Is Your Workplace Toxic?

Kathy Simpson

We spend so much of our lives on the job, it should be a fun and rewarding place to be. Yet toxic behaviors are on the rise in the American workplace, and they’re taking a toll on employees and the companies they work for.

Any amount of incivility can be detrimental. According to a 2014 national survey report from the Workplace Bullying Institute, 27 percent of U.S. workers have directly experienced abusive conduct ranging from threats and intimidation to humiliation, work sabotage or verbal abuse. But even subtle forms of rudeness can erode morale over time, leading employees to withdraw, contribute less, and lower their performance and the quality of their work.

What are the signs?

While some stress on the job is normal, an atmosphere of ongoing tension and negativity can be draining and ultimately unhealthy. Signs that your workplace may be erring on the side of toxicity include:

  1. Rude behavior and emotional instability among supervisors and employees
  2. Low morale, grumbling and complaining
  3. A decline in employee performance and commitment
  4. A rise in stress-related health issues among employees
  5. High rates of absenteeism and turnover
  6. Cliques and favoritism
  7. Lack of communication

Could you be the cause?

According to the Workplace Bullying Survey, bosses make up the majority of bullies in the American workplace, and they may not even realize the harm they’re causing. The first step to restoring health to your organization is to check in with yourself. Do you:

  1. Feel you need to control people and outcomes?
  2. Think you have high standards and others don’t measure up?
  3. Feel misunderstood?
  4. Put your own contributions above those of others?
  5. Act out of anger or frustration rather than discuss problems?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, you may be alienating your employees. Take some time to honestly evaluate your behavior and take responsibility with any harm you may have caused. Apologies can go a long way, but it’s easy to fall back into old habits. Professional coaching can help you understand the causes and make more permanent changes.

How to cultivate a healthy workplace

Give and get feedback. Conduct a workplace survey to get a reality check from employees. Exit interviews with departing employees can be another source of insight. Also be sure to give your employees feedback regularly – as it’s needed and warranted, and through more formal performance reviews.

Communicate. Be forthcoming and transparent. Share company goals and objectives and keep employees updated on their status. Maintain an open door policy for employees to raise questions and surface concerns.

Cultivate a community-oriented workplace. Encourage collaboration and positive interactions that support employees and bring out their best. Have team gatherings to build camaraderie.

Accentuate the positive. Recognize employees for their accomplishments. Encourage their input and creativity, and support them in achieving goals. Celebrate accomplishments and reward good behavior.

Eliminate the negative. Discourage gossip and cliques, and eliminate favoritism. Apply the same standards to everyone. Intervene on negative behavior and hold those involved accountable.

Set a good example. Treat your employees with respect. Follow through on promises, listen and express your appreciation. Take responsibility when problems arise and help get things back on track, tackling the issues, not your people.

Next Steps:  Imagine a world where your employees show up on time, work smart and deliver results for your small business day in and day out. Not there yet? Sign up for the weekly Small Biz Ahead Newsletter and we’ll send you the best science-backed strategies on managing productive, happy employees—including tips on how to get them to show up on time!

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