Steps Towards Moving From Toxic To Healthy Working Culture

We spend most of our working hours on the job. Whether it is in the office or on assignment in the field, a great deal of time is allocated to a career. It is not easy, if not outright impossible, to escape the corporate culture of our employer. It is integrated into how we interact with other members of the work team and how we communicate with other departments. Executive management hopes that morale is high and efficiency a feature of work. It doesn’t always happen. Some working culture are toxic and the affects can destroy a business.

A Toxic Work Place Defined

It has nothing to do with carbon dioxide or hazardous waste. A toxic work place is one an employee dreads going to on a daily basis. Morale is low and the stress level is unacceptably high. Some indicators of toxicity include the following:

  • Incredibly high levels of stress;
  • Lack of proper balance between work and life outside of the office;
  • Stress related illness;
  • Expectations set at too high a level;
  • Poor leadership
  • No sense of loyalty to the company;
  • Poor Communication
  • Cliques and backstabbing;
  • Excessive bullying.

All of this, or even some of this, creates an environment where people spend too much time watching their back and too little time attending to the tasks at hand.

There is a Price to be paid

An immediate cost is an increase in employee absenteeism. People start calling in sick and their health may be negatively impacted by all of the stress. Another expense comes with lower productivity. Poor morale will play harshly on the work attitudes of those who were once highly productive. A final item of the bill to be paid deals with retention. A highly toxic work place will have a revolving door. Valued employees will not stay long in an area where cliques and poor communication rule the house. It should come as no surprise if they begin to actively look for another job on company time. This all adds up to a situation which management cannot afford to allow to continue.

Is There a Cure for Toxic Workplaces?

There are any number of personal strategies to combat toxic workplaces, but these are defensive activities. The corrective treatment must come from the top. Executive management has to be willing to make the needed changes to create a healthy work culture. The sooner the cure is implemented, the better. The remedies include these

  1. Address Employee Problems Immediately. Managers have to ask how things are; they cannot wait for the trouble to get out of hand. Reports of any incident of harassment (verbal, sexual, or physical) need to be encouraged with confidentiality guaranteed.
  2. Encourage Anger Management. Stress causes outbursts of rage which only poison the atmosphere. Coping skills should be taught to all employees working in potentially stressful areas. You can’t completely get rid of what causes stress, but you can teach people how to deal with it when it might surface.
  3. Discourage Gossip and Cliques. Gossip is a form of bullying and must be stopped. Management can communicate to the work force the damage malicious gossip produces, but example is perhaps the best cure. Managers who refuse to spread rumours help eliminate the problem. Cliques can be derailed by reassigning people and not showing favouritism.
  4. Give Everyone the Value Due. This means there is no room for favouritism but plenty of space for praise. Those who have honestly earned attention should be recognized for their efforts.
  5. Reward People Based on Noticeable Performance. It should be no surprise to anyone if someone who is a hard worker, with demonstrable results, is promoted. Rewards based on performance shows that office politics or unethical behaviour are not the means of advancing.
  6. Frown on Unethical Behaviour. Those who stop at nothing to get ahead create a hostile atmosphere. There need to be boundaries of behaviour and management has to explain these to the staff. Cut throat office politics have to be discouraged.
  7. Expect Change to Take Some Time. A work area does not go negative overnight. It took some time for the air to become foul and it will take time for things to get better. Persistence is the key to change. Efforts by time management to bring about a healthy work environment must be long term and measurable.
Looking at the Measures

It is one thing to talk about positive benefits but another matter to determine if they actually happen. Happy smiles can be a mask hiding severe dissatisfaction. Management can evaluate if the move from toxic to healthy is actually happening by making use of a few measures.

Absenteeism is a primary indicator. Comparing rates of absence before the initiative and then a few month later can suggest people are calling in sick due to stress related issues. The spectre of “mental health” days start to vanish as the staff actually enjoys the work. Turnover is another way to evaluate the efforts. If the revolving door is no longer quite the problem it was before, then the change program may be working quite well. Exit interviews of those leaving may also note if there are lingering problems. The information taken from these frank discussions have to be taken quite seriously.

One final measure is productivity. Are projects meeting deadlines and is there a larger output from the staff. A positive work force exerts greater effort, and this makes culture changes cost effective. Any of these measures of outcomes can be developed in cooperation with human resources. The results are informative and also give ideas on how to further improve the working environment.

The global economy is highly competitive and a company has to respond. A sweat shop atmosphere is not going to encourage output and highly skilled employees need to be retained. Higher wages alone won’t keep them. A work culture which values its employees will find the same people are actively working to make the business succeed. A toxic culture does not succeed in the long run. Efforts to move towards a more positive, healthier, culture pay off in the short term and over the years as well.

Is your working culture healthy?

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