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How to Fix a Toxic Work Environment

How to Fix a Toxic Work Environment

Toxic workplaces are detrimental to both employees and organizations as a whole. Workplace toxicity can lead to increased stress, low morale, and high turnover rates. The leading cause of toxic environments in the workplace stems from toxic leadership. Research done in 2019 found that more than half (56%) of adult US workers have dealt with toxic leadership, and an astounding 73% have worked directly for a toxic boss — but there are many more contributors than just bad leaders.1   

If you are interested in learning how to fix a toxic work environment, first know that it is possible — but doing so means being able to identify the signs of toxicity in a workplace. Detoxifying a workplace can enhance employee well-being and create organizational success on many levels, from improved employee productivity to increased revenue for the company. 

What does a toxic work environment look like?

A toxic work environment often has employees who feel undervalued and stressed. Toxicity can have dire consequences on everything from employee morale to productivity. In the most extreme cases, it can negatively impact employee mental health. That’s why it’s so essential to be able to recognize the signs of a toxic workplace. Then, you can take action to course-correct and create a happier, healthier work atmosphere.

Signs of a toxic workplace include: 

  • Poor communication — Communication between management and employees is essential. When lacking or nonexistent, it causes feelings of exclusion and disorientation.
  • Favoritism — If certain people get preferential treatment over others, where job merit isn’t a factor, it creates an inequitable atmosphere that fosters animosity.
  • Micromanagement – This destructive leadership style often involves overbearing supervision that stifles creativity and autonomy. Micromanagers increase stress in the workplace and decrease job satisfaction among employees.
  • Workplace Bullying or harassment — Toxic behavior in the workplace can include verbal abuse, physical aggression, intimidation, and more.
  • High turnover rates — If people constantly leave a company, it’s a sign that something is amiss. High turnover rates disrupt workflow and cost organizations time and money to recruit and train new hires.
  • Poor work-life balance — People who feel pressured to prioritize their work life over their personal life often experience employee burnout and decreased job satisfaction. A healthy balance between professional and personal responsibilities is critical for maintaining overall mental and physical well-being.

9 ways to fix a toxic work environment

Knowing how to fix a toxic workplace isn’t as daunting and overwhelming as you may think. Tackling the challenges is an opportunity to implement strategies to foster genuine and positive organizational change. 

Here are some ways to create healthy work environments that help eliminate workplace toxicity.

1. Address conflict and disputes promptly

Addressing conflict or disputes in a timely manner is critical. Open communication is crucial if you’re looking for ideas on how to fix a toxic work environment. It’ll ensure employees feel comfortable discussing their concerns without fear of retribution or retaliation.

Tip: If your company has a lot of internal conflicts, it might help to establish an impartial mediation process for conflict resolution. Be sure to educate employees and leadership about how the process works.

2. Promote work-life balance

Work-life balance is seriously lacking in the majority of people’s lives today. The hustle and bustle status quo can blur the lines between working hard and letting work consume every bit of employees’ energy and stamina, leaving little to nothing left for personal lives.

Tip: Offer flexible scheduling options like remote work opportunities and flextime policies to give employees autonomy over their schedule.

3. Implement a zero-tolerance policy for harassment

Workplace bullying and harassment should never be tolerated in any work environment. Make it clear that concerns will be addressed immediately.

Tip: If you don’t already have one, establish a zero-tolerance policy and include reporting mechanisms that allow for easy and anonymous complaints to be filed. Ensure that any complaint is taken seriously, and appropriate disciplinary action is taken when necessary.

4. Lead by example

Leadership must model respectful behavior and work ethic toward employees. Leaders should be the first to demonstrate a commitment to creating an inclusive, healthy, and positive workplace culture.

Tip: Managers and leaders should encourage and be willing to listen to employee feedback. They should be ready — and able — to address concerns promptly. Above all, they must foster open communication channels so employees feel safe and comfortable approaching them with issues. 

Addressing toxic leadership

While it can be challenging, part of learning how to fix a toxic workplace culture includes addressing unhealthy leadership styles. Identify leaders who might contribute to a hostile work environment through poor management practices or toxic behavior. 

Tip: Offer coaching and training opportunities to improve leadership skills — topics could include things like effective communication, empathy, and conflict resolution.

Reinforcing positive leadership

Encourage leaders to display empathy, fairness, and respect towards their team. The Golden Rule, treat others how you want to be treated, is an effective management style that goes a long way toward preventing workplace toxicity. 

Tip: A company leader should recognize and reward achievements to help create a positive culture where people feel valued.

5. Prioritize employee needs

Prioritizing employees' happiness means listening to people’s concerns and taking them seriously. Competitive benefits packages that include healthcare and fair compensation are widely needed and can improve company culture and employee morale.

Tip: Create policies that support well-being. For example, you might encourage penalty-free mental health days off from work that don’t deplete PTO or sick time. Additionally, offering workplace mental health support or stress management programs can reduce chronic stress or burnout.

6. Provide opportunities for growth and development

A lack of career advancement opportunities can result in stagnant employees who are unhappy and unmotivated. Some research suggests that up to 74% of people say lack of opportunity prevents them from reaching their full potential.

Tip: Offer training programs, mentorship initiatives, and other avenues for professional growth so your workforce feels supported in reaching their full potential. They’ll be more engaged with their role and motivated to get to the next level. 

7. Ensure fairness in the workplace

Fairness in the workplace should be a no-brainer, but toxic workplaces often foster inequality and unfairness. While competition can be good at times, in many toxic work cultures, there’s unhealthy competition among employees, whether due to favoritism or unfair treatment by management.

Tip: Make sure performance evaluations are objective and measurable and that regular assessments occur as scheduled. Create opportunities for merit-based promotions to eliminate the potential for favoritism.

8. Show appreciation for your employees

It’s important to recognize and reward hard work and dedication. Sometimes a simple thank you will suffice, but other times, more formal recognition is deserved. Either way, showing appreciation can go a long way in boosting employee morale and creating loyalty.

Tip: Create incentives encouraging people to work harder and reach new goals. To be effective, incentives must be clearly outlined with direct stipulations on goals and objectives and what the reward is.

9. Foster a positive workplace culture

Positive workplace cultures have an atmosphere where people feel comfortable expressing their views. They have environments where collaboration is supported and rewarded. They encourage people to take chances and risks without fear of retribution. Positivity in the workplace supports team building and promotes camaraderie to build trust within an organization.

Tip: To create a positive workplace culture, create engaging interactions — that are sometimes not even work-related — allow employees to build mutually-rewarding relationships. Sponsored happy hours, team sports, catered lunches, and other social gatherings are just some of the ways you can create a positive, fun place that people look forward to coming to every day.

Create a more positive workplace with Talkspace

Addressing the issues is step 1 in understanding how to fix a toxic work environment. Creating a positive atmosphere and culture often includes offering mental health services through a partner like Talkspace

Talkspace is an online platform that offers mental health solutions for organizations to support their employees. Incorporating therapy for employees into your wellness program gives employees access to experienced, qualified mental health professionals from the comfort of a home or office. 

Creating an atmosphere where employees feel valued and motivated is critical in improving workplace culture. Let Talkspace help you do it.

Sources:

  1. Singh N, Sengupta S, Dev S. Toxic leadership: The most menacing form of leadership. Dark Sides of Organizational Behavior and Leadership. Published online 2019. doi:10.5772/intechopen.75462. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/330138845_Toxic_Leadership_The_Most_Menacing_Form_of_Leadership. Accessed June 8, 2023. 
  2. Flynn J. 35 key employee training and Development Statistics [2023]: Data + trends. Zippia For Employers. May 26, 2023. Accessed June 8, 2023. https://www.zippia.com/employer/employee-training-development-statistics/

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