Human Resources

How to Rid Your Workplace of a Toxic Culture

How to fix a toxic work environment.

A business with a toxic work environment could be on the road to trouble. If there are signs of employee mistrust, isolation, and poor leadership, the result may be lowered morale and productivity, culminating in increased levels of employee disengagement.

Many factors can influence disengagement, "such as systematically undercompensating workers, a toxic culture, or disengaged leadership. Yet there are factors that can also disenfranchise specific employees, such as unclear expectations or a lack of communication."

These examples can factor into the development of a toxic work environment. It's in everyone's best interest--from the business owner to the front-desk receptionist--to address the underlying problems and fix them as soon as possible.

Here are some suggestions on how to remedy a toxic workplace:

A Lack of Openness 

In some businesses, information concerning hiring policies, financial and related data are held "close to the vest" by senior leadership. This may have worked in the past, but in a digital era--where all sorts of information can be discovered online--it's a potentially detrimental approach to leadership. Presumably you've hired men and women for their intelligence and willingness to contribute to business growth. They're unlikely to appreciate being kept out of the loop.

Consider holding more one-on-one employee and/or company-wide meetings, with presentations by your financial officers and others that provide a clear picture of what's happening with the business. Confidential or sensitive information must certainly be withheld (and employees should be understanding of this), but giving people a chance to ask questions can help boost engagement.

Find Out What Concerns Employees

A toxic work environment can grow from a lack of attention given to employee concerns. Assuming you've noticed a general sense of apathy or resentment in the workplace, look into conducting a brief engagement survey that focuses on specific areas of improvement. Invite an unbiased observer (either from elsewhere within the organization or a third-party individual) who can spend a little time in the workplace and offer a fresh perspective.

When you pinpoint "the gap in expectations with unhappy employees and look for overall trends that could be contributing to this issue, you'll be well on your way to getting things back on track."

Increase Recognition and Reward Programs

If your hardworking employees aren't perceiving any benefits from their output in the form of company-wide recognition or advancement opportunities down the road, a toxic or dysfunctional work environment might take hold. Whenever feasible, look to reward your superstar employees with a raise in salary, additional benefits, and/or performance-specific bonuses.

Other employee recognition programs "that offer awards, VIP parking spaces, small gifts, and other public acknowledgments of a job well done may also have a positive effect on employee retention."

Offer Support for an Overworked Staff

Whether it's from employees leaving, company layoffs, or simply unrealistic workflows, workers may feel the stress of heavy workloads when they may already have more than enough on their plates. An atmosphere in which people feel steadily drained of energy or a sense of achievement can contribute to a stressful work environment.

In these cases, look for ways to bring on temporary help, if need be. Also explore ways to provide more tools and resources that facilitate getting extra work done efficiently.

Improve Your Leadership Communication Skills

A leader leads through his or her words and actions. In the hectic pace of day-to-day life, business owners can sometimes forget that employees are watching them and how they behave; employees may even adapt their own behaviors to conform to how they perceive the owners want them to act. If an owner or manager is out of touch with staff or keeps herself sequestered in her office all day, the result may be a workforce that becomes disengaged from the work that they are doing or the company they work for.

Focus on improving your abilities to communicate and inspire others. Consider implementing a regular communications schedule that stresses ongoing contact with employees and giving them a stronger sense of the value they bring to the organization.

No business with a toxic work culture can expect to grow or succeed in the marketplace. But by taking direct action and letting your employees know how much you value their contributions, you can turn this around and have a work environment where people grow and thrive.

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