The Effects of Negative Attitudes in the Workplace

“Success or failure in business is caused more by the mental attitude even than by mental capacities” – Sir Walter Scott

If a good attitude costs nothing, then a bad attitude can cost everything. The U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics has reported that negativity in the workplace costs businesses $3 billion a year due to its harmful effects. Workplace negativity is like a disease, and even the best companies aren’t immune. Workplace negativity hurts your bottom line through decreased productivity and quality, lower morale, loss of talent, and even customer satisfaction. 

The Impact of Attitude in the Workplace

It’s a common view that a “bad hire” is one in which certain skills or knowledge are lacking. While job-related skills are important, they are not the only yardstick by which to measure applicants, and they typically can be improved through training. In fact, Leadership IQ’s three-year study of the factors that determine if new hires succeed or fail found that 81% of new hires fail because of factors that make up attitude.  Clearly, then, the more problematic bad hire is one with a poor attitude. Employees that you invite to join your company for their valuable skillset, also bring their attitudes with them. Yes, attitudes can be influenced by factors such as management practices, pay & benefits, and working conditions.  However, these factors only intensify a person’s attitude.  The best defense is to hire people who are naturally inclined to show up with a positive attitude and to maintain that optimism in even the most difficult scenarios.

Positive Attitude = An optimistic/can-do spirit coupled with a willingness to trust others and give the benefit of the doubt.

Employees with a positive attitude tend to have more confidence and energy for taking on ambitious challenges. They look for ways to make things work, and for reasons to try something new. This positive approach enables them to achieve big things where others might not have tried.

Negative Attitudes in the Workplace

Those with a negative attitude have a knack for shooting holes in ideas and finding reasons for not doing something. They are less likely to demonstrate the energy and confidence needed to perform and achieve. This is especially critical during times of increased stress and pressure. For people in leadership roles, a negative attitude will have a corresponding negative impact on the level of engagement and motivation of their team. The leader sets the tone, and if that tone is one of pessimism and negativity, then that will infect the entire department and the broader culture of the organization. Great company cultures are extremely difficult to create and even harder to nurture and maintain. For many organizations, culture is a key competitive advantage. Don’t let a few bad attitudes infect your company culture. 

The good news is that a positive attitude can easily be measured during the pre-hire process, using validated personality tests. Many of these tests can be completed in less than 30 minutes and can provide insights that far outweigh the investment. Attitude can also be assessed through behavioral interviews, where applicants are asked to share examples of how they have approached difficult assignments, and how they handled it when the tasks seemed too difficult to accomplish. The key here is to probe for specific examples, the applicant’s actions, and the result of those actions.

Professional Employee Development Services

If a positive attitude is a key factor in job success, why not measure it before making that hiring decision? PSP Metrics customizes tools that enable hiring managers to know an applicant’s likelihood of demonstrating optimism and energy on the job, even when the going gets tough. Learn more about our adaptable measurement systems here.

PSP Metrics has been at the forefront of science-backed employee assessments and measurement systems for over 75 years. Our mission has always been to help give you a competitive business advantage through your company’s most valuable resource — your workforce.

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Dr. Ken Graham

Dr. Ken Graham is a Principal Psychologist at PSP Metrics. He has extensive experience in talent management, developing high-performing executives and teams, and creating cutting-edge selection systems, executive assessments, and organizational design practices. Dr. Graham can be contacted at or via LinkedIn.

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