As we find ourselves competing in today’s global and fast workforce, the associated pressures can lead to previously unseen levels of high stress. Unfortunately, a by-product of increased stress is oftentimes a toxic workplace. Workers are under pressure from deadlines, performance expectations as well as their own personal goals and standards. This week, Chris Mercer, discusses the different strategies leaders can implement to help reduce and avoid a toxic workplace, ultimately helping foster an exceptional company culture.
How to Change and Improve a Toxic Workplace
by Chris Mercer
W ork without stress is a dream nowadays. Consider these stressors: hectic days, differences in ideas, and unsatisfied stakeholders and customers. It does not end there, we all have deadlines, which are also stressful. Now, add in the self-imposed stressors such as our own ambitions and standards. All of this combined puts us under intense pressure adding creating heavy levels of stress. However, if we could operate in a friendly and relaxed environment, the stress of the workplace would be drastically reduced. The question is, can this “friendly and relaxed environment” really exist in today’s work force?
When your team members become afraid to speak up and stress is caused by a high number of rules and hierarchy, then it means that you are working in a toxic environment. A toxic culture has a huge negative impact on employees. No one wants to be afraid to come to work. This is why you need to recognize the first signs of toxicity and act immediately.
There are three main characteristics of a toxic workplace:
- Employees are afraid to speak up. “When an employee is working in a toxic culture, he is afraid to speak up. Therefore, he won’t provide any positive, or negative feedback. In a toxic workplace, employees have discovered that speaking up is a negative thing and so they prefer to shut up”. This is how Dylon Wills, head of the content department at Resumes Expert, explains one of the biggest characteristics of a toxic culture.
- Too many rules and hierarchy. When you work in a toxic environment, each of your steps is controlled by a variety of policies. Managers do not trust employees to make important decisions and so they control every initiative. What is more, in a work environment controlled by too many rules and hierarchy, you will see favoritism or unevenness between those who benefit from the policies and those who have to obey.
- Open dialogue is discouraged. “I have worked in organizations where communication was top-down. Therefore, the employees were always brought in a “need to know” basis. When input from employees is rarely solicited, then you are working in a toxic workplace”, mentions Diane Carlson, editor in chief at Resumes Centre.
If you have identified that your organization’s culture may be a toxic workplace. Now what? How do you improve the workplace and change things for good? Listed below are several techniques to help you change and improve a toxic workplace:
- Listen to your employees. It is important to make your employees understand that you care about their opinions. Therefore, you should meet them from time to time, listen to their complaints, and take actions on the points where you feel that things have gone too far. This is how you let employees have a voice and help them gain more trust in themselves.
- Be realistic. It is very important to be reasonable when you set targets and deadlines. When you lead a team of people, it is perfectly normal to be ambitious and to want employees to deliver tasks quickly. However, when you press your team too much with tight deadlines, then you increase the level of stress too much and you create a toxic environment. Therefore, before you assign tasks and give deadlines, it is very important to be reasonable.
- Be transparent. James Daily, head of the content department for Flash Essay, encourages managers to communicate transparently. “An employee will never deliver the expected results if he doesn’t understand the context. Therefore, it is a manager’s job to eliminate confusion and frustration by being transparent and clear in his communication”. For example, you can hold weekly meetings with your teams and discuss the progress of their projects, or announce changes and initiatives when it comes to their tasks. This is how you help your employees become more efficient and confident.
- Treat your employees equally. We already mentioned above that a workplace run by unevenness and favoritism is toxic. Thus, if you want to keep your employees happy and foster collaboration, then you need to treat them equally. One of the first steps you can follow is to audit the company’s policies and identify any rules that might lead to unfair treatment. What is more, you can show your openness to receive feedback from them. You will be surprised to discover how valuable this feedback is and the numerous creative ideas that will come from this type of open dialogue with your employees.
- Foster emotional intelligence. We are all humans and we are led by emotions. Therefore, emotional intelligence plays a crucial role in a company’s culture. Managers should be prepared to punish bullying, as well as dismissive and disrespectful behavior. It is the responsibility of the employer to provide sufficient resources to help your employees expand emotional intelligence and promote a positive and empathetic work culture.
Eliminating toxicity and creating a healthy and happy workplace is not something that will happen over-night. It takes constant effort, commitment and consistency to improve your workplace atmosphere. Conduct an audit after a few months of implementing the strategies listed above. Check what has improved, as well as, what still needs work. Consider identifying the biggest influencers on each team, and work with them to implement your ideas. You cannot do everything by yourself. Thus, involving your employees in this process will help you promote a fair and positive work culture.
Christopher Mercer is a blogger and founder of Citatior. Web developer by day and writer by night, Chris enjoys the ever-changing world of web content.
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