Employee Management

January 14, 2020

Amelia Herring

The antidote to a toxic work environment

The antidote to a toxic work environment
Amelia Herring
Start by recognizing the warning signs of workplace toxicity, and take corrective action.

Frequent absences, tardiness, disengagement, high-turnover, a lack of innovation: are these traits showing up in your workplace more often than not? Looks like you’ve got a toxic work environment on your hands. 

Once workplace poison has woven its way into a company’s culture, it can wreak havoc on morale, productivity, and profitability. Scared yet? You should be- it’s a huge problem. But don’t panic; there is a cure. Start by recognizing the early warning signs. From there, you’ll be able to identify the specific problems that need to be fixed before taking corrective action. Here’s how to fix a toxic work environment:

Establish a ‘communication culture’.

Communication is the cornerstone of any good relationship, so it makes sense that establishing a company open-door policy is a great way to start curing your company culture. According to Forbes, the best way to increase trust in manager-employee relationships is to have regular open communication. Not only does this increase the likelihood that any in-house conflicts get solved faster, but employee morale skyrockets as well. Why? Simple: your people are heard and feel like they’re getting an outlet to air what’s bothering them- and what’s going well. 

To get the ball rolling, let your team know they can come to you with problems, ideas, or (from time to time) to talk about “fun stuff” like laser tag and what they did with their kids over the weekend. Quick access to information is key, especially in fast-paced environments. That might sound like common sense, but it bears repeating. As a manager, it’s up to you to have your finger on the pulse of your team. It’s important for you to know what’s going right, and what’s going wrong. 

Enforce consequences for harassment, no matter what.

No one should be subjected to any sort of harassment or bullying at work- but unfortunately, it happens. The Me Too Movement, a revolutionary protest against professional harassment originating in the film industry, has permeated the workforce in recent years. It’s become a rallying cry for all people throughout the US (and now internationally) who’ve experienced some sort of harassment or sexism within their workplace. While this movement has blown up the news cycle, and it feels bigger than any one organization, it isn’t. 

The changes workers are calling for are made from the ground up. Make sure you’re listening to your team, and if there’s a problem within your company, it gets addressed correctly. It all starts with knowing what to look for.

A lot of types of harassment are obvious and/or clearly violate laws, but some behaviors (intimidations, humiliations, verbal abuse, or sabotage) aren’t necessarily illegal. To avoid these gray areas, take a hard stand against any form of harassment by writing a company policy. Outline clear consequences for violations, and then enforce them with the right hand of managerial god. Reassure your employees and let them know it’s okay (encouraged, even) to speak up if they’re targeted or see someone else affected. 

If there’s a history of harassment within your organization and no steps are being taken to fix it, you’ll wind up with disengaged employees trying desperately to get out of there.

Engage your employees, so other companies won’t!

When your workers don’t feel like being at work on a consistent basis, it feeds workplace toxicity- and vice versa. You know the old saying “Idle hands are the Devil’s playground”? Biblical, yes, but the concept rings true for any workplace environment. If your people aren’t kept actively engaged in what they’re doing, they’ll find other ways to occupy their time. One day you’ll look out and see that your office has become a rumor mill rampant with high-turnover. 

In 2019 CNBC/SurveyMonkey published the Workplace Happiness Survey with the finding that 71% of workers who said they were considering quitting their jobs wanted more autonomy. Assigning challenging projects, offering professional development opportunities, or even doing some cross-training to let employees better understand how your company operates are great ways to boost autonomy. And so is open communication, but we covered that already. Getting a gauge for what your workers are actually interested in will help you assign those challenging projects to the right people.

All of these break up a tedious workday and encourage employees to experience professional growth. So that’s how you take care of toxicity while your workers are in the office, but they’re not there all the time. In fact, they shouldn’t be in the office (or even thinking about work) all the time.

Encourage a healthy work-life balance.

Summed up in a nice package, companies that demand excessive work hours (24/7 availability and the sacrifice of quality time with family or in personal lives) have set themselves up for workplace toxicity. When people work in places that encourage them to maintain a good balance between their work and home lives, they’re less inclined to contribute to a toxic work environment. 

And that starts with you. Consider for example the current benefits package your company offers. Could it be updated to reflect a 2020 way of thinking? How’s PTO looking for your workers? What about flexible schedule options for people with kids? Workplace culture is directly related to how happy your people are to work for your organization, and the happier they are- the more likely they are to stick around and move up, not out.

Another antidote to workplace toxicity is to encourage your employees to develop strong relationships with one another. Plan team-building exercises or fun outings so your employees can really get to know one another as people, rather than colleagues. In time, they’ll learn to respect, trust, and empathize with each other. In that process, you’ll have created a culture where it’s more difficult for toxicity to erupt in the first place.

Once you’ve started taking these corrective actions, you can turn things around.

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