Negative workers can hurt productivity in the workplace

Employees who point out problems in the office may help the company improve but could hurt themselves in the process, according to Michigan State University researchers.

In a study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, the researchers found that negative-minded workers are more likely to become mentally fatigued, defensive and experience drop-off in production. If employees suggest ideas for improvement, it can have a positive effect.

“The moral of the story is not that we want people to stop raising concerns within the company because that can be extremely beneficial,” Russell Johnson PhD, management professor and co-author of the study, stated in a press release. “But constantly focusing on the negative can have a detrimental effect on the individual.”

The first part of the current research is to examine the effects of positive and negative suggestions on individuals in the workplace. There were 300 workers included in the study from various occupations who completed given two field surveys. Workers who point out problems or errors regularly may become mentally fatigued from highlighting others’ shortcomings and can cause tension in relationships.

“The irony of that is, when people are mentally fatigued they are less likely to point out problems anymore,” Johnson stated.  “In addition, they are less likely to be cooperative and helpful, and they even exhibit deviant behaviors such as being verbally abusive and stealing from the employer.”

Johnson proposes that companies should consider rewarding employees who point out issues that lead to improvements, as other employees may be more accepting if they knew that it is what the company wanted.


Johnson R, et al. J Appl Psychol. 2015;doi:10.1037/apl0000018.

Disclosure: Johnson reports no relevant financial disclosures.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.