For employees and businesses, creating a work environment that is positive and upbeat is an honourable aspiration. You would be hard pushed to find anyone who wants to work within an environment that is negative or nonchalant.
In April, however, a ruling was issued against T-Mobile by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) in the US as a result of this very same aspiration. Within its employee handbook, the telecommunications company had included a statement that required its employees to maintain a positive work environment in a manner that was favourable to creating effective working relationships. It was this statement that was against the law.
Despite seeming to be an odd decision, there was a legal reason for this ruling. It was the result of a culmination of events, including a series of charges that had been brought against T-Mobile over the past few years. Several of its policies were struck down by NLRB during this time, with these policies appearing to impede the union organisation and discussing employment practices.
The wording about maintaining a positive work environment within the employee manual was deemed vague and ambiguous enough to have a negative effect on how employees were able to organise and speak freely. The National Labor Relations Act guarantees these rights.
As there was no explicit description of what constituted a ‘positive work environment’, workers would have to err on the side of caution, making sure they were removed from any potential controversies whilst still protecting communication within their working environment, the ruling found; otherwise, they may be punished.
Furthermore, there are psychological impacts that can be caused by this type of guideline. If you worry about whether you are going to violate a policy that creates this feel-good environment, you are going to be constantly checking yourself in case you make any slip-ups. This can take its toll on you mentally.
Over the years it has been found that suppressing impulses can not only cause a strain mentally but may also impair your perceptiveness, motivation, problem-solving ability, self-control and memory. This reduces the productivity within a workforce, which is ultimately bad for a business.
It would therefore seem that trying to enforce general positivity within a workplace can cause problems legally and psychologically. Encouraging positivity within the workplace becomes a difficult issue – by asking your employees to create a positive environment, it can be perceived as you trying to carry out your own agenda, reprimanding anyone who does not fit into the company’s concept.
In the case of T-Mobile, it may have been found that trying to enforce this type of environment meant that certain actions or speeches were being prevented, such as trying to promote the rights of employees or saying anything negative about the employer.
In essence, trying to enforce a positive working environment is not the way to create an upbeat workplace; instead, we should be leading by example.
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