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Do You Have a Toxic Work Environment?

Do You Have a Toxic Work Environment?

A toxic work environment is defined as a place of work that is marked by significant personal conflicts between the people who work together. When toxicity becomes intolerable people begin talking about it, both internally and online. When an organization develops a reputation for being toxic, there can be a distinct difficulty in attracting and retaining talented employees to perform the jobs that need to get done. This environment rots the organization from its core, and ultimately harms productivity.

In recent weeks, we have examined the importance of cultivating a speak up/listen up culture and empowering your employees to practice mindfulness, both at work and away. These concepts are related to the identification of a toxic work environment. When employees are willing to approach leaders about interpersonal conflicts, and when leaders are willing to not just hear the concerns, but actually do something about them, it is more likely that problems will be eliminated up front. Likewise, when people are self-aware of how their behavior at work reflects upon others, the less likely they are to passively dismiss conflict, as opposed to address it head on and come up with a solution to the problem. Practicing a mindful approach to day to day interactions undoubtedly will reduce conflict, and thereby reduce the chances for workplace toxicity.

Toxic work environments have constant unrest, high competition, negativity, and even bullying and harassment. The byproducts of toxic work environment include: low morale, high turnover, decreased productivity, and potential compliance and legal risks. For these reasons alone it is critical to examine your workplace culture and take an honest assessment of the level of existing or potential toxicity within your organization.

Four telltale signs of a toxic work environment include the following:

  • Lack of communication
  • Poor work-life balance
  • Exclusion and cliques
  • Lack of enthusiasm

Poor Communication

In a toxic environment, communication is lacking, both from leadership and among members of the workforce. Often, the toxic organization presents itself as “all business,” and takes no time to provide communication that enriches the lives of the people working there. As a result, the workforce spends little time communicating with one another, either on projects or about things that are going on in their lives. If you find that there is little message from the top down, and that people seem unlikely to converse with one another on breaks, via your internal messaging app, or during meetings it is sign you may have a toxic work environment.

Poor Work-Life Balance

If two-plus years of the pandemic have taught us anything, it is work will find a way to get accomplished. This has led many organizations to take a new (and more hands off) approach to work-life balance. Given many projects once thought impossible to complete are now being done remotely, those organizations that have remained steadfast in micromanaging employee time are now seen as out of touch with reality. For this reason, when there is a culture of intolerance for the personal needs of the workforce, either with time away from work or simple re-arrangement of schedule, inflexibility is now seen as a sign of conflict and toxicity in the workplace.

Exclusion and Cliques

The organization should encourage members to work with a wide variety of different employees, regardless of whether they are on the same direct reporting chain or “team.” Such an approach encourages collaboration, which is where innovation comes from. Conversely, in those environments where small cliques dominate the personality of the workforce or where gossip prevails, an exclusionary environment develops. If you notice that your workforce only interacts with small numbers of others it is likely there is toxicity developing or existing. It is important that leaders send the message that it is important to work with a wide variety of others in order to ensure communication is open and conflict is lessened.

Lack of Enthusiasm

In positive work cultures employees understand and embrace challenges enthusiastically. In a toxic work environment there is constant negativity, few smiles, and significant infighting about the root of the “problems.” There is a difference between challenges (work is hard) and problems, which are usually born from conflict or a lack of embrace for new ideas. When leaders see employees having difficulty coming to work, calling in sick or simply unwilling to engage in meetings it is a clear sign of workplace toxicity. In order to change the tide to the positive it is important to maintain a mindful approach to insight from everyone and creativity, as well as communicate the organization’s appreciation for its workforce, and praise of positive impacts on not just productivity, but also the culture within. Doing so will improve motivation, which leads to greater enthusiasm and less toxicity.

Knowing how to identify a toxic work environment is the first step toward curing the problem. If you take an honest assessment and determine that there is toxicity within your organization you should not panic. Indeed, simply by acknowledging there is a problem you are on the path to curing it, so long as you embrace the idea that your workforce should be empowered to raise their concerns. When you are willing to hear the problems, and take steps to actively cure the conflict you will be well on the way to a healthier workplace culture. Syntrio is willing and able to help.

Syntrio believes a positive work culture starts with leadership. By developing communication methods for leaders and employees alike, we feel strongly that your organization can identify weaknesses in its culture and work with you to make significant improvements that will enrich the lives of your workforce and improve your culture. We encourage you to contact a member of our staff to see how the wide variety of new products we have developed will help your leaders empower your workforce to embrace a speak up and listen up culture, as well as identify potential issues and cure them.

To learn more: View our free resources on the topic of harassment

Since 2007, Jonathan has practiced labor and employment law on behalf of management. Jonathan focuses his practice on advising employers on the prevention of harassment and discrimination issues, with an emphasis on providing in-person harassment training programs to companies of all sizes. Jonathan is licensed in California, Illinois, and Wisconsin, and maintains a national advice practice.

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