by Beverly Clair
Not so long ago if you referred to your place of work as ‘toxic’ it would imply there were dangerous substances around that could lead to ill health or death. Today it means more than that.
In the 21st century a toxic work environment is one in which an overwhelming sense of negativity starts to make one or more of those who are exposed to it sick. Rather than chemicals or radiation, is the stress of coping with bullying, widespread distrust, cliques, or general pessimism that can make your employees physically and mentally ill, bumping up the odds of a heart attack, depression, and other conditions. This sense of doom will also dent their motivation, which is bad for business, which in turn will likely worsen the atmosphere around the workplace.
In short, toxicity like this needs to be arrested as soon as possible for the sake of everyone.
Workplace toxicity of this kind happens for structural reasons, but can also be caused by one or more individuals and ‘bad chemistry’ that arises between them. For example, person A identifies person B as the perfect victim on who to take out their frustrations, or person X and person Y get together and bring out each other’s negative, critical side in a way that drags down the morale of the whole office.
No manager is above the responsibility of preventing their workplace from becoming toxic. Toxicity can creep up, which means that as a boss you need to be perpetually vigilant against signs of its development.
How does toxicity arise in the workplace?
There are countless triggers but an office culture and business structure that is designed to favor trust, inclusivity, friendship, accountability, and fulfilment, is less likely to cultivate the kind of attitudes that leads to negativity.
A negative employee who is part of the source of the toxicity might bully, steal credit for ideas, or moan about the conditions a lot. Why? Perhaps he or she is frustrated because they’ve been stuck in the same role for a long time. Maybe they’ve seen others promoted around them and feel trapped or undervalued. As a manager you have the tools to cope with these kinds of issues. The best way is to starting with an open-minded one-on-one.
Perhaps there are personal problems going on and unless you ask you’ll never know anything about it. All you see is the tip of the iceberg that threatens to sink the ship. There may not be anything you can do directly to help, but you can choose to foster a positive atmosphere at work including being supportive for all employees. This will enable your crew to get on with their jobs in the best conditions possible. Counselling should be available, or at least a sympathetic HR department that is well-resourced, to look out for the interests of your employees and not just your business.
This speaks in general to the need for a structure that recognizes that its people are its business. A complex pay structure that favors management and investors while leaving those doing the grunt work to worry from paycheck to paycheck is a recipe for stagnation and negativity. There’s a lack of personal investment that’s created in a business when people don’t feel that their time is valued. Money worries can also warp a decent person’s ability to behave positively.
What’s your role in contributing to the toxicity?
Don’t be above looking closer to home. If you’re struggling to cope with your team, or you yourself are guilty of failing to give credit where its due or of making strategic errors that cause trouble for colleagues, it’s possible that you are feeding into the negativity loop. Make sure to get feedback from your staff when doing appraisals, and seek out development opportunities for yourself along the way to stay at the top of your game.
Above all, be supportive and open to every one of your staff members, because you never know if the rot will start with an undervalued star player, a struggling new-starter, or a reliable old team member who has been peddling along in the ranks year after year. People is all we have and we’ve got to look out for each other.
Here’s a flowchart to help managers and employees diagnose whether or not their work place troubles amount to a ‘toxic work environment.’ There are also some good tips on how individuals can cope while you as a manager deal with rectifying the underlying problems and drive your business towards a more positive future.
Credit for Infographic resume.io
Photo Credit: Jens Johnsson (Unsplash)