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Where Does Negativity in the Workplace Come From?
By: Tom Roarty
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The advertising world can be brutal. In an industry such creativity and beauty can spawn from, the calm is usually only surface calm, though, as a turbulent underside is frequently present. But why is it that in so many creative environments there is always a call for drama?
 
There was a place I worked at a few years ago that was driven on negative emotions. It was then I started to ask myself, "Why?" It wasn’t a rhetorical question, but one I truly wanted to find a meaning for. I have worked for a wide variety of clients in my career, and it seems that many of the places I was at had this problem, but I never questioned it in depth until I reached that particular job. Maybe it was the perception of professionalism I expected or the quality of work I planned on producing but never had a chance to, but I made it a mission to find out why.
 
In order to obtain my answer, I had to break down where the problem was coming from. After I figured that out, it took some observing, but I can say with confidence that once I was able to recognize the problem, there was a very evident pattern. In the specific case I am referring to, the mistreatment of all staff, not just myself, was never in doubt. All of the negative energy came from one person. In working with him over time, one thing was apparent: He was in way over his head. Over the years, I have come to realize that this is very often the case when dealing with unwelcomed behavior in the creative profession, but how does this happen, and an even bigger question is, how is it allowed to continue?
 
For that, I believe there is also a formulaic answer. In many cases where you may encounter a not-so-professional member of management, it is because a person with a non-management mentality was put in the position of power. This happens for many reasons, but the most common is time. There is a shelf life for many creatives, and during their time with an employer one of two things usually happens: Either they move to be challenged, or they are promoted. Sometimes for comfort reasons, a person who should have moved on is promoted. The reasons vary; they were trusted as a designer, and so they are rewarded with a manager title. Or it is a case where the designer feels entitled to an opening because of their time spent with a company, not realizing what is involved. Sometimes it is just a case where a designer has run their course at an agency, and because of their relationships, they are promoted up rather than out. Regardless of how this person got there, the question becomes, "How do they get to stay there?"
 
Most managers do not want to admit a mistake and would rather see a problem sort itself out. It is this lack of initiative that helps pad the space between good managers and bad managers. A good manager would address a problem head on in a non-confrontational way by having a clear point and plan for success. If that doesn’t work, there is usually a backup plan, which assures that the problem employee does not contaminate the rest of the staff. It is the responsibility of the senior management to groom those below them into better employees.
 
As for the manager in question, he is no longer with that company. In fact, almost no one is left there. Out of six employees, only one remains. The rest were either laid off or quit when they saw how the negative impact of just one person was affecting the business. Could such an outcome have been avoided? Yes, simply by knowing what you are getting into and learning that over expecting could help a business go a long way.


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