Skip to main content
Join Now

< Back to All

How to avoid or fix a toxic workplace

March 7, 2019

By Heather Nezich, courtesy SBAM Approved Partner ASE

While unintentional, many workplaces become labeled as toxic by their employees.  How can leadership identify this when it happens, and can it be repaired?

The most common warning signals that indicated your workplace might be considered toxic include:

  • Increased gossiping and/or social cliques

  • High turnover

  • Low staff morale

  • Aggressive, bullying behavior

  • Poor communication and unclear expectations

  • Dictatorial management techniques that don’t embrace employee feedback

  • Excessive absenteeism, illness, or fatigue

  • Favoritism and imbalanced working conditions

  • Workaholic behavior that sacrifices healthy work/life balance

  • Unrealistic workloads or deadlines

  • Little or strained interaction between employees

  • Unsafe or morally questionable working conditions

What can leadership do to correct the issue if they think that the workplace might be toxic?

Dig Deeper – For a toxic environment to exist, it is being supported someplace in the organization’s infrastructure. Do a thorough examination from top to bottom and look for issues such as:

  • Discriminatory beliefs

  • Treating employees as assets, not people

  • Information guarding (non-transparency)

  • Aggressive or hostile leadership styles

  • Belief that employees are lazy, stupid, and/or expendable

  • Lack of accountability

  • Lack of appreciation or recognition of good work

Prepare a Strategy for Repair
Once you’ve recognized a problem, the most important step is to address it head-on and correct it.  It won’t happen overnight or in one easy step.  Consider tackling the biggest problems first and then move on to any smaller issues.  Some common strategies include:

Listen to your employees.  Employees want to feel validated.  Show that you are listening and are ready to create a solution.  Create a culture of trust so that employees are willing to speak up.

Assign realistic workloads and deadlines.  This might require some restructuring or realignment of job duties.  Is there someone who has capacity to take on the excessive duties someone else is overloaded with?  If not, do you need to consider adding additional staff?  Have some employees taken on extra work meant to be only temporarily, but has become long term?  Are they overloaded?

Acknowledge work well done.  Recognition goes a long way in the workplace.  A study by Boston Consulting Group found that being appreciated for one’s work is the most important factor to job satisfaction.  Give one-off compliments and thank you’s, but also consider creating a formal recognition program.

Offer management coaching.  Is it a particular manager or group of managers creating a problem?  Consider offering leadership coaching or training.  Coaching can help leaders develop improved interpersonal skills, but also goes beyond that to expand upon their current leadership skills, which will benefit the organization as a whole.

Prioritize emotional intelligence.  There should be zero tolerance for workplace bullying and disrespect.  Emotional intelligence is described as “the ability to identify and manage your own emotions and the emotions of others.”  Emotional intelligence is critical in the workplace – especially in leadership.  Provide employees opportunities to expand upon their emotional intelligence.  While most agree it cannot be taught, it can be improved upon.
It’s important to keep tabs on the workplace culture and prevent it from becoming toxic in the first place.  But when it does, it’s wise to take immediate steps to correct it and prevent it from becoming worse.  The smaller the workplace, the faster it can take over.

The ASE Approach 
ASE is very transparent with our staff.  We hold monthly meetings where financials are shared and any workplace issues are addressed.  Staff are encouraged to participate in various committees and task forces (such as our Telecommuting Task Force and Culture Committee).  These committees mix all staff levels, which allows for various perspectives. We also encourage team building through various ASE Fun Committee activities such as Trivia Night, our annual Tigers game outing, various themed luncheons, etc. Talent Development is a priority and is required for every staff member on a quarterly basis, which allows employees to work on areas where improvement is needed.  We recently did a company-wide STAR Customer Service training which focused not only on the service we provide our members, but serving each other internally and learning how to deal with different personality types appropriately.

Leadership plays a key role in work environment.  The ASE leadership team participates in a book club, which will also be rolled out to the entire staff. Our first book was No Ego, to help the senior team deal with issues, and our second book is Fit For Growth to prepare us for our 2019 strategic planning. In addition, one-on-one meetings with each leadership team member are held bi-weekly.

Share On: