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How to Deal

A Positive Attitude Can Go a Long Way After a Layoff

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By Lily Garcia
Special to washingtonpost.com
Thursday, April 16, 2009; 6:43 PM

Do you have tips for employees about how to prevent catching the negativity virus during layoffs?

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Next week, I will write about what employers with limited resources at their disposal can do to invest in and motivate their workers. I chose to address your question first because I believe that we too often forget that how we feel about our workplaces is also within our control.

Work on behavior, not attitude. Achieving the result you want is not about having the right attitude, but about engaging in the right behavior. In the aftermath a layoff, it will do you little good to tell yourself to be more positive or to try to logically reason your way out of negative thinking. As crazy as it sounds, you must behave as if you are happy, even if you are not. Eventually, your attitude will catch up with your actions and you will actually start to feel more engaged and motivated.

Think about the people you know who truly love their work. What have you noticed about how they approach their day? What do they consistently do? Happy employees often arrive before their scheduled start time so that they can get coffee, catch up on emails, and make a plan for the day's activities before the phone starts to ring. Happy employees are focused. They are not easily tempted by the distractions of the Internet and office gossip. As a result, they are highly productive. They thrive on getting things done and they readily take ownership of issues, even if they do not relate directly to their job description. Happy employees assist co-workers without hesitation. They do not disparage their co-workers or their employers. They are pleasant, and they often smile.

You should modify this list based upon the wisdom of your own experience and then decide what you are going to do every day, even if it does not come naturally, to ensure that you act the part of a happy employee. After a while, you just might catch yourself feeling happy, too.

Catch the happiness virus. Just as you can catch the "negativity virus," you can also be infected by happiness. You may find that the morale of your workplace is suffering because of a layoff, and you may have little choice but to associate with gloomy coworkers. But you do have a choice about who you spend time with in your personal life. According to a study published in the British Medical Journal in December, knowing someone who is happy increases your chances of being happy by 15.3 percent.

When you are unhappy at work, it can help talk about it and establish solidarity with other people who are going through the same thing. But beware of dwelling on your problems. As much as you can, surround yourself with people who are optimistic and positive.

Take care of yourself. Don't forget that happiness has as much to do with physiology as with psychology. When you are going through a stressful emotional time, such as a layoff in your workplace, you should be especially disciplined about engaging in the healthy habits that promote overall well-being and a positive outlook. Get enough exercise and plenty of sunlight. Eat healthy, balanced meals. In particular, make sure that you are incorporating enough omega-3 fatty acids in your diet. These nutrients, which can be found in certain types of fish oil and flaxseed oil, are associated with a lower occurrence of depression and such health benefits as improved sleep, energy, and concentration. Also make sure that you are eating plenty of dark leafy greens, which contain powerful antioxidants that promote mental health.

If, despite your efforts to engage in positive behaviors and associate with supportive people, you nevertheless find yourself sinking into depression, don't hesitate to seek professional help. Sometimes what we call the "negativity virus" is actually a more serious condition that is difficult to manage on your own.

Lily Garcia has offered employment law and human resources advice to companies of all sizes for more than 10 years. To submit a question, e-mail HRadvice@washingtonpost.com. We reserve the right to edit submitted questions for length and clarity and cannot guarantee that all questions will be answered.




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