pay increase is not possible at this time. Tell them when or under what circumstances they can expect an increase, and find out if there is an alternative, temporary solution that will satisfy them. You do not need to provide them with a resolution on the spot. You can tell your employees that their concerns have been heard and will be taken under advisement. Speak with other company executives to determine what can be done. Educational assistance, opportunities for upward or lateral mobility, and cross-training can provide employees with a sense that, while pay increases may not be currently feasible, the organization is still committed to their employees' success. And sometimes, employees just need to know that management has heard them and is working toward a solution.
FIXING GROUP OR INDIVIDUAL PROBLEMS
When an individual or group creates negativity in the workplace, you need to address the ninja(s) as soon as possible. One of the worst things you can do is ignore the negative behavior. Why? When you ignore the behavior, you inadvertently send a message that the behavior is acceptable or that the organization does not care. Confrontation is essential. Call the ninja into your office and confront her on the behavior. Express your concerns, and allow this person an opportunity to take responsibility for her actions. Make sure you repeat what the person says, confirming that you have heard them correctly, but be firm about not tolerating future negative behavior. If the problem occurs again, there needs to be a consequence.
If you are managing a group situation, you may need to remove the opportunity for the group of ninjas to meet in the setting where the ninja behavior takes place. If the ninjas try to point fingers at others, keep your ears open, but do not let them intimidate or dissuade you from your course of action. Ninja behavior must have consequences.
Also, do not let a ninja engage you in a power struggle. You must maintain your calm and professionalism at all times. Furthermore, if you have a positive attitude, although resolute, you can influence the person accordingly.
DO NOT LET NINJAS INTO YOUR ORGANIZATION
The best way to combat a ninja is to never let them creep into your territory in the first place. Here are a few tips for keeping your workplace harmonious:
- Give employees control over their work. Allow them to have a say in what they do and how they perform. When you take away control from an employee, expect him or her to feel disempowered, which can lead to negative emotions about the workplace.
- Make sure everyone in the organization is aware of workplace rules and policies. If employees do not know what is expected of them, they will have a difficult time performing to expectations. Also, let them know these workplace rules apply to all employees uniformly, and do not makes exceptions for "favorites" or special groups.
- Let employees come to you with concerns. Have an open door policy, and if an employee feels that a policy, practice, or upcoming change is not beneficial, let them tell you why. Of course, allow the employee the opportunity to make positive recommendations.
- Provide employees with timely responses to their concerns. If an employee expresses that the workload is too much, consider the facts and provide them with a response within a few days. Let them know that you are concerned and considering their opinion.
- Be fair and balanced with your employees. Apply the rules consistently, and make sure the consequences for breaking the rules are appropriate.
- Give your employees opportunities to develop professionally and personally. Provide educational assistance or implement training programs, and tell your employees what they need to do to advance in your organization.
Most of all, treat your employees with respect and courtesy. Reward them for great performance, and recognize employees for their varied contributions. The organization itself can be the most positive influence, helping employees feel valued, empowered, and energized.