How to Change and Improve a Toxic Workplace

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Work with­out stress is a dream nowa­days. Con­sid­er these stres­sors: hec­tic days, dif­fer­ences in ideas, and unsat­is­fied stake­hold­ers and cus­tomers. It does not end there, we all have dead­lines, which are also stress­ful. Now, add in the self-imposed stres­sors such as our own ambi­tions and stan­dards. All of this com­bined puts us under intense pres­sure, adding heavy lev­els of stress. How­ev­er, if we could oper­ate in a friend­ly and relaxed envi­ron­ment, the stress of the work­place would be dras­ti­cal­ly reduced. The ques­tion is, can this “friend­ly and relaxed envi­ron­ment” real­ly exist in today’s work force?

When your team mem­bers become afraid to speak up and stress is caused by a high num­ber of rules and hier­ar­chy, then it means that you are work­ing in a tox­ic envi­ron­ment. A tox­ic cul­ture has a huge neg­a­tive impact on employ­ees. No one wants to be afraid to come to work. This is why you need to rec­og­nize the first signs of tox­i­c­i­ty and act imme­di­ate­ly.

There are three main char­ac­ter­is­tics of a tox­ic work­place:

  • Employ­ees are afraid to speak up. “When an employ­ee is work­ing in a tox­ic cul­ture, he is afraid to speak up. There­fore, he won’t pro­vide any pos­i­tive, or neg­a­tive feed­back. In a tox­ic work­place, employ­ees have dis­cov­ered that speak­ing up is a neg­a­tive thing and so they pre­fer to shut up.” This is how Dylon Wills, head of the con­tent depart­ment at Resumes Expert, explains one of the biggest char­ac­ter­is­tics of a tox­ic cul­ture.
  • Too many rules and hier­ar­chy. When you work in a tox­ic envi­ron­ment, each of your steps is con­trolled by a vari­ety of poli­cies. Man­agers do not trust employ­ees to make impor­tant deci­sions and so they con­trol every ini­tia­tive. What is more, in a work envi­ron­ment con­trolled by too many rules and hier­ar­chy, you will see favoritism or uneven­ness between those who ben­e­fit from the poli­cies and those who have to obey.
  • Open dia­logue is dis­cour­aged. “I have worked in orga­ni­za­tions where com­mu­ni­ca­tion was top-down. There­fore, the employ­ees were always brought in a 'need to know' basis. When input from employ­ees is rarely solicit­ed, then you are work­ing in a tox­ic work­place”, men­tions Diane Carl­son, edi­tor in chief at Resumes Cen­tre.

If you have iden­ti­fied that your organization’s cul­ture may be a tox­ic work­place. Now what? How do you improve the work­place and change things for good? List­ed below are sev­er­al tech­niques to help you change and improve a tox­ic work­place:

  • Lis­ten to your employ­ees. It is impor­tant to make your employ­ees under­stand that you care about their opin­ions. There­fore, you should meet them from time to time, lis­ten to their com­plaints, and take action on the points where you feel that things have gone too far. This is how you let employ­ees have a voice and help them gain more trust in them­selves.
  • Be real­is­tic. It is very impor­tant to be rea­son­able when you set tar­gets and dead­lines. When you lead a team of peo­ple, it is per­fect­ly nor­mal to be ambi­tious and to want employ­ees to deliv­er tasks quick­ly. How­ev­er, when you press your team too much with tight dead­lines, then you increase the lev­el of stress and you cre­ate a tox­ic envi­ron­ment. There­fore, before you assign tasks and give dead­lines, it is very impor­tant to be rea­son­able.
  • Be trans­par­ent. James Dai­ly, head of the con­tent depart­ment for Flash Essay, encour­ages man­agers to com­mu­ni­cate trans­par­ent­ly. “An employ­ee will nev­er deliv­er the expect­ed results if he doesn’t under­stand the con­text. There­fore, it is a manager’s job to elim­i­nate con­fu­sion and frus­tra­tion by being trans­par­ent and clear in his com­mu­ni­ca­tion.” For exam­ple, you can hold week­ly meet­ings with your teams and dis­cuss the progress of their projects, or announce changes and ini­tia­tives when it comes to their tasks. This is how you help your employ­ees become more effi­cient and con­fi­dent.
  • Treat your employ­ees equal­ly. We already men­tioned above that a work­place run by uneven­ness and favoritism is tox­ic. Thus, if you want to keep your employ­ees hap­py and fos­ter col­lab­o­ra­tion, then you need to treat them equal­ly. One of the first steps you can fol­low is to audit the company’s poli­cies and iden­ti­fy any rules that might lead to unfair treat­ment. What is more, you can show your open­ness to receive feed­back from them. You will be sur­prised to dis­cov­er how valu­able this feed­back is and the numer­ous cre­ative ideas that will come from this type of open dia­logue with your employ­ees.
  • Fos­ter emo­tion­al intel­li­gence. We are all humans and we are led by emo­tions. There­fore, emo­tion­al intel­li­gence plays a cru­cial role in a company’s cul­ture. Man­agers should be pre­pared to pun­ish bul­ly­ing, as well as dis­mis­sive and dis­re­spect­ful behav­ior. It is the respon­si­bil­i­ty of the employ­er to pro­vide suf­fi­cient resources to help your employ­ees expand emo­tion­al intel­li­gence and pro­mote a pos­i­tive and empa­thet­ic work cul­ture.

Elim­i­nat­ing tox­i­c­i­ty and cre­at­ing a healthy and hap­py work­place is not some­thing that will hap­pen overnight. It takes con­stant effort, com­mit­ment and con­sis­ten­cy to improve your work­place atmos­phere. Con­duct an audit after a few months of imple­ment­ing the strate­gies list­ed above. Check what has improved, as well as, what still needs work. Con­sid­er iden­ti­fy­ing the biggest influ­encers on each team, and work with them to imple­ment your ideas. You can­not do every­thing by your­self. Thus, involv­ing your employ­ees in this process will help you pro­mote a fair and pos­i­tive work cul­ture.

Christopher Mercer

Christopher Mercer

Christopher Mercer

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