The Impact of Negativity in the Media on Workplace Stress

Nobody owns the truth, but the media plays an outsized role in shaping our perceptions, attitudes, and even our understanding of personal success and overall well-being.

Gone are the days when journalism was about delivering succinct, fact-based accounts to the public so that individuals could develop their own opinions. Instead, broadcasts focus on opinions and perspectives, pushing us to consider issues based on ‘us vs. them’ attitudes. Unfortunately, since fear and negativity gather the most interest, stories drawing from those emotions draw more attention and advertising spend!

Due to a basic understanding of psychological and societal factors, it is easy to understand why this occurs. Like all animals, humans pay more attention to potential threats, and thus, negative information, such as fear-inducing content, captures attention more effectively. These stories evoke strong emotions like anxiety and outrage, making them more engaging and shareable. Feeding people what they crave, media outlets dependent on advertising revenues sensationalize narratives to attract viewership, and the difference between fact and fiction gets lost. 

This is an unhealthy cycle that ties directly to increases in workplace stress! As an operator, you need to consider these factors, and how they will affect your teams.

People’s confirmation bias, seeking information that aligns with their beliefs or fears, further reinforces the appeal of these stories. People seek out information sources that support their existing beliefs, and editorial content that reinforces any existing bias and opinion further contributes to the prevalence of fear-based content. While fear-based stories can be compelling, in the ideal world, media would also offer positive narratives to provide perspective and a balanced view of the world. Without the counter-balance bad news all the time becomes a form of abuse, inflicting fear and pain on our systems! Unfortunately, the uplifting stories of hope don’t sell as many ads, so even stories of hope are delivered against a backdrop of negativity.

Instead of inspiring us with visions of a better future and the potential for growth and progress, most of our political leaders have followed the media’s lead and abandoned messages of aspiration for statements emphasizing fear and anxiety. This is a sad reflection on the state of our leadership. Instead of sharing a vision of what we can become, people talk about protecting what we already have or stepping back to a simpler time. Those simpler times do not exist; we simply overcame their challenges and have forgotten the hardships!  

Political leadership’s aversion to aspiration is not exclusive to the right or left side of the political spectrum. It is a pervasive issue, and the stress that results is creating a culture of risk aversion and stagnation that people carry into the workplace. 

Progress does not occur when we are frozen in the embrace of anxiety. Progress is about embracing change, taking risks, and striving to become something greater than we are at present. Throughout history, the most influential and transformative leaders have been those who dared to dream big and inspired others with a vision of a better world. They challenged the status quo and pushed the boundaries of what was considered possible, often in the face of significant opposition and adversity.

However, such visionary political leadership is increasingly rare. Their lack of vision and aspiration is deeply harmful to our collective well-being, as it leads to feelings of discouragement and cynicism about the future.

While in the broader community, fearmongering is driving media to broadcast content with the sole goal of chasing the next advertising dollar, within corporations, leaders operate based on driving organizational success and not votes. 

Unfortunately, the politics of fear that pervades our broader society has a significant and detrimental impact on the workplace. When individuals are constantly exposed to messages of fear and anxiety in their daily lives, they bring their stress and uncertainty with them into the workplace, which leads to the development of a tense and unproductive work environment. Our organizations are not islands, and people do not leave their problems at the front door when they arrive at work.

The Workplace Impact of Fear-Based Politics

One of the primary ways in which fear-based politics can impact the workplace is by creating a culture of risk aversion and stagnation. Employees who are constantly bombarded with messages about the dangers of change and the need to maintain the status quo may become less willing to take risks or try new things. This can lead to a lack of innovation and creativity in the workplace, as during times of crisis, employees become more focused on simply getting by and avoiding failure than on pushing boundaries and exploring new ideas. With the stories in the media jumping from one crisis to the next, employees’ focus is constantly being diverted.

Moreover, the constant stress and anxiety that come with living in a fear-based society can significantly impact employee mental health and well-being. When individuals are constantly worried about their safety, financial security, or future prospects, it can be difficult to focus on their work and maintain a positive attitude. This can lead to increased absenteeism, decreased motivation, and a general sense of disengagement from one’s job.

Fear-based politics also contributes to a more hostile and competitive work environment, as employees become more focused on protecting their own interests and less willing to collaborate or support one another. The concept of a win-win relationship becomes foreign, and we all know that win-lose deals are never beneficial in the long run, as the last round’s losers seek to recoup their losses. 

When individuals feel constantly threatened, they also become more defensive and less open to feedback or constructive criticism, leading to a breakdown in communication and a lack of trust among team members.

This breakdown, caused solely by external factors can quickly undo all the organization’s efforts at removing toxicity and building trust and cooperation.

Overcoming the Negative Impact of Fear-Based Politics

To combat the negative effects of fear-based politics in the workplace, leaders must actively reject the politics of fear and promote a more positive and aspirational vision for the future. This means creating a culture that values innovation, risk-taking, and collaboration. The emphasis within the organization has to be on encouraging employees to take risks, and applaud their efforts. Failure is learning, and if you don’t encourage people to make attempts, they never succeed or fail. Being comfortable to try and fail encourages people to think creatively and push beyond their comfort zones. 

This willingness to fail to learn how to succeed also means an organization is prioritizing employee well-being and mental health. Ultimately, the key to overcoming the negative impact of fear-based politics in the workplace is to create a shared sense of purpose and vision that inspires and motivates employees. This is not about creating a happy island where everyone is comfortable and lounges without any desire to work.  It’s the exact opposite! When individuals feel like they are part of something larger than themselves and that their work has meaning and value beyond simply earning a paycheck, they are more likely to be engaged, productive, and committed to their jobs.

If every business leader adopted this attitude and helped their teams overcome negativity, what would occur when they left the workplace and went home? They would feel satisfied with themselves, proud of their accomplishments, and happier. They would carry these feelings home, and their sense of well-being would be transmitted to their family and friends. They would not inflict stress on others.   

To achieve this kind of progress, we need business leaders who are willing to speak to our highest aspirations and inspire us with their vision of a better future. Progress is always possible, but it requires leaders who are willing to take risks, think big, inspire others with their vision of a better world, AND who recognize how impactful they can be on the community around the!  

Progress requires a willingness to challenge the status quo and embrace change, even when it is difficult or uncomfortable. Ultimately, the key to progress and growth lies in our ability to aspire to something greater than what we are today, setting ambitious goals and working tirelessly to achieve them, even in the face of adversity and setbacks.

Only by rejecting the fear and embracing a vision of hope and possibility can we truly move forward. By doing so, we can create a more positive and productive environment in our workplaces and beyond, leading to increased innovation, creativity, and success for individuals and organizations alike.