Recognizing and Healing Toxicity in the Workplace

by | Nov 30, 2023 | Leadership

A toxic workplace can host a handful of unhealthy behaviors.  Most commonly, these are  poor communication, excessive stress, bullying, and a general aura of hostility.  In this article, we are going to review what toxicity is, why it is important to spot, and how to fix it.  

Does Toxicity Matter?

Are the cons of toxicity in the workplace worth the effort it takes to make improvements?  Yes!  Toxicity in the workplace is a killer of productivity, contributes to high staff turnover, and in extreme circumstances can even lead to financial hardships, lawsuits, and damage to a company’s reputation.

When a workplace is toxic, hostility and poor communication prevent employees from performing effectively.  They can be so focused on navigating politics that their actual roles suffer.  Decreased motivation among staff, increased stress, and poor communication are prevalent in a toxic workplace and result in a crew that has minimal commitment to their work.  This creates a downward spiral that usually ends in high employee turnover. 

When employees are unhappy in a toxic environment, they will seek out other opportunities which are bountiful in today’s job climate. High employee turnover creates a huge disruption in workflow.  Training new staff can slow productivity, new employees are prone to errors, and this can result in increased customer complaints.  Lastly, the finances and time that it takes to recruit and train new staff puts a strain on the whole organization.  

The modern workforce has specific expectations of their employers and work life.  They expect a meaningful career and a healthy environment to thrive.  In addition to that, the job market is competitive these days, giving them the ability to shop around for what position works best for them.  With the competitive job market, this progressive workforce is unlikely to tolerate toxicity in their workspace.  They seek out companies with positive values that align with their goals and expectations. 

Symptoms of Workplace Toxicity

Now that we know why it is important to recognize and treat toxicity, here are some of the most common symptoms of toxicity in the workplace:

Unusually High Turnover – Consistent and/or sudden loss of staff could indicate an underlying issue. 

Rumors, Gossip, and Harassment – Keep your eyes peeled for excessive secrecy, gossip, and bullying.  Harassment should never be tolerated. When left unchecked the consequences are severe for the business and individuals involved. 

Constant Negativity: Frequent outbursts of hostility amongst staff, passive aggressiveness, and constant complaining can be another clear sign of a toxic environment. 

Healing a Toxic Workplace

After assessing the office and determining that the environment exhibits toxic traits, the transformation can begin.  

An office doesn’t become toxic overnight so making the environment healthy again will take tons of open communication, consistency, and collective effort.  That means, every staff member, manager, and owner will need to be on the same page.  It is helpful to understand the extent of the problem.  This can be achieved through 1-on-1s with employees and anonymous reporting. This is where the healing begins. 

Below are a few ways to successfully begin the transformation: 

Leadership Development

Unfortunately, toxic workplaces often stem from poor leadership.  This is not always malicious on the part of management.  Often, leaders simply lack the skills to properly support their teams.  Provide your managers and supervisors with leadership development opportunities.  There are many online and in-person courses that are well worth it!  This will help them feel more confident in conflict resolution, professionalism, and team management. 

Honest and Open Communication

Good communication is the beginning of creating a culture of trust and transparency.  Regular team meetings, suggestion boxes, and feedback sessions (group or 1-on-1) are essential in gauging your team’s health.

Accountability and Clear Expectations

Workplace policies and procedures must be clearly defined.  All staff members should understand the policies and consequences of violations.  This is mandatory to ensure a fair and safe environment moving forward. 

Appreciation and Employee Well-Being

Encourage proper breaks, flexibility, team building, and all-around employee well-being.  Recognize and reward employees who encompass your company values. 

Continuous Monitoring of Progress

Understand that this will be an ongoing process.  Moving forward, monitor employee satisfaction and keep an eye out for any sign of toxicity resurfacing.  This can be accomplished by keeping up with open communication practices. 

Healing a toxic workplace is one of the most important responsibilities of an employer.  Recognizing toxicity in the workplace and taking the proper steps for transformation will directly impact the success of any organization. 

The process of healing toxicity is continuous and requires unwavering commitment, patience, and dedication from the entire team.  One thing is for sure, the hard work will continue to benefit the business and staff for years to come.

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