Workplace toxicity has been around for a long time, even if it hasn’t always been known by that name. Most people have experienced some form of it—either directly or indirectly—but just because it’s widespread doesn’t mean it’s a good thing. As more and more people decide they will no longer tolerate toxicity in their workplaces, organizations are also realizing that workplaces that are socially healthy are also happier, more productive spaces.
If you’re still dealing with workplace toxicity in your company, it’s time to transform your company culture to eliminate it.
First, learn to recognize the signs.
Each workplace is different, of course, but toxic workplaces usually exhibit some (and often all) of the following characteristics:
● Gossip, social cliques, and exclusionary behavior. People who work together don’t have to be best friends, but they should treat each other with respect. Someone who feels isolated by their colleagues probably won’t be happy at work—and therefore probably won’t be very engaged there, either. And when casual conversation and sharing information shifts to gossip and rumor mongering, negativity takes center stage.
● High turnover. Here’s a solid fact: when a workplace is toxic, people don’t stick around there. This is probably not an earth-shattering revelation to you, but it bears repeating because too often managers fail to give company culture enough weight when analyzing the causes of employee turnover.
● Unmotivated coworkers. Workplace toxicity can cause employees to give up. If they don’t feel appreciated or valued, or if they struggle
to see a positive future for themselves at a company, they might figure “Why bother?” and throw in the towel on giving their best effort.
Next, ask employees for their thoughts.
Once you’ve identified the characteristics and behaviors that are making your workplace toxic, talk to your employees about them. Do they see those things too? What do they think about the culture of your organization? Do they have suggestions for improving it?
Don’t just gather their feedback, though: act on it, too. At the very least, take their recommendations seriously and consider them thoughtfully. Be open-minded and willing to implement those that seem like they’ll be beneficial for both employees and the organization.
Take drastic action when necessary.
A toxic workplace never improves on its own. When an employee’s behavior is creating a hostile work environment for others, some kind of intervention is always necessary. This can take the form of pulling the employee aside for a brief conversation, for example, or even issuing formal reprimands. In extreme situations (such as a workplace bully whose toxicity goes beyond being merely unpleasant to being unsafe or harmful) it can take the form of terminating the employee.
Actively build a positive culture.
All organizations should prioritize creating a healthy company culture. Whether a company is trying to recover from the effects of a toxic workplace that has been addressed by the measures listed above or is trying to avoid a descent into toxicity in the first place, a focus on the positive is essential. Team events that help everyone remember “We’re all
in this together” can emphasize and reinforce the collaboration, kindness, and generosity that are hallmarks of great workplaces.
The movement toward actively working to create nontoxic workplaces is definitely gaining traction. Trends in the business world are often short-lived or even ill-advised. But this is one instance in which everyone should be trying to hop on the bandwagon, because there are zero downsides to rooting toxicity from a workplace. It’s a win-win situation for employees and organizations alike—so get to work on it right away!