6 Signs Toxic Positivity Is Ruining Your Workplace (Watch Out for #5)

Toxic positivity doesn’t need to be malicious to cause real workplace harm.
Updated May 2, 2024
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Multi-ethnic colleagues posing at work

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“Toxic positivity” is a weird phrase, and you might not associate it with a hostile work environment. But being too “positive” really can create harm in the workplace.

Ideally, optimism is healthy. But there must be a balance between optimism and acknowledging difficult emotions if workers are to maintain their well-being.

A workplace full of toxic positivity can be unhealthy, even if you earn enough money to move beyond living paycheck to paycheck. So, what exactly is toxic positivity, and how can you spot it at work?

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What is toxic positivity?

Tinashe N/peopleimages.com/Adobe senior female manager meeting female employee

In short, “toxic positivity” is the tendency to suppress or reject negative emotions in favor of an overly optimistic outlook. It denies the validity of negative feelings, which can hinder your ability to process things emotionally.

Even the most well-intentioned among us may unwittingly promote toxic positivity, which stifles authentic emotional experiences. Maybe you do it to yourself, or maybe you do it to your colleagues. Again, you might not even realize it is happening.

Here are some of the negative impacts of toxic positivity in the workplace.

It is making people feel shame

vchalup/Adobe hands pointing at stressed businessman

Shame is a powerful emotion. Toxic positivity can cause workers to feel like their emotions are invalid or that they have been put in a box and forced to be pleasant.

If you or your co-workers aren’t happy, that’s a valid emotion. It’s OK to not be OK. Those emotions are real and deserve attention.

It is creating guilt

zinkevych/Adobe female boss angry over male employes

Shame and guilt tend to go hand-in-hand.

Toxic positivity can create feelings of guilt. The implication is that if you can’t stay positive — even when it feels like you’re being attacked — it’s somehow your problem.

You don’t need to feel guilty about feeling bad.

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It is letting everyone off the hook for actually fixing problems

Clayton D/peopleimages.com/Adobe annoyed african american woman at work

Toxic positivity ignores the problems individual workers face. That is one of the reasons it’s so insidious.

It's important to acknowledge the significant privileges or undisclosed assistance some may have had in achieving their goals. In many cases, individuals with substantial platforms, influence, or social and economic power contribute to toxic positivity.

It is interfering with the expression of genuine emotion

Sasint/Adobe stressed businessman using computer late night

Part of being human is feeling. Toxic positivity involves maintaining a relentlessly positive attitude — even in challenging circumstances — by dismissing or ignoring negative emotions.

Positivity can be well-meaning, but too much of it discourages the expression of genuine feelings, leading to a lack of acknowledgment of difficult emotions. That can lead to alienation and tends to hinder emotional processing, which prevents you from effectively coping with and resolving distressing situations.

It is creating an atmosphere where workers don't respect each other's emotions

Scott Griessel/Adobe female employee ignoring senior businessman

Toxic positivity creates the expectation that you will display only upbeat emotions. This can wreak havoc on the workforce.

Your colleagues don’t need to be as close to you as family or friends, but support is important. When someone shares a challenging emotion, avoid responding with toxic positivity. Instead, validate their feelings as natural.

Assure them of your willingness to listen and support them. Don’t deny their emotions.

It is preventing workers — and the company — from growing

motortion/Adobe Unhappy senior boss sitting at office

Part of toxic positivity is avoidance — not acknowledging feelings.

Some of that shields us from confronting uncomfortable emotions that may cause pain. But this avoidance prevents us from addressing challenging feelings, which are essential for personal growth and gaining deeper understanding.

Employees who feel supported and who are able to grow emotionally are more likely to contribute to a company’s efforts to be successful.

Bottom line

fizkes/Adobe multi ethnic colleagues laughing together

Although toxic positivity might not be malicious, it can be counterproductive and damaging at work. It can make individuals feel invalidated and might hinder relationships.

Acknowledging and supporting others' emotional experiences is vital to fostering trust and authenticity — especially at work, where we all depend on each other to get the job done.

So, make sure you work in an environment that supports you and where you can support others. If that is not the case now, it might be time to find a job that helps you maintain your mental health while also allowing you to boost your bank account.

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Author Details

Will Vitka Will Vitka is a D.C. area reporter and writer. He previously worked for WTOP, The New York Post, Stuff Magazine, and CBS News.

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