You’ve never expected work to be perfect. You understand that with deadlines to meet, quotas to reach, reports to write, and different personalities to deal with, the office won’t be a magical place all the time. However, lately you’ve been noticing some really unpleasant interactions at work, your sales numbers are down, and you may have just witnessed an employee scoffing at the Company Culture plaque in the hallway.
You know something’s wrong, you’re just not entirely sure what the problem is. And without understanding the problem, you won’t be able to fix it. You know it won’t get better if you don’t address it. So how do you improve the situation?
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Signs a Workplace Is Toxic
You’ve heard the term “Toxic Workplace Environment” before and you’re concerned that this might be what’s affecting your team. If you’re noticing any of the following signs amongst your employees, you might have found the problem.
- High Turnover – While there’s always some employee attrition, frequent turnover can signal a problem.
- Frequent Sick Days – Everyone gets a stomach bug occasionally and mental health days can help employees be more productive, but if they are constantly calling in sick, there may be a bigger issue.
- Looks of Dread – You can’t make everyone happy all the time, but if your employees have a hollow, hopeless look to them day in and day out, something is wrong.
- Poor (or No) Communication – You’ve attempted to keep an open door, but lately, employees aren’t stopping by to talk as much as they used to. And when you approach them, they aren’t eager to share.
- Whispering – Employees will always talk to one another, but if you’re noticing high school-esque cliques developing and hearing whispering by the water cooler and rumors in the break room, there’s a problem brewing.
What Causes a Toxic Work Environment?
While you may want to place blame for the current situation on your employees, your higher-ups, or even on yourself, a toxic work environment can begin at any level of an organization. One thing is for sure… it spreads quickly.
There are several factors that can play into this type of environment or culture. We’ll begin with problems at the managerial level and then work into employee-driven toxicity.
Toxicity from Leadership
1. Leadership hasn’t taken the time to identify and communicate the company’s core values.
These values are what guide your decisions and your employees’ behaviors. If you don’t take the time to outline how you want employees to behave, and you haven’t then shared this information with them, they won’t have the guideposts necessary to act in the proper way.
2. Leadership isn’t exhibiting the company’s core values.
Remember the old saying “Do as I say, not as I do”? Today’s employees do not subscribe to this outdated way of thinking. Management at every level must behave in the manner they expect their employees to behave in. If they don’t, those core values are nothing more than wall decor.
3. Management refuses to adapt.
Technology changes, industries change, and employees change. If managers dig their heels in and refuse to change with the times, resentment will build and breed a toxic culture.
4. Management treats employees as disposable.
If an employee doesn’t feel valued or appreciated, and even more so if they are repeatedly told that “people are waiting to take your job,” they’ll develop an antagonistic relationship with leadership and be unwilling to perform their best.
5. Management refuses to invest in their employees.
When good talent isn’t given the opportunity to grow and move up, they react in one of two ways. Either they run to the next opportunity, or they stay in their current position but become resentful, angry, and brooding.
6. Leaders aren’t communicating with employees.
It’s disheartening to do a job for weeks, months, or even years, without any feedback. Employees need to be met with on a regular basis to check in on their performance and goals, and to create a plan for growth within the company. If they aren’t doing something correctly, the sooner it can be addressed, the less likely it is of becoming an issue later on.
Toxicity from Employees
7. They feel “passed over.”
Not every employee is deserving of a raise or promotion. However, if they don’t understand (or aren’t told) why they weren’t promoted, they’ll be angry and mistrusting. After all, why work hard when they could just be passed over again?
8. They fight change.
Change can be difficult to accept, and while it is management’s job to prepare employees for any major changes, some employees just find it difficult to adapt to new situations. Some can be helped through these transitions while others will never adapt.
9. They weren’t trained properly.
Most employees want to do a good job. However, onboarding procedures and training often leaves much to be desired. An employee that hasn’t been properly trained to do their job will feel anxious, self-conscious, and eventually, resentful of the organization as a whole.
10. They aren’t right for the role or the organization.
Hiring the right talent is an art. And no matter how well your company has mastered the process, every once in awhile, someone is bound to slip through the cracks. If one of your employees is the source of the workplace toxicity, you’ll need to reevaluate if they would be happier and more productive in another role within the company using different skills, or if they don’t exhibit your organization’s core values (regardless of what role they play) and will need to be let go.
How to Change a Negative Work Environment?
While you may be working in (or even fostering) a negative or toxic work environment, there is hope. With the right changes, you should be able to turn the culture around and restore a positive, productive work environment.
1. Figure out the problem
As you’ve seen, there can be many causes of toxicity in the office. Identifying the problem (or problem employee) will help you deal with the issue as quickly and painlessly as possible.
2. Take responsibility
Whether the problem resides in management or elsewhere, accepting responsibility will allow you to make the necessary changes. If you actually address the problem with your staff and apologize for your role in it, your employees will appreciate your honesty and be more likely to accept their own responsibility in the situation.
3. Right the wrongs.
If core values have not been established, take the time to identify them. If they have not been communicated, share them with your staff. If employees haven’t been properly trained, arrange the training they need. If they haven’t been encouraged or appreciated, correct the situation. You can’t change the past but you can create a new future.
4. Open the lines of communication.
If you haven’t already, reach out to your employees. Provide a safe space for them to voice their challenges without fear of judgment or losing their jobs. And don’t just listen to their opinions, actually take them to heart. When they’ve had a chance to share what’s bothering them, turn the conversation to different ways you can turn the environment around as a team. You may be surprised by the practical ideas that come from your employees when they are given the opportunity to brainstorm and become a part of the solution.
5. Reestablish trust and teamwork.
As you go about fixing the challenges facing your team or organization, you’ll need to change the way employees relate to one another and to management. A motivational speaker and teambuilding expert can take your employees through exercises designed to improve relationships and create new connections. For an experiential training that will keep employees engaged (not to mention having a blast), consider hiring Marvelless Mark Kamp to teach your employees to play like a band rather than solo artists.
A toxic work environment can be created by many different factors, however, the outcomes are always the same: disheartened employees, higher turnover and costs, decreased sales, and poor attitudes poisoning workplace culture. Thankfully, it’s not too late to turn the situation around. By applying the techniques mentioned above, you can help restore a peaceful, positive environment to your organization and ensure that your employees are happy, productive, and selling like rock stars.