Where we work matters. A successful company needs more than a unique product or an all-star sales team. Every business lives and dies based on the people who work for it. Those people need a quality environment to work in.
Learning to identify and respond to toxicity in a work environment is vital -- especially when you're the one in charge. Eliminating toxicity from the workplace will make employees happier and help the company get better results.
Warning signs of a toxic environment.
While you may not notice overt toxicity creeping into your company at first, there are warning signs to watch out for. A lack of diversity and inclusivity is a sure sign of trouble. If the office seems to have a "boys' club" that gets special treatment at the expense of women and minorities, equitable treatment in assignments and work-life are unlikely.
Even if you treat your employees fairly, a bad mid-level manager or low-level employee can create a toxic environment that ruins the office for everyone.
Toxic work environments typically struggle with communication. Your employees will likely be in a bad mood, with work-related conversations often serving as a form of venting frustrations. Rumors fly regarding the status of the company or its employees, and no one likes the boss.
A high turnover rate is perhaps the most telling sign that you have a toxic work environment that needs to be addressed. Research from SHRM reveals that one-fourth of all workers dread going to work, in part because they don't feel respected and don't feel like they can safely voice their opinions. This causes roughly 20 percent of employees to leave their current job.
In such environments, productivity declines and employees are constantly looking for new work. Your job as a founder becomes more difficult as you are constantly on-boarding new personnel.
Serious consequences await those who experience toxicity.
Unfortunately, workplace toxicity can affect our total quality of life -- even when we're not at work. Recognizing verbal abuse or a colleague who doesn't pull their own weight may seem easy, but it can be much more difficult to recognize the effect this has on us, or those who work under us.
I recently finished reading A Life With Health, where author Aimee Tariq found that a toxic work environment takes a significant toll on all aspects of a person's well-being. From self-esteem and friendships to physical side effects, toxicity's impact extends well beyond the workplace.
For example, the constant pressure of a stressful toxic environment makes individuals more susceptible to illness. Those in a toxic workplace will often feel fatigued or burnt out as part of their body's natural reaction to stress. This can cause them to get less sleep than normal, feel too anxious to eat, or overeat. They may feel so unsafe at work, that the idea of going into the office becomes a source of anxiety.
How founders can resolve toxicity in the workplace.
You should not let a toxic workplace cause stress and anxiety that takes over your employees' lives. Employees often feel powerless. They need allies who feel similarly and provide someone they can speak with safely.
For serious concerns, such as sexual harassment or verbal abuse, encourage employees to report what they've seen or experienced to human resources or your manager. Help them understand they can strengthen their case by documenting harmful interactions, recording as much information as possible if they need to file a formal complaint.
Managers and leaders should make this process as easy as possible for employees. Institute clear policies for reporting and responding to abusive behavior. Allow anonymous reporting so victims don't have to fear retribution. Emphasize that reporting is positive for the company, helping it achieve a desirable and safe culture and environment.
Unfortunately, managers are quite often the ones responsible for creating a toxic work environment. If HR or a higher-level manager isn't willing to step in, toxicity likely isn't going to get better anytime soon. When there aren't resources available for resolving the toxicity, your employees are going to start planning their exit strategy.
No one should have to work in a toxic environment. If you're the one in charge, the responsibility for toxicity ultimately comes back to you. You must lead out in enacting positive change to create an inclusive and empowering culture. Otherwise, employees will leave -- and they have every right to do so.