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Toxic Positivity In the Workplace

What is “Toxic Positivity,” and how can it negatively affect the workplace?

Welcome back to the Pathway Design Group blog! 

We’re excited to get back into the swing of things, using this space to dig into the beautiful complexities that make up human resources and how organizations can thrive by focusing on the people who keep things running. 

What is “toxic positivity?”

There’s no doubt about it; we are living in a world of buzzwords. Seeing phrases like “toxic positivity” pop up in your feed or your conversations can often feel like yet another thing you have to keep track of. And trust us, we get that! The thing about buzzwords, though, is that they are often grown from the truth. We think this is very much the case with toxic positivity.

If you google the phrase, you’ll learn that toxic positivity is generally defined as an unconditional state of positivity and optimism — the belief that, no matter how bad things get, no matter what the circumstances are, one should always maintain a positive outlook and the situation they’re in. 

What’s wrong with a positive outlook?


We certainly don’t think that a positive outlook is a bad thing, but it’s the “unconditional” part that poses a problem. The unfortunate side effect of constantly looking at the bright side of things — no matter what — is that it inevitably suppresses very real emotions. Because remember: emotions are real whether they are considered “positive” or “negative.” Suppressing and dismissing valid emotions and glossing over them with phrases like, “Cheer up,” “Get over it,” and even, “Everything happens for a reason,” skips an important step: empathy. 

And you know how we feel about empathy!

When you acknowledge that someone is feeling real emotions, and attempt to see where those emotions are coming from, you are opening the floor for dramatic, positive change.

How does toxic positivity negatively impact the workplace?

Broken Trust

When employees and colleagues are expected to suppress their negative emotions, this can lead to them feeling invalidated and unheard. When this persists, broken trust between employees and management is inevitable. This broken trust can manifest in many different ways: avoidance, decreased communication, and even hostility. 


Another drawback to constant positivity is that it is simply unsustainable. It often means powering through work when you might not be working at your best or ignoring troubling issues for the sake of morale. Denying your negative emotions and putting on a brave, positive face for an extended period of time can be exhausting and eventually results in burnout. When your employees are burnt out, the whole organization suffers.

Missed Opportunities for Growth

One of the wonderful things about negative emotions is that they always stem from something, and sometimes, that something is a really big problem. By allowing a healthy amount of emotional expression in your workplace, you’re presenting your team with an opportunity to acknowledge and troubleshoot things that need improvement. 

Choose Discomfort over Dishonesty

We get it — dealing with uncomfortable emotions can be intimidating, no matter what part of life you’re in. The thing about discomfort, though, is that it’s usually temporary, and it often comes before things change for the better. 

Have you ever encountered toxic positivity in the workplace? We’d love to hear about your experience!