By Mario Peshev, CEO of DevriX 

Workplace toxicity can annihilate even the most formidable of organizations. A single recruitment misfit can turn the whole company around, dooming healthy preexisting relationships between employees and senior management.

The reason toxicity has an impactful effect is simple. It affects multiple key areas of operating an organization, including:

  • Your staff.
  • Business processes and internal workflows.
  • Internal and external communication.
  • Quality of work.
  • Relationships with customers and vendors.

Top results won’t pay the bills in the long run if one or more team members aren’t adhering to the company’s mission, vision and culture. Short-term behaviors impacting motivation, morale and enthusiasm inevitably drag the company down and may result in the loss of your best and most loyal employees. And, don’t forget the institutional knowledge disappearing alongside your disappointed troops.

So, what are the most effective steps to identify toxicity at work?

  1. Pay attention to secretive conversations across the office. Gossip, small groups leaving and arriving together far too often, and awkward silence while entering a room can indicate mistrust and questionable morale among team members.
  2. Notice body language and tension during meetings. Meetings reveal clear signs of limited tolerance, annoyance, boredom or irony between teammates. Subtle actions, gasps, yawns or rolling eyes multiple times can be signs of interpersonal problems escalating in the workplace.
  3. Look for indirect signals during chats and text communication (including emails or messengers). Ignoring team members in meeting invites, “failing” to send reports, ending instant messages with a full stop, or completing conversations quickly and abruptly with irrational excuses are all signs you can monitor.
  4. Observe if an employee is constantly dragging tasks or maintaining a low level of quality. Lack of motivation and commitment to work, constant annoyance by toxic colleagues and unfair culture requirements inevitably affect business output. While rapidly scaling your team or introducing new processes may be the culprit, a toxic environment will often show the same symptoms.
  5. Assess your turnover rate. You are too late if you recognize the signs of toxicity only after several important team members resign. Increased turnover unquestionably indicates that your company is in trouble -- and your culture is among the first factors to investigate.

A 2015 survey of over 60,000 employees by Harvard Business School showed that avoiding a toxic hire or letting them go quickly delivers $12,500 in cost savings. When you consider the long-term impact of an unreliable hire with critical access to personal data or financial records, your losses can quickly jump through the roof.

Once you’ve established that your culture has been suffering, it’s time to take action. 

How can you rectify a toxic company culture?

  1. Conduct an anonymous workplace survey. Send a broadcast email or record a personal video indicating the severity of the situation. Ask everyone to chime in and escalate problems they see (and share potential solutions to streamline the workflow). Make sure it’s anonymous to encourage participation.
  2. Fire the toxic employee. A bold and impactful move will make a difference. This sends a message, both to remaining divergents and disengaged team members who had previously lost hope in the situation being rectified.
  3. Invest in coaching. Bring in external leadership trainers, soft skill mentors or coaches who specialize in strengthening teams. Plan a team-building activity soon after you’ve made the first attempts to right your culture. Work toward setting the record straight.
  4. Pinpoint the top three failing processes. Take the time to analyze which processes enable toxicity. Promoting toxic people because of inadequate KPIs or missing out on feedback sessions won’t keep malicious factors from creeping in.
  5. Reiterate your vision and goals. A healthy culture revolves around establishing a common ground of values and targets. Continuously reiterating the key principles of why your company exists will slowly steer the ship clear, especially after taking any additional steps to prove your value as a trustworthy leader.

Regardless of your preferred approach to get your culture back on track, don’t delay the process any further. Sit down with your management team, and set your high-end priority goals. Then jump right in. 

A healthy culture is key to building a strong team, increasing productivity and work quality, and supporting your business over the coming years. Prioritize your company’s code of conduct and your value map both for your current team and as an integral part of your recruitment process from now on.

Mario Peshev is CEO of DevriX and a business advisor for $5M - $100M SMEs and high-scale digital applications (100-500M monthly views).