How To Repair a Toxic Workplace

Published December 6, 2021
Last updated December 6, 2021

For a lot of people, the office is where they spend most of their waking hours. Their colleagues are the ones they actually talk to most of the day, and some of them even grow to be close friends. This is why many people look for their job and their work culture to be fulfilling. However, it’s hard to get satisfaction from work, if your employees feel like there’s a toxic office culture.

What is considered a toxic workplace?

As a rule, a toxic workplace culture is one where employees feel there’s a negative atmosphere. One that badly impacts the way they do their job, or harms their career growth. Toxic behaviours can be presented by co-workers, superiors, or senior management, yet, in most times, it doesn’t stem from any malicious intentions.

Do you suspect your employees feel that your company has a toxic culture? There are several red flags that you can look for, to see if that’s true. And if you do recognise a problem, there are steps you can follow to change your work culture and make it as accepting and nurturing as possible.

What does a toxic workplace look like?

It’s important to know that toxic work cultures don’t only apply to the physical office. In fact, if your company offers remote work, the problem can be even more severe. It’s much more difficult recognising people resenting others, when you don’t actually see their faces. In that situation, it’s even more crucial to understand the signs of a toxic workplace.

Low productivity

As an employer, this will probably be the first thing you notice. It’s not difficult to notice when outputs are low, and deadlines are not being met. Often, the reason for that is that employee engagement is low, due to toxic behaviours.

Decreased morale

Maybe employees are still meeting their targets, but they need to be pushed and convinced more than they used to. If people communicate lack of enthusiasm about the work, are constantly procrastinating and don’t participate, it could indicate they are not happy with the culture. Women, specifically, may feel the the weight of the emotional labour at work, which can greatly reduce their morale.

High absenteeism

This point is closely related to lack of morale. People who feel that they work in a toxic environment, will find it hard to motivate themselves to even get to work, and prefer to do anything else instead. Luckily, this is also not difficult to measure, which can help you spot that there’s a problem in need of fixing.

Lack of transparency and communication

Toxic employees usually don’t communicate well with their peers. Or, their peers don’t want to communicate with them, because it feels uncomfortable. Either way, collaborations are made more difficult. If you notice that there is a lot of misunderstanding, and employees are not aware of changes and decisions, then it’s a good indicator of a company culture issue.

Lack of work/life balance

This point may be more difficult for you to notice, as it is usually the result of company-wide policies. Employees who feel like the work is too demanding, and it’s taking over their life and leaves no room for other activities, will consider their workplace toxic. It’s up to you, as an employer, to identify this and implement measures to support better work-life balance for employees.

How to fix a toxic work environment

If you discover a problem with your work culture, it’s best to act fast, before employees start abandoning ship.

1. Survey employee concerns

The first step is identifying the causes behind your toxic workplace. Is it aggressive leadership? Is it specific policies? Is there a lack of accountability or lack of appreciation for good work?

To get the answer to these questions, you need to talk to your employees, and the best way is through surveys and one-to-ones.

2. Plan out your strategy

After you identify the issues at hand, it’s time to plan out how to address them. You can deal with specific people by employing conflict resolution methods. If there are multiple things to consider, set priorities, so nothing falls through the cracks. Here are a few solutions to consider, that help with most toxic work cultures:

  • Two-way communication. Ensure your employees know you understand their concerns, and they can always come to you with issues.
  • Foster a culture of inclusion. This can be with training, policies and workshops, to ensure all employees get the same treatment and opportunities.
  • Increase workplace recognition. People who feel valued, are more likely to enjoy their work.
  • Set realistic and achievable goals. Employees often feel overwhelmed, which can lead to burnout. This is the way to treat that.
  • Be transparent. Let your employees know what you plan on doing and why, to make them feel included.

3. Apply the repair, and check back periodically

Deciding on a repair strategy is not enough. Once that’s done, it’s time to implement it and ensure it’s helping. You should create policies to support the repair, make sure that management is aligned with the changes needed, explain what’s going to change to your employees and get everyone on board.

Even if it seems like everything is going in the right direction, evaluate your plan every so often to make sure no new problems have arisen, and that you don’t need to change course. To learn more about how companies are finding ways to work smarter, read our 2021 Employee Experience Trends Report
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