At a time when new startups are flooding markets everywhere and competing for the attention of consumers and professional talent, successfully growing a business is an increasingly difficult thing to do. It requires a lot of dedication, cooperation, and countless hours of grueling work. But all too often, leaders become so intent on expanding their enterprise that they lose track of critical areas of the business for extended periods of time.

As your business grows, it's important to stay connected to how the work gets done and make sure all elements are running smoothly. The longer you go without paying attention to the various areas of your operation, the greater the chance this neglect results in inefficiencies and lacking engagement.

While this idea should apply to almost any aspect of a business, it's especially important when it comes to employee morale. An atmosphere of disconnection and neglect often represents the first step towards a discontented work environment and, eventually, a shoddy standard of work. Keeping tabs on the general mood around the office is crucial to maintaining a happy and productive team that is motivated to do the best job possible.

Don't Lose Touch

Important as the task may be, gauging employee morale within an organization can be tricky for those in upper management. Employees will rarely let their guard down and often don't speak their minds in the presence of higher ups, making it difficult to get a sense of how the people under your supervision really feel.

In order to effectively gauge employee morale, managers need to constantly take a read on the pulse of the organization through regular morale reconnaissance. By using multiple channels to unearth key data points (anecdotal and otherwise) on the vibe in the office, leaders can start to gain a stronger read on employee morale. For example, a generally intuitive team member who's fairly plugged into what's happening daily can provide a valuable perspective that's often out of reach for a manager or CEO.

Ultimately, the goal of morale reconnaissance is to make sure your employees understand and believe in the company, as well as the direction in which it's headed. When objectives are communicated clearly, people are more likely to feel connected to the company and appreciate their role within that larger context. To that end, these initiatives are a two-way street, and executives must keep their minds open to any legitimate concerns their employees air.

In addition to your reconnaissance efforts, by checking in regularly through departmental managers, employee feedback groups, and your HR department, you can effectively gauge morale and avoid larger problems, like toxicity in the workplace.

What Is Toxicity and Why Is it a Problem?

Toxicity can often stem from low employee morale, but the two are certainly not synonymous. There's a huge difference between people in the office feeling a little blue and full-blown toxicity.

A toxic environment emerges when one or more individuals become actively disengaged and encourage others to similarly detach. When employees behave in such a toxic way, they undermine the overall mission of the company and, ultimately, their colleagues' hard work.

This sentiment can arise for a number of different reasons. Maybe someone is harboring resentment for being given a particular assignment or getting passed over during a round of promotions. Wherever their negative feeling stems from, the bigger problem is that they're now actively trying to turn the tide of people against the business.

Effectively Dealing With Toxicity in the Workplace

It's important to remember that toxicity is an extremely pervasive force -- it can spread rapidly throughout your organization if it isn't confronted and dealt with immediately.

Your first step should be diplomatic in nature: start by trying to resolve the situation amicably. By confronting the suspected source of the toxicity, you may be able to address the problem he or she experienced and effectively clear the air. Not only will this avoid the potential loss of an employee, but it can also help avoid the negativity that often arises from the sudden departure of a co-worker, especially if he or she is well-liked around the office.

But if you're unable to get through to the employee, you'll have to consider immediately jettisoning that individual. Pratiksha Patel, Centric Digital's Head of People, notes, "Fast growing companies are intense and morph constantly. In many cases, its people change with it because they have the talent and desire to adapt to changing needs. However, sometimes what was once a really good mutual fit between the employee and company is no longer the right match."

Keep in mind that the people within your organization with high morale, the kind you really want on your team, likely understand and believe in what you're doing. But if they see you leave toxicity untended, it's not just bad for the day-to-day business -- it reflects poorly on your leadership. That is to say, if the toxicity in your workplace doesn't cause your most loyal workers to doubt you, your inability to deal with it might.

Published on: Aug 4, 2015
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.