Paul Butler: Workplace viruses

Paul Butler

At the time of writing, we are continuing to hear news of the coronavirus spreading across the world. It seems rather trite of me to relate the pandemic to the everyday workplace. However, my observation has been a disease of similar magnitude pervades all workplaces, to a greater or lesser degree.

The virus I’m referring to in the workplace may not be life-threatening although at its extreme I have seen it suffocate the soul of the workplace. The virus I’m referring to in the workplace can spread just as quickly as the coronavirus if left unchecked. The virus I’m referring to in the workplace comes in three forms — the gossip strain; the negativity strain and the laziness strain.


Gossip is like a toxic poison. I have seen this disease infiltrate workplaces all around the world. Gossip is a very deceitful virus because you don’t see any harm in it. You actually think you’re building rapport with your fellow worker(s) when you bad-mouth another but you’re actually destroying yourself. Innately, your fellow worker(s) know you’d just as likely gossip about them behind their back. Therefore trust — which is a type of immune system to disease in the workplace — begins to break down.


Negativity is the plague of innovation and creativity. Nothing is sure to kill ideas quicker than someone’s negativity. One of the questions I have asked audiences around various parts of the world is: “Who here, by a show of hands, likes to be around negative people?” No one has ever raised their hand. We of course need people to counter our wacky ideas to help us arrive at something wonderful that will actually work. We’re more open to the ideas of those who offer suggestions than we are to those who just attempt to pull everything and everyone down.

Henry Ford famously called out negative people when he said: “If I’d have listened to all the negativity around me, I’d never have designed the automobile but rather, just have come up with a faster horse!”


I have tended to find the virus of laziness is often found lurking within the cubicles of the world where the workplace is highly unionized. In fact, I am going to go out on a limb here and state that whenever I have seen extreme laziness within the workplace it’s where unions have wrapped themselves so tightly around the vital organs of the organization it almost can’t breathe. The organizational body moves slowly because its arteries are blocked with bureaucracy. The organizational body is fat with too many people doing too little work.

Just as mankind will find a cure for the coronavirus, there is a cure for gossip, negativity and laziness. Just as the coronavirus will be cured by people working together toward a common cause, the virus strains within the workplace can be tempered by people working together toward a common cause.

I have observed when organizations are led by exceptional leaders that the viruses of gossip, negativity and laziness are isolated and contained. Over time, great leaders build outstanding teams that are comprised of highly effective individuals. This level of performance cannot be sustained if gossip, negativity and laziness are allowed to permeate the place of work.

I’m no great physician nor philosopher, but I am convinced another type of virus will hit our world at some point in the future as sure as the sun rises and the sun sets. It may have a different name but it’ll still be a virus. Likewise, I am convinced that as good leaders leave and lesser leaders replace them, gossip, negativity and laziness will creep back up the stairwells and through the side doors.

Just as we as individuals can do our part to stop the spread of viruses, we too can do so much to stop the spread of gossip, negativity and laziness regardless of what’s happening in the world or within our workplace.

Related To This Story

Latest NEWS