How to prevent a toxic work environment

Written by Evita Højegaard

May 13, 2021

Is your organizational culture toxic?

Some signs are obvious: employees crying at their desks; inhumane working hours; unfair pay, you get the idea.

The problem is that most toxicity in work culture comes from innocuousness.

Just like with physical toxicity, a few traces of elements here and there aren’t often noticeable, or dramatically damaging. But as those elements add up, the toxicity concentrates, quickly outweighing the positive aspects of the organizational culture you’ve worked so hard to create.

You may have some excellent policies in place designed to improve company culture, but it’s crucial to step back and assess the greater collection of policies both deliberately and unintentionally enacted within your organization.

Here are 10 tips on how to prevent toxic work environment in your company:

1: Set goals together with the employees

Getting KPIs and goals dictated is very demotivating. What we usually suggest is that the employees should set their own goals that matches the goals on higher levels. E.g., a manager may have goals about more conversions from marketing hence he might ask the team how we they could help achieve his goals and they may come up with things like improve SEO etc. Then goals are owned by the team and work as motivation.

2: Keep your office energized

Sometimes you can feel underlying toxicity just by not feeling any energy. It is not enough with people just doing their jobs. Happy team is a productive team.

Hosting quarterly staff meetings in order to create an opportunity to come together as a community and ensure your entire team stays on the same page. Make these meetings fun, such as by sharing a pizza, starting with an icebreaker, or playing a group game with employees to thank them for participating.

efficient meeting

3: Create stability

Inconsistent policies or constant changes in tasks may seem like a small factor in creating a toxic work environment, but they play a larger role than you may think. Without a solid bedrock, employees aren’t able to root themselves strongly enough to reach their goals. In addition to that, the lack of consistency breeds a sense of constant turbulence, and unpredictability into the work environment, which can pose an unnecessary challenge and present a constant level of needless stress into daily operations.

Consistency and a sense of stability aren’t only beneficial in combatting stress.

The ability to rely on management to provide stability in the workplace environment is essential, because it sharply defines behavioral expectations in employees.-

Dr. Jan West explains in her National Business Research Institute article “The High Cost of a Toxic Company Culture”

4: Hire smart

It’s vital to have a good sense of what your company’s culture is all about and understand that not every candidate’s personal culture is going to match it. Culture clash can be a source of toxicity in the workplace, and a center for attrition.

No matter how old we get, we want to be able to relate to our colleagues and our environment. Employees who don’t fit in as well are 12% less likely to see themselves staying with their current employer.

-Sabrina Son, TINYpulse

This isn’t to say that it’s a good idea to hire for homogeneity—that can easily have its consequences. The key is to understand that each new hire has the potential to change the trajectory of your company culture. It’s crucial to understand that potential before bringing people on, and to gain a sense of how their personal culture will fit into the greater scheme.

Solution to this could be to give them a chance to meet with the entire team, which is a great way for all parties to gain a sense of fit early on. Or to ask about their previous cultural experiences within past jobs.

5: Check-in with the employees

Maintaining open lines of communication with your employees and managers will not only build trust with your staff, but also keep you updated about any potential internal conflicts. To do this, consider:

Scheduling regular check-in meetings and reviews with your employees. This will provide a place for employees to express themselves while giving you the opportunity to understand how your staff feels about their workspace. An idea would be to implement these meetings when doing the performance reviews.

Encourage staff to share ideas with management. And not only ideas, give stuff the opportunity to review your leadership as well. For example, by having a once-a-year meeting with HR, who can then later examine and pass the information further. This can help keep employees engaged and make them feel like important contributors to the success of the business.

 

6: Watch out for stress

Work is stressful, and there’s a lot of benefits to stress. We’re ultimately meant to do best under a certain amount of pressure – but too much, and we crack. It’s hard to tell what too much means, as that is entirely subjective. While incentivizing hard work is good, there are certain pitfalls to consider and carefully avoid.

If you rely entirely on your hardest workers, you might find that they’re picking up the slack for everybody else.

Make sure you are employing enough people to deal with big projects and extremely pressuring deadlines. Reward those that go above and beyond, so long as it’s evident that they are not sacrificing their health; and remind them to take breaks, when it’s clear that they’re beginning to burn out.

how to lead an efficient team meeting

7: Empower managers to deal with internal conflicts

If you won’t directly manage your employees, giving your chosen managers the tools to deal with internal conflicts can help prevent workplace toxicity. For example, you could:

  • Provide conflict management training sessions for new managers or send them to a relevant course in your area hosted by a local university or college.
  • Establish regular communication with managers to discuss and troubleshoot potential workplace issues.
  • Ensure your managers understand the difference between conflict and harassment or discrimination because the last two require immediate attention.

8: Keep your leadership flexible 

It’s important to understand the impact a leader’s flexibility can have on the team. A “my way or the highway” approach isn’t going to win any hearts or minds in the best of times. When things get tough, it’s often the source of attrition.

In her Forbes article Six Signs Your Company’s Culture Is Toxic, Liz Ryan offers some useful advice:

Companies hire people because the managers can’t do everything themselves. It stands to reason that we should trust the people we hire to do their jobs, but some fearful managers can’t give up control.

They have to make all the decisions and call all the shots. A rule-driven, command-and-control culture is a toxic culture that will drive talented people away.

-Liz Ryan

 

9:Go with bigger place

Space is important. Offices shouldn’t feel cramped – but there should still be some form of design in place. Completely open offices can be chaotic and unruly, leaving many to struggle with noise and a lack of concentration.

Finding a healthy middle ground is important but avoid cubicles and other office plans that further isolate workers and leave them feeling unmotivated or inconsequential.

For many companies, co-working spaces offer an excellent middle ground as a great place to work while offering plenty of amenities most smaller companies might not be able to afford in an office of their own.

10: Last but definitely not the least-Recognize and acknowledge

It’s human nature to favor some people over others. We tend to mesh well with people like us, while in reality, we need people who can make up for our weaknesses. There will be people who pull the load and go above and beyond- it’s easy to favor these team members. It’s also your job to notice the little things, like when people are trying hard to improve.

If you hire the right people, you’ll soon notice their dedication and excellent job performance. Recognizing and rewarding this behavior encourages employees to keep working hard. Here are several ways to do this:

  • Say “thank you” to your employees while recognizing their job performance. Expressing gratitude when an employee does their job well is the first step in rewarding hard work and cultivating a positive workspace.
  • Provide incremental raises to show your appreciation. This can encourage hard work while giving staff an incentive to stay with your business as long as possible.
  • Hire and promote employees who not only align with your ideals as a business owner, but also help cultivate a positive workplace for their coworkers.

In conclusion

A toxic work environment creates and enables dysfunction. Whether that manifests itself as feuds between specific employees, a lack of overall respect, poor performance or other negative consequences, it’s something every employer wants to avoid.

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