Fixing a Toxic Work Environment to Get Your Team on the Same Page

by Susan Mullin

two employees angry at the other because of a toxic work environment

Organizations and workgroups of any size can turn into a toxic work environment. You likely have friends or peers who have experienced this right here in Washington, D.C., because it happens everywhere. When employees come in to work stressed simply because of the workplace, you may find yourself facing a problem. After all, lost productivity due to stress may be costing businesses as much as $300 billion a year.

The signs of a toxic work environment can vary. They range from communication failures to the inconsistent application of policies to disgruntled workers spreading discontent. Nonetheless, the results are usually the same. Employees start dreading their time at work and performance nearly always suffers.

Luckily, improving a toxic work environment isn’t difficult, though it can take some time. If you need to repair a toxic work environment, use these tips to get started.

Set Clear Expectations

One of the first steps to correcting a toxic workplace is to set clear expectations regarding both behavior and performance. This ensures that all workers are crystal clear about what they need to do. They know how they must act if they want to remain part of the team.

That doesn’t mean employees can’t share their feelings and frustrations. In fact, open, honest communication is vital to any healthy team. But anyone whose conduct is detrimental to the team should be put on notice that it won’t be accepted.

Similarly, you need not micromanage the work your staff performs. You should still stay connected to ensure all team members are accomplishing their duties in an acceptable time frame and with acceptable quality.

Once the expectations are set, you also need to follow through and enforce the standards universally. If the policies aren’t applied fairly, the environment can actually become more toxic, not less.

Support Transparency

Keeping secrets from your workforce is going to breed mistrust, especially if the information being withheld directly impacts their ability to do their jobs or is related to an issue with the stability of the business. Plus, secrecy can encourage gossip as people begin to speculate about what is happening behind the scenes. In the absence of information, it’s human nature to fill in the blanks with what you THINK has happened, and the imagined is almost always worse than the reality of the situation.

While you don’t need to—and sometimes should not—tell your employees every last detail, it’s important to share critical pieces of information and keep them in the loop as much as possible. Even if the news is bad, your team will feel more comfortable if they are properly informed about the realities of the situation. As one marketing manager used to always say to her team; “I’ll always tell you what I know, when I know it, to the extent that I can.”

Be Proactive About Workloads

Overworked employees can quickly become fatigued, disgruntled and burned out. If that happens, they may spread their discontent to others, an issue that can escalate rapidly if others already feel the same way.

While the occasional bout of overtime may be unavoidable, continually pushing your employees to the brink will result in increased stress, lost productivity, and a miserable work environment. However, these can all be avoided by simply monitoring your staff’s workloads and making adjustments as needed, such as bringing in temporary workers to provide them with extra support or offering a more flexible work schedule.

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Posted in , Workplace Culture