Is your workplace toxic? What to do about it

January 9, 2019 Mary Lorenz

If there’s one upside to being described as “toxic,” it’s that Britney Spears might write a song about you. Otherwise, it can have some pretty damaging results - particularly if it’s used to describe your workplace culture. The detrimental effects of a toxic workplace can hardly be overstated. Morale suffers, turnover increases, productivity stalls and the quality of your business’ products and services take a hit.

At a time when great, new employees are hard to find, doing what you can to hold on to the ones you do have is critical. If your employees are leaving in droves, calling in sick more frequently or just seem burned out, you might have a toxic workplace. The good news is, if you can spot the signs, you can take action now to fix it before it gets worse. (Alternatively, you can choose to ignore it and hope it goes away, but that almost never ends well.) Use the following tips to fix a toxic workplace.

Know the signs. The first step to fixing a toxic workplace is identifying the factors that contribute to a toxic workplace. Once you can identify these behaviors, you can work to stop them. Below are just a few signs that your company breeds a toxic workplace.

  • Bullying or intimidation
  • Micromanagement
  • Poor management
  • Office gossip
  • Poor communication
  • Unclear expectations
  • No clear direction or mission
  • No recognition of hard work
  • Unrealistic workloads or deadlines

Listen to your employees. Your employees are the key to getting to the root of the problem; however, they will rarely come forward on their own to discuss problems they are having. Have one-on-one or small group meetings to discuss any issues that could be feeding toxicity in the workplace. Create a safe space for employees to air their grievances, and ask for their input on how to fix the problems they are encountering. An anonymous employee engagement survey is also a good option to help you unearth any underlying feelings of fear, resentment or burnout among your staff.

Create a plan. Once you’ve identified the problem, create a plan to address it. If, for example, your employees are overwhelmed by too-heavy workloads, look at rearranging deadlines and prioritizing projects. If the problem goes deeper, such as bullying, you may need to look at changing your office policy around proper employee behavior, hold anti-bullying seminars and enlist the help of HR to help correct bullying behaviors.

Be more transparent. While you may not be able to include your employees on every key decision made within the company, it’s important to keep employees in the loop about business decisions and the state of the company. Otherwise, if employees see a lot of talk going on behind closed doors, it can breed gossip and rumor-spreading, which ultimately leads to distrust. Make regular communication a priority. Hold monthly town hall meetings or send out regular newsletters to update employees on key news and information that affects them. Use this time and space to reiterate the company’s mission, goals and direction.

Say thank you. In a toxic workplace, employees can feel as if they are just cogs in a wheel - especially if their work consistently goes unrecognized. Recognition motivates employees, makes them feel valued at their job, and leads to higher levels of retention, according to Gallup research. On the other hand, no recognition makes employees feel as if their work is taken for granted or has no value. Recognition can take on many forms - from cash rewards and bonuses to handwritten thank-you notes - but the most effective recognition, Gallup research finds, is “honest, authentic and individualized to how each employee wants to be recognized.”

Don’t play favorites. When you play favorites with employees, you might not even realize it - but your employees do. Playing favorites only leads to resentment among employees. Take a step back and examine your behaviors. Have you been more lenient on some employees than others? Do some groups get rewarded and recognized more than others? Correct any behaviors or policies that may favor one person or group of people over others, and work to treat everyone equally.

Check out Effective Ways to Deal with toxic Employees.

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