Can a Negative Mindset in the Workplace Ever be Beneficial?

Negative thinking in the workplace comes down to expecting the worst, or not becoming complacent when everything is going well. In other words, it is the complete opposite of the bold, positive thinking mindset we are always told is key to career success.

The oil industry reportedly has problems of chronic unease and negative thinking patterns amongst workers; It makes sense to think a negative Nancy would do a better job of mitigating a spill from an oil rig than an overly optimistic Ollie always broadcasting the comforting safety statsistics.

Being chronically uneasy may be a helpful perspective for many people, and probably healthier too. It’s no coincidence that many of the world’s most successful business people and influencers are positive people. However, those with a more positive mindset and outlook on life usually see endless possibilities and empower others to feel the same, and in turn move everyone forward be it a team at work, playing a sport or offering motivation to people in your everyday life.

Realist vs Pessimist

Of course, while there are plenty of pessimistic successful people out there who will always choose to think the worst, as being realistic makes them better prepared to mitigate failure or even prepare for the worse. That way, if things turn out better than expected, it is a bonus.

As a society, we are prone to glorifying bold risk-takers, especially in the business world, however there are good reasons to proceed with caution before starting an ambitious project. There are obviously limits to the idea however it is hard to imagine Jeff Bezos becoming a self-made billionaire by doubting his ideas and abilities.


Behavioural Therapy & Chronic Unease

Elsewhere, in fields such as behavioural therapy, the evidence suggests that swapping negative thoughts for positive ones can help improve mental health.

Yet it’s clear that a lot of companies could do with more chronic unease. This illness was brought up by an HR report conducted on the Commonwealth Bank in Australia, which started a whole investigation on grounds of misconduct, from wrongly-selling loans or charging levies for services it never provided.

The report found that years of continuous success had immunised the bank workers senses and a culture of contentment and gratification had eventually led to a sense of chronic ease instead of the chronic unease that has proven effective in driving safety cultures in other industries.

The other sectors the report looked at included the following:

  • Oil, gas & nuclear industry.
  • Pilots & the aviation industry.
  • Doctors & Hospital staff.
  • Auditors & Bookkeepers.

Ultimately, there is much to be said for the power of negative thinking. In fact, I rather think it can be positively uplifting.