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Workplace Toxicity

Author: Michael Scaletti

When it comes to being happy at work, your company's culture makes an enormous impact. To be successful in the modern world, companies need to be more than just a great product, they need to have a great team. And in order to attract and retain a great team they need to ensure that their work environment is conducive to passion and joy. Being able to identify and address toxicity in your workplace is one of the key ways to establish a culture of success.

Identify A Toxic Workplace

Toxicity in the workplace can be a subtle and slow growing issue that is hard to notice at first, but there are definitely red flags to keep an eye out for.

One of the most important to watch out for is a lack of diversity and inclusivity in your workplace. If you look around your office and see too much homogeneity, or if there is anything approaching a boys club that seems to get preferential treatment, you're in trouble.

Additionally, look for middle management that is widely disliked by their direct employees. A single bad egg can spoil the entire workplace culture, and if you have a problem middle manager, it can ruin an entire department leading to dissatisfaction, anger, and eventually quitting.

Often you can tell that toxicity is building in a work environment if communication is a chore. If people tend to get frustrated and angry, or simply go silent, during conversations, it can indicate that either they are uncomfortable, unhappy, or are using these conversations as a way to vent their frustrations.

Finally, the most obvious sign of a toxic workplace is generally high turnover. The ultimate outcome of workplace toxicity is that people quit and move on to other opportunities. If you are noticing higher than expected turnover in any department, workplace toxicity may be the culprit.

It's important to keep an eye out for all of these red flags, because a toxic workplace can have catastrophic effects on your company.

Toxic Outcomes

Toxic workplaces breed toxic outcomes, and the unfortunate reality is that those outcomes can effect every aspect of a person's life, both at work and at home. While recognizing outright abuse can be easy, recognizing more subtle forms of toxicity can be more difficult. Nevertheless, the results will be obvious. Plummeting productivity, a lack of accountability and collaboration, and employees constantly looking for new jobs.

It's worth remembering that expecting someone to have their work define them is an outmoded way of thinking. Your company isn't, and SHOULDN'T be, the main focus of your employees' life. They don't owe you anything other than their time and professionalism, and if you provide a toxic environment, they might not even give you that.

The pressure and stress of a toxic environment can have numerous impacts on your employees, including making them more susceptible to illness, increasing burnout, impacting their sleep patterns, and causing panic attacks or depression. You should obviously want to avoid these things because caring about the well being of your employees is the right thing to do, but it's also good business. A healthier, happier worker is one that will be an asset for your business.

Addressing Toxicity

Once you've identified toxicity in your workplace, the worst thing you can do is ignore it. You need to take the time to address it, and your employees need to feel that they have an ally in you. Otherwise, it will only fester.

The first targets to address are the most serious ones. Issues of sexual or verbal harassment or abuse need to be immediately and aggressively addressed. This type of behavior must not be tolerated, and must be squashed immediately when it rears its ugly head. An HR professional can help you to come up with the best plan to address these issues so that your employees can have a safe and welcoming environment in which to work.

It is your job, either as a manager or an owner, to ensure that reporting abusive behavior is as easy as possible for your employees. Be sure that you have clear policies for reporting and responding to abusive behavior and that these policies are well known to all employees. It is generally a good idea to make it easy to report abusive or toxic behavior anonymously, as employees may fear retribution and this can keep them from coming forward.

Be aware though that if it is a manager who is creating or contributing to a toxic environment, you need to have other pathways for reporting. An HR person who stands outside the traditional hierarchy, or a way for employees to go over the head of a toxic manager are vital, otherwise your going to start losing employees fast.

No one deserves to spend their days in a toxic workplace, and if you are in a management or ownership role then ensuring that they don't have to is YOUR responsibility. It is your job to create a culture that is inclusive and safe, fostering creativity and productivity. Remember, you need good employees more than they need you. Create an environment where you can keep them.

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