Transforming Toxic Workplaces: Strategies to Reclaim Company Vitality and Trust was originally published on Ivy Exec.
It may come into effect when your focus moves elsewhere, or you could have gained it when you assumed a new position.
But once you see that your workplace is toxic, you can’t turn away.
Toxic workplaces drain the company of vitality and talent and can incur significant reputational and economic costs.
The potential impact on the health of the business and employees makes it essential that rehabilitating the toxic work culture becomes the top priority for company leaders.
Signs of the Toxic Workplace
Bob Sutton, professor of Organizational Behavior at Stanford University, offers a three-point checklist for determining whether you have a toxic workplace on your hands.
Physical and mental health is suffering.
This might show up in employees as a general malaise or dispiritedness, low-grade anxiety, and perhaps hints of trouble in relationships at home and in the workplace. These signs could point to a long-term bullying problem, Sutton suggests.
Performance is suffering.
You might notice that the quality of work is consistently disappointing. Employees may be late delivering projects, reluctant to go the extra mile, and lack creativity. They don’t care about the company.
You’re starting to act out yourself.
If you find yourself acting or speaking in unfamiliar ways that you don’t like, you could be adopting some of the characteristics that make it unpleasant to work at your company.
Employees might have tried to approach you or your predecessor about experiencing these feelings.
Often employees are most forthcoming when they hand in their notice. When the concerns are dismissed or ignored, that points to deeper cultural problems at the company. If you find yourself or your leadership team regularly becoming defensive, it may be time to look closely at the culture.
How to Improve the Company Culture
Consider Bringing in a Third Party
Acknowledging that the workplace has become toxic is an essential step for the company.
Tracking the cause presents more difficulties, especially if workers are reluctant to come forward to report negative experiences.
A third party is often able to identify the behaviors and attitudes that are detrimental to morale more effectively than managers, and employees are more comfortable sharing information with someone not entrenched in the company.
Hiring a third-party consultant is also an essential step if it becomes necessary to deal with the behavior of high-level individuals.
Look for the Toxic Worker
Finding the problem’s immediate source is paramount and often leads to an individual.
The toxic worker is not just unsuited to the position or an underperformer. He or she harms the organization, including its property and people. The bad behavior of the toxic worker can range from general negativity or undermining of company values to apparent ethical and regulatory breaches.
The toxic worker has an outsized effect on the workplace. The worker can set off a contagion in the office, whether fellow employees emulate the behavior, fall victim to it, or become so demoralized that they leave the company. The fallout that results carries heavy costs for the company.
In “Toxic Workers,” a 2015 working paper from Harvard Business Review, authors Dylan Minor and Michael Housman found that a company can save about $12,500 in turnover costs by avoiding a bad hire – that’s more than twice the amount that a superstar employee adds to the bottom line.
The price of the toxic worker climbs when factors such as loss of customers, litigation fees, regulatory fines, and employee turnover are included.
Neutralize the Toxic Behavior
You need to stop the bad behavior before addressing the more significant issues that left it unchecked.
If you spot the problems early enough, you may be able to change the employee’s behavior by establishing clear boundaries and calling out the offending behavior. Document the behavior that is raising your concerns.
This will aid you in tracking progress and serve as a beneficial written record if there is a need for disciplinary action.
If these actions do not yield results and the workplace stress continues, it may be necessary to remove the problem employee. Difficult as it is to let an employee go, take heart in Minor and Housman’s conclusion that avoiding the toxic worker is more profitable than keeping him or her, no matter how productive they may be.
To repair the work culture and regain employees’ trust, the company needs to take an unsparing look at its role in fostering the conditions that created it.
For example, overlooking violations of company policy, bullying in the workplace, and inequities in the treatment of employees gives implicit permission for toxic behavior to continue and escalate.
Leaders can work toward healthy, safe conditions for all employees with these essential steps:
- Revise company policy with updated rules that support a healthy workplace.
- Establish a safe work environment where employees are protected from reprisals when they bring concerns forward.
- Communicate to employees that the company values the well-being and safety of the workplace through personal interaction, consistent company-wide messaging that reinforces company policy, and the behavior of company leaders.
- Walk the talk; actively ensure the policy will be enforced equally throughout the company.
It is essential to include employees when you set out to establish a workplace where their safety and well-being are priorities.
The task of company leaders is to re-engage employees and convince them that their lives will be better.
Take a few tips from Douglas Conant, who took over as president and CEO of Campbell’s Soup in 2001, when the stalwart company’s fortunes were ebbing and needing revitalization. Conant transformed the toxic workplace he had inherited by utilizing his extensive emotional intelligence to earn the trust and involvement of employees.
He recalls two critical elements of his campaign. First, he declared out loud the company’s values and then delivered his promises.
That meant modeling the behavior that the company promoted – walking the talk.
We’re All in This Together
Conant actively engaged with company employees, making a deliberate effort to interact with as many individuals as he could every day. He even wrote personal notes to acknowledge individual contributions. These interactions provided him with insights into the company’s activities and offered employees a tangible connection to associate with the company.
“Leaders tend to lean towards taking action,” Conant asserts. “While they’re in the listening mode, it might not seem like they’re achieving much. However, this perception couldn’t be more inaccurate.”