When Enough Is Enough. Time To Cleanse A Toxic Work Environment!

Toxic Work Environments

Every company has its challenges, but the hallmarks of a truly toxic environment include persistent infighting, drama, dysfunction, peer pressure, unequal treatment, negative outlooks, and behavior that is unethical and/or outright illegal. It’s vital to eliminate this kind of toxicity in your work environment for a number of reasons:

  • It destroys company morale, which has the side effect of harming your recruiting and retention efforts.
  • It erodes productivity and profitability because nobody wants to work hard for a company that seems to be working against them.
  • It brings inherent hazards that open your company up to liability and lawsuits.

Sound familiar? Let's look at some classic signs of a toxic work environment and tips from The O’Connor Group for resolving them.

Toxic Sign #1: Communication is Excruciating

Clear and direct communication are crucial parts of any company, and a healthy company keeps the lines of communication open and flowing smoothly. But certain issues can creep in and make communication difficult - things like jealousy, confusion, inconsistency, bad assumptions, and poor communication habits.

What if you need to do something big, like create a strategic plan for the coming year or develop an executive succession plan. Can your company easily tackle a project like this? If not, this could be a sign that something in your work environment is too toxic for teamwork to take place.

Our tip: Examine communication from the top down. Don’t be afraid to ask for employee feedback on this issue. Consider adding new technology that fosters collaboration and empowers your team to share their thoughts and opinions.

Toxic Sign #2: There’s a Lack of Trust

According to Barb Rader from The O’Connor Group, trust is the #1 indicator of a healthy relationship, yet so often trust at work tends to be lower than within other relationships. Since people spend more time at work than anywhere else in their lives, every organization should examine their trust factor.

In a workplace without trust, there’s too much negative space for fear and resentment to build up. Employees begin to question everything they’re told because they don’t know who they can rely on. This begins to destroy your company culture from the inside out, and the only way to improve the culture is to rebuild trust.

Our tip: Focus on building trust on both the employer and the employee side. Ensure rules are enforced without special treatment for certain people. Encourage employees to work proactively with HR and their managers to prevent and resolve conflicts before they escalate.

Toxic Sign #3: You Don’t See Any Smiles

Look around your company. If you see wall-to-wall frowns, that’s a bad sign. And think about the last time you saw people at your company laughing, smiling, or helping cheer each other up. If it’s been a long time, pay attention to that as a red flag.

This can also appear as workplace drama, backstabbing, and arguing. If it seems that some people just constantly have bad attitudes or attract conflict, those toxic people could be poisoning your entire environment...remember, it only takes one person.

Our tip: Pay attention to how certain issues could be affecting company morale, causing turnover, and harming your recruitment efforts. Ask probing questions during exit interviews, when people may feel less guarded and more willing to express their opinions.

Toxic Sign #4: Too Much Dark Humor/Negativity

In most workplaces, gallows humor, or dark and negative joking around, creates a negative environment. Dark humor tends to start from the top of your organization and trickle down.

For example, hearing a top executive say, “We’re lucky to have jobs,” can easily leave people feeling demoralized. In some cases, certain employees may even feel targeted or humiliated by so-called jokes that create a negative environment.

Our tip: Simple leadership training can reframe humor into a more positive daily experience and make employees feel comforted that there is a leadership program in place. Your HR department can support upbeat interactions with learning tools that help employees feel the positivity across the organization.

Toxic Sign #5: The Stress is Overwhelming

Workplace stress is a killer - literally! Every year it contributes to more than 100,000 deaths and $190 billion in healthcare costs in the U.S. So it’s worth taking time to ask questions about the level of stress your coworkers are facing.

  • Do your company’s employees feel pressured to meet unrealistic goals or deadlines?
  • Do people chat about feeling constantly stressed?
  • Does the company provide any kind of outlet for stress, like mental health care or gym memberships?

Our tip: Keep stressful information near the top of the organization to avoid placing unnecessary stress on your employees. The leadership team should work through difficult topics and create an action plan before sharing the details with employees.

What to Do if Your Environment is Toxic

If you’re getting the sinking feeling that you may have toxicity in your environment, there’s still hope ahead. Here are some additional suggestions for positive habits that nurture a healthy workplace.

  1. Build trust. Trust goes both ways. Keep promises to employees and hold them accountable for doing the same. Avoid secrecy and “just you and me” conversations, because they can lead to gossip that destroys trust.
  2. Have a coaching plan. Onboard new employees consistently. Give them a buddy or mentor. Offer a support system so every new employee feels supported by a network they can trust.
  3. Care about your culture. An attractive culture keeps great employees and allows you to recruit additional talented people.
  4. Assess your engagement. Employee engagement can be measured through interviews and surveys. You may identify some simple fixes you can address quickly.
  5. Maintain a modern HR department. Have an updated handbook. Do quarterly reviews. Add systems to organize your people, information, and programs. Give referral bonuses. Do exit interviews and give departing employees an opportunity to provide genuine feedback.

The HR experts at The O’Connor Group can help you develop simple principles for building trust, engaging employees, improving culture, and continuing to grow your business.

Get Started With an HR Review