From a venomous snake to an unhealthy relationship, the term "toxic" could apply to any number of situations. One of the most viral, contagious scenarios that can occur is a toxic workplace, making it essential that, as a business leader, you keep your organization as uncontaminated as possible.
No one benefits from unnecessary drama, acute pressure, and a complete lack of values in the office. When morale is diminished and all trust is gone, it's not just the employees who suffer the consequences -- the organization as a whole struggles to succeed. And the hard truth is that the company's culture is your responsibility. What form that culture takes is either your success or your failure. If you're concerned you have contributed to a toxic environment, it's not too late. By taking the right steps, you can establish unity in the workplace and eliminate the possibility of strife in the future.
It's important to diagnose problem areas and the signs of a toxic workplace aren't always obvious. A red flag could be something overt, like employees complaining about their jobs and their boss; however, it could also be something subtler, like a lack of participation in meetings or executives only discussing the company's financial goals instead of corporate trust and teamwork.
Of course, leaders have an ethical obligation to prevent this from happening and to maintain a healthy work culture because these systemic threats put your organization's future on the line. With the prevalence of social media, for instance, everything is public-- everyone from consumers to stakeholders to potential recruits can be privy to your company culture, and the image you project could make or break your business.
You'd hate to upset your brightest employees to the point where they'll take their talents elsewhere. But when word gets out that the incident that prompted their departure is just Exhibit A of how you run your company, digging yourself out of that hole is going to be all the more difficult.
As with everything, the best way to maintain a toxic-free workplace is to prevent it from getting so toxic in the first place. Doing so can be difficult, but by utilizing the following strategies, you can avoid the toxicity:
1. Consider the composition of your team.
Sometimes, the root of the problem could be an individual. If one employee carries a constantly pessimistic attitude, is habitually disruptive, or is in some way counterproductive to your culture, the workplace is already infected. That's why we don't hire people who are not a cultural fit-- their attitude can be contagious and contribute to a toxic workplace. It's very easy for new employees to find a co-worker's negative attitude and poor work ethic contagious. I've seen this happen.
Hiring candidates whose values align with your own, then, is a must for keeping the virus from spreading. When recruiting, tailor your questions specifically to those values. Don't just ask the same generic questions about strengths and weaknesses. You're not simply searching for hard workers-- you want employees who excel at teamwork, cooperation, and every other quality your organization deems important.
2. Don't work everyone to death.
It may be tempting to emphasize a workaholic atmosphere, but while that may compel employees to log more hours at the office, it'll likely do more harm than good. Taking the Silicon Valley approach and making people sacrifice their personal lives to their job depletes employees' energy, robs them of their creativity, and turns the workplace into a dreaded workhouse.
Instead, try stressing the importance of diligent, intelligent work, rather than just grueling hours. You don't have to bring beanbag chairs and therapy dogs into the office to reduce stress, but placing a higher priority on the quality of your employees' work rather than the time spent on it can earn their trust in the long run.
3. Administer rewards with care.
Rewarding employees is a great way to boost morale. That said, if you reward productive but toxic employees, you're glorifying an unhealthy culture in the workplace. You're sending the message that even when employees are rude to their co-workers, offend customers, or dilute communication among teams, they still deserve praise because they get results.
So make sure you base rewards on a standard that prevents toxic employees from achieving unearned acclaim. Don't play favorites, and consider rewarding only whose high-quality performance also benefits others. Otherwise, your already toxic environment is only going to get worse.
Ultimately, there's no easy fix to remedying a hostile workplace. It takes commitment and attention to detail to identify problem areas and prevent any bad apples from poisoning your company's culture. But by taking these steps to encourage positivity and build trust with your employees, your business can build a healthy, prosperous relationship with your current and future team members.