Two similarly-qualified friends, Sam and Tammy, work separate jobs. Sam loves going to the office and can maintain a good work-life balance. He is also able to achieve his targets well before time and is content with his prospects.
Tammy, on the other hand, struggles with his job and has no friends in the office. He constantly finds himself under the manager’s radar and has difficulty improving his performance at work. Tammy also frequently complains about his office environment and how it is not conducive to positive results.
Is Tammy right? Could it be that a toxic workplace can reduce the performance of employees? Research affirms Tammy’s concerns. According to Gallup Study, well-being in the workplace is directly related to positive business outcomes. But how do we fix that?
According to many analysts, a toxic environment is associated with leadership failure and hence only leaders can help fix the crisis. Excited to know more, read ahead.
5 Signs of a Toxic Workplace
Before we explain how you can fix a toxic workplace, it is important to identify the red flags. Leaders should be able to look out for these signs and recognize when their office environment is becoming toxic for the team. Here are some of the most important signs.
1) Casual Disrespect
This is one of the biggest signs of a toxic workplace environment. When people start disrespecting each other, either openly or through covert means, it starts contributing to a very toxic culture. However, disrespect is not always blatant. Sometimes, it is hidden under the guise of jokes and casual humor.
Some people are sarcastic, and they forget the difference between respect and a harmless joke. It is your job as a leader to give people enough confidence to voice their opinion and their discomfort if they are at a receiving end of a hideous joke.
2) Non-inclusive Workplace
Racism, sexism, and prejudice are quite common in the real world. They should, however, not exist in your organization. In non-inclusive workplaces where people don’t feel welcome and validated, the environment becomes an uncomfortable place to work in.
Moreover, things like favoritism and preferential treatment towards men, white people, and even influential team members can alienate other employees. As leaders, you should ensure that people are treated equally, regardless of their age, sexual orientation, gender, disability, identity, or religious inclination.
3) Ethics and Morality Are Taken Lightly
A team that abides by a high moral and ethical standard tends to create a positive workplace environment: an environment where each individual can thrive and fulfill their potential.
However, in offices where leaders and the team takes ethics and moral values lightly and casually ignore things like honesty, and integrity, end up being a culprit to a toxic environment.
There are offices where people are let go and not punished for violating the office policy, or simply let off after an insincere apology. Such offices end up becoming non-conducive to work sooner than later.
4) An Extremely Competitive Environment
The rogue capitalists will always want to put employees against each, so they treat each other as competitors. Healthy competition between team members is fine; it should be even encouraged. However, the minute team members try to get ahead in the game by pushing others, it becomes problematic.
The issue with a highly competitive environment is that it incentivizes people to take down others using unfair means as long as their end goal is achieved. Apart from making people begrudging, this also makes team members treat each other as enemies, rather than colleagues and even friends.
5) Rising Employees Concerns
The best way to identify whether you are working or contributing to a toxic workplace is to get first-hand information from your employees. Have them fill out a survey. Some of the questions you can ask include:
1. Do you dread coming to the office?
2. Do you feel caged when working in the office?
3. Do you see other people casually indulging in harmful gossip about their fellows or superiors?
4. Do you feel you can not go to your management or leadership with your problems?
5. Are your concerns and your problems not heard or catered to?
6. Do you feel undervalued, underpaid, or overworked?
7. Are you constantly stressed at work?
8. Are you always under pressure to complete deadlines?
5 Ways in Which Leaders Contribute to a Toxic Culture
From a distance, it might seem that a toxic culture is a result of other factors. You may blame your team, people in the hierarchy, or even the lower management. However, sometimes, leaders contribute significantly to the toxic workplace too.
If you are a leader and looking to self-reflect, here are some things to look out for.
1. Demanding Results at All Costs
It is good to promote consistency and determination in your team members. However, human beings are not machines, and should not be treated that way. Leaders who are unforgiving and lack any compassion will demand performance at all times.
They will not be tolerant or understanding of individual concerns and will prioritize good results, even at the cost of their employee’s mental health.
This can also look like leaders giving very strict and unrealistic deadlines to their employees. Having high expectations is one thing, but targeting them for not meeting those unrealistically high deadlines can be counterintuitive to good performance.
2. Leading by Intimidation and Inducing Fear in Employees
One of the worst things leaders can do is act aloof from their team members. They can act so distant and unapproachable that their team members start fearing them. They also intimidate their employees to get work done. This is a failed strategy as it only garners short-term results.
The above behavior not only draws productivity down but also contributes to a very toxic environment in the office. Employees complete tasks with less honesty and under the fear of the boss’s wrath.
Moreover, this behavior also prevents them from approaching leaders with any questions or queries; all of which reduces the quality of work.
3. Making People Feel Disposable and Undervalued
In any workplace, there are always replaceable employees. There may be thousands of other candidates that can do the same job, even better, sometimes. However, once leaders have decided to hire someone, they should stick to their choices and not make their employees feel inferior.
In most office places, leaders don’t validate or encourage the contributions of their employees, making the latter feel unappreciated. Apart from harming their self-esteem, this can also create a negative atmosphere in the office: an atmosphere filled with people unwilling to put their best into their work.
4. Hanging Out With Toxic Individuals
Sometimes leaders are not in a position to fire someone immediately. However, leaders can still distance themselves from problematic individuals. When they refuse to do the latter, it makes other employees put leaders and problematic individuals in the same category.
The above can lead employees to lose trust in the integrity and leadership skills of their leader. Separating oneself from toxic individuals sends a clear message that the said behavior is unacceptable and not tolerated.
5. Always Preferring Revenue to the Well-Being of Employees
Jeff Bezos is one of the richest men on the planet. He is well-reputed and hailed as a great leader. His employees would disagree. Bezos’s empire was built because he underpaid and undervalued his workers. He makes them overwork and squashes their attempts at getting better wages. This is why Amazon workers complain of working in a very toxic environment.
Leaders care about revenue and results, and rightfully so, too. It is the job of the leaders to make a good reputation for the company. However, leaders who have unrealistic expectations from their team end up contributing to toxicity. They reject the well-being and mental health of their employees, simply to get better results.
3 Areas That Leaders Can Fix to Cure a Toxic Workplace
Fixing a toxic workplace may seem like a simple task. You may construct a solid policy highlighting all the issues and the subsequent punishments and be satisfied with a job well done. However, this job is harder than it seems. There are 3 areas that you need to fix if you hope for a positive culture.
1. The office culture
2. The behavior of individuals
3. Your behavior as a leader
The Macro Changes: Fixing the Toxic Office Culture
1. Be a Silent Observer and Observe the Situation First
It can be tempting to jump to conclusions and command your territory. However, as a leader, it is your job to be as impartial and just as possible. When you sense a toxic culture developing in your office, make sure to not play the ‘blame game.
For starters, distance yourself from the situation and any parties involved and observe from a distance. You can even consult office cameras to observe the countenance of different individuals.
You can conduct separate interviews or make the employees fill out a survey. All this will give you a better understanding of the situation at hand. Once you have made clear observations, you can think of a good strategy to deal with the toxicity at hand.
2. Re-Establish a Sense of Security in the Employees
The psychological effects of blaming and not validating the victim are many. From making them feel under confident to diminishing their sense of self-esteem in the office. It is hence important for managers and leaders to take the victims into confidence and make them feel protected.
Leaders should go the extra mile to listen to the people who have been victimized by others in the office. Moreover, show compassion and kindness and avoid doubting the stories of the victims. If you want to investigate, you can do it in a later meeting. Giving people the confidence to come to you and express their concerns should be your primary job.
3. Admonish Bad Behavior, so People Know It Is Not Acceptable
Leaders often face a huge dilemma. They have people who are extremely toxic but are great for the job. These people contribute to a negative work environment, but they are responsible for bringing good revenue to the country. In situations like these, what should leaders do?
Leaders should make the hard trade-off and let toxic people go. When leaders tolerate bad behavior, they reinforce it down the hierarchy. Other people within the organization start believing that the said behavior is acceptable and thus not to be avoided.
4. Devise a Strict and Solid Policy Framework
Convincing people to change their attitude and contribute to a positive environment can be pretty difficult, especially if they keep justifying their every action. Leaders need to take a step forward and devise a strict policy framework that gets everyone talking.
The equity policy should be very specific and explain in detail what constitutes problematic behavior. Harassment claims are difficult to tackle because of confusing definitions. The confusion regarding the definition of harassment should be strictly dealt with in the equity policy.
When policies are vague, it becomes extremely easy for individuals to find a way around them. Make sure this does not become the norm in your office.
5. Get Your Employees on Board With the New Policies
Policies that are made in isolation rarely work. In most instances, your employees are unaware that such policies exist. You need to get everyone on board. Before forming new policies, call a meeting with your entire office.
Sit them down and discuss the need for new policies. Explain in detail how you believe the current toxic environment is non-invasive to everyone’s well-being. Don’t take anyone’s name, as this may make people feel alienated from the entire process.
Once you have shared your vision and your reasons for constructing a new policy, invite people to contribute to the process and express any concerns they have. Also, encourage as many questions as possible. The more engaging the process is, the more everyone will be inclined to follow and commit to the new policies.
6. Take the Action: Leaders Should Walk the Talk
Forming the policy and doing the bare minimum is one of the reasons why leaders fail. Once you have found someone guilty of a violation of policy, give them a fair warning. But if they continue their bad behavior, make no time in firing them.
When you don’t take an action that you promised you would, it gives your employees a free hand to carry out any transgressions. Moreover, it makes people believe that problematic behavior is acceptable to our leader. This is a very bad trend to set.
That being said, you should not take decisions for the sake of it. Make sure you investigate any violation properly and don’t blame people on a whim. Any action you take should be grounded in solid evidence and proof of the crime.
7. Increase the Role of HR
Most leaders take on more responsibility than they should. From dealing with clients, and competitors and managing revenue, they can not pay a lot of attention to individual problems. This is where HR comes in. the human resource department does the unique job of keeping everyone content and happy at work.
When trying to transition your workplace environment, you must take HR into confidence. Help them devise the equity policy and then help them implement it in its true sense. HR should be given more autonomy to work without experiencing any political pressure.
Moreover, to ensure the HR remains as unbiased as possible, you can increase the number of people working in the department. This will potentially reduce any favoritism or preferential treatment that may help an abuser get away with a violation.
8. Lead by Example
Two friends, Sarah and Tia, lead sister companies. They have a similar disposition and the same outlook and the same vision for the companies they lead. They have also formulated the same equity policies for their company.
Sarah is honest, and kind and depicts high morality and very ethical behavior. Tia is careless, lies, and refuses to take responsibility for her actions. Needless to say, the environment they both foster is poles apart.
Sarah’s company is filled with kind and honest people. Tia’s employees are reckless and carefree. Rightfully so too. You can not demand honesty, integrity, and positive behavior while doing the complete opposite yourself. Leaders who cultivate an environment of trust tend to lead by example. They showcase all attitudes they want to see in their employees.
It is the leadership’s responsibility to ensure that everyone follows the core values of the company. Employees find it easier to be on their best behavior when they see their leaders doing the same. But more on that later.
Micro Changes: Fixing Toxic and Negative Individual Attitudes
As a leader, you will encounter your fair share of negative and toxic individuals. The way to deal with them is not always to fire them. You can also do the following to get them in line.
1. Opt for a Rational Rather Than Emotional Response
Dealing with toxic individuals can be quite triggering at times. But giving them an emotional response just gives them more room to continue their toxicity. As leaders, you need to learn how to dissociate yourself from the emotional side of a situation and deal with toxic individuals rationally.
For example, if you have a co-worker who jokingly makes fun of ‘colored’ people. Your instinctive response may be to call them and explain how their joke hurts their co-workers. This technique may not always work, especially if the person does it knowingly.
Instead, you can threaten them with demotion or a huge fine if they continue making other people feel uncomfortable. The fear of punishment will produce a favorable response.
2. Treat the Abuser and the Retaliator Differently
As leaders, it is your job to be as fair as possible and impart justice. However, the lines can get blurred when you are dealing with a toxic individual. They may have been involved in an argument where they pushed the victim’s buttons so much so that the victim retaliated in response.
From an objective point of view, you may decide to shun both of them since they both said inappropriate things. However, the situation demands you look at nuances and then make a decision. It is your job to identify the abuser and make him fix his mistake.
3. Challenge Their Toxic Behavior
It is wishful thinking to assume that bad behavior will go away on its own. In most cases, toxic people continue their aggression until they are called out by higher authorities. Good leadership will understand that toxic people bring more harm than benefit to an organization. So it is not always wise to keep them.
However, you should still give people a chance before letting them go. Call them into your office, explain their toxic traits to them, admonish them, and give them a fair warning. If they continue their toxic behavior, good leaders should walk the talk and remove toxic individuals from the company.
4. Becoming a Positive Leader
Self-reflection is the third tenant of improving the workplace environment. You can not fix exterior problems without taking some responsibility yourself. Since a toxic work environment is a leadership problem, you must look inward and try to correct problematic behavior. Here are some things that you can do.
5. Instill Humility and Get Off Your High Horse
The biggest mistake leaders make is that they put themselves on a pedestal and start believing that they are above the laws and ideals that govern other people in the office. The first thing to do is treat yourself as a human being who is vulnerable and susceptible to making mistakes.
Take a good look at yourself and assess whether you are indulging in any behaviors that might make others label you as a negative person. Are you being reckless, rude, or unnecessarily hurtful toward your employees? If yes, it is time to change that.
6. Take Responsibility for Your Mistakes
No leader can become great until and unless they accept their mistake and take active responsibility for their actions. It is pertinent that leaders realize how their behavior or their conduct can have a bad influence on the office culture. Having said that, these actions don’t necessarily have to be conscious or intentional.
Sometimes leaders can contribute to a toxic culture by doing things unknowingly. For example, leaders who joke with their colleagues may end up disrespecting them or triggering them in some way. Taking responsibility is hence crucial to cultivating a positive relationship.
7. Better Communication With the Team
Leaders don’t have to be extra friendly or cordial with their team. However, they should also not be very distant. Good leaders can keep a healthy distance from their employees, while also ensuring their team does not feel isolated.
To ensure better communication with the team, hold frequent and engaging meetings. Start with a general introduction explaining the purpose of the meetup. Then, allow your team to ask as many questions, as they want to.
Employees should also be encouraged to refute and rebut each other’s ideas and points. This allows for healthy competition and banter between team members.
8. Showcase Flexibility While Dealing With Sensitive Issues
When introducing new policies against problematic behavior, make sure you give your employees some time to get accustomed to the new culture. Demonstrate commitment to wiping out toxicity, however, make sure you are not inflexible during the process.
Go the extra length to explain and understand the nuances of a particular situation before you jump on the bandwagon and take any retaliatory action.
Are You a Bad Leader? – Find Out Here
Leaders exaggerate their positive contribution to the firm. They often fail to realize that they are contributing to a toxic environment themselves. If you are unsure of your role, find out if you are a bad manager by answering the following questions.
- Do you trust your team with the tasks that you have assigned?
- Do you embarrass your team in front of others?
- Do you put a lot of pressure on your employees?
- Do you have unrealistic expectations regarding the tasks you assign?
- Do you disrespect your employees in front of others?
- Do you give your employees ample credit for the work that they do?
- Do your employees come to you with their concerns or are afraid of you?
3 Tips for Leaders to Help Them Develop a Positive Work Environment
Fixing a toxic work environment is not enough, you have to go the extra mile and inculcate a positive attitude where your employees can thrive and achieve their utmost potential. Here are some things that you can do to create a positive and healthy work environment for everybody.
1) Giving an Equal Opportunity for Everyone Without Discrimination
Creating an all-inclusive environment where individuals feel validated and welcome is the first thing you should do. Things like race, gender, religion, or sexual orientation is a private feature of somebody’s entity and should not be used as a metric to judge them.
Moreover, you should ensure that you don’t indulge in favoritism or preferential treatment. Try to be objective and unbiased in your approach toward your employees. Even if you have developed a friendly relationship with some employees, keep that relationship separate and try to treat everyone equally.
2) Use Positive Reinforcement to Credit Good Behavior
B.F. Skinner presented his theory of operant conditioning, in which he theorized that good behavior can be promoted through positive reinforcement. You can strengthen a behavior by rewarding the desired behavior. This increases the repetition of the said behavior.
In your office, you can start by praising employees that contribute to a positive work environment. You can give them additional bonuses or consider them for promotions. Moreover, you can also announce an ’employee of the year award’ based solely on good behavior. This will not only encourage the person in question, but will also encourage others to replicate that behavior.
3) Corporate Social Gatherings to Facilitate Friendships
Offices, where the team members are friends, tend to thrive more than others where team members are thought of as competition. However, successful team-building exercises require time and effort. Organizing corporate social events or parties once every two months or so can allow your team members to loosen up a bit.
Moreover, it allows your employees to indulge in healthy, out-of-work conversations that energize their souls. Additionally, this ensures that any hostility or animosity between the employees can be safely eradicated. On top of that, this ensures that team members feel validated. They also feel part of an organization that prioritizes their well-being.
How Can Best Diplomats Improve Your Leadership Skills?
Improving a toxic workplace is no easy job. It requires excellence and determination that only a few leaders possess. The article highlights several ways, including macro and micro changes, that leaders can make to fix a bad environment. But this is easier said than done.
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From a distance, a toxic environment may not seem like a big problem. You may ignore it, thinking it only impacts a couple of individuals. However, in the long run, a toxic workplace can reduce the overall productivity of an office and make employees lose interest in their jobs.
It is hence up to the leaders to take the lead and help fix the situation. From making sound policies to bringing everyone on board, there are a plethora of things leaders can do to turn the tables. All they have to do is trust their abilities. Everything else will come through!
How Do You Know Which Areas to Fix First While Eliminating Toxicity From Workplaces?
Many people have good intentions at heart, but they don’t know where to start. To eliminate toxicity, you need to first assess the situation at hand and figure out the intensity of negativity prevailing in the atmosphere.
Next, gather everyone and explain the issues in detail and the need to fix the issue. Follow this with a sound equity policy that is inclusive and non-discriminatory. Lastly, make sure you identify habitual perpetrators and punish them for violating office policy.
Is a Toxic Environment a Leadership Problem?
Leaders exercise a lot of power in any office environment. From having the authority to change laws, to having the ability to hire and fire people, they can make many changes. However, when leaders fail to take action, toxicity takes over an office environment and engulfs everybody.
Moreover, leaders who tolerate bad attitudes encourage negative behaviors in others. Additionally, leaders who pin employees against each other or promote animosity between the team members are also responsible for a toxic environment.