It’s never easy to acknowledge when your company has developed an unhealthy employee culture. Fortunately, the first step toward the solution is admitting the problem exists. Once you’re empowered with the awareness that your company culture has become toxic, you’re in a better position to turn it around.
What is a Toxic Work Culture
We’ve all heard the term, but what exactly is a toxic work culture? It is usually defined as a detrimental work environment characterized by patterns of dysfunctional behavior that can negatively impact an individual’s productivity, engagement, and mental and physical health. It often breeds a climate of fear, stress, and anxiety. All of which can result in decreased job satisfaction and higher employee turnover.
In a toxic work culture, individuals might witness or experience various forms of unacceptable behavior. Things such as bullying, harassment, discrimination, or other types of emotional or physical abuse, for example. These practices often go unaddressed due to weak leadership or a lack of effective conflict-resolution mechanisms.
Poor communication and lack of transparency from management often contribute to a toxic work culture. Employees may feel they are kept in the dark about company decisions that impact them, resulting in feelings of mistrust and alienation. Overwork is another common symptom of a toxic workplace, where individuals are consistently expected to work beyond their capacity without adequate compensation or recognition. This can lead to burnout, mental health issues, and decreased productivity.
Furthermore, a toxic work culture often lacks clear goals, constructive feedback, and opportunities for personal and professional growth. Employees may feel undervalued and unappreciated, leading to low morale and decreased motivation.
By contrast, a healthy work culture fosters trust, respect, open communication, collaboration, and employee well-being. It is, therefore, important for organizations to proactively address signs of toxicity in their work cultures to ensure the overall well-being of their employees and their businesses.
Benefits of Building a Positive Work Culture
A company’s workplace culture reveals a lot about its potential for success. Not only that but having a negative workplace culture actually hinders productivity and deters potential applicants. Studies show that employees are also 24% more likely to quit their job if the workplace culture isn’t a good fit.
Hard-working, dedicated employees respond to positive environments. When your workplace culture is toxic, the odds of employee burnout, absenteeism, and low morale skyrocket. However, this doesn’t spell the end for your business – you can always take the wheel and turn your company’s culture around.
Identify Problem Behaviors
Perhaps the most obvious yet most overlooked step of the process is the identification of existing problems, down to specifics. Although it’s not uncommon for a toxic workplace to develop, no two companies have an identical work culture. Discovering the specific issues that plague your employees can help you further investigate the underlying causes.
Here are some problem behaviors to watch out for, which can indicate a deteriorating company culture:
- Employees forming exclusive or gossip-centered social cliques
- General reluctance to voice concerns or feedback, especially for fear of judgment, retaliation, or disciplinary action
- The inexplicably high turnover rate
- Passive-aggressive behavior
- Reduced team morale
- Increased absences
- Burnout among employees
- Discriminatory wage gaps
- Dictatorial management styles
- Workaholic mentality among employees
Reevaluate Company Values
Most of the time, company culture is merely the result of a business’s core values. For example, if your company places emphasis on being hard-working and going the extra mile, but places no importance on mental health or teamwork, you can expect to see excellent attendance but a set of miserable and burnt out employees.
Company culture takes root in the core values you establish for your business. This is why it’s critical not only to develop core values that you want your employees to reflect, but also to make your company’s values clear and well communicated.
It’s human culture to observe social norms and repeat this behavior in order to assimilate into a social environment. This behavior pervades work environments as well; changing the core values beneath problem behaviors can help adjust employees to a new, healthier “normal”.
Build Employee Relationships
Fostering positive employee relationships can go a long way in establishing a better work culture. This applies doubly in cases where social discourse runs high. Team building exercises are one excellent way to help employees embrace their differences rather than berate or exclude one another.
Sometimes, the best way to clear the air is to gather your employees for a conference regarding office culture. Keeping the conversation light with jokes, fun exercises, and open dialogue can engage team members and encourage them to interact with each other more positively.
Here’s a statistic that might shock you: 48% of American adults report having been victim to abusive behavior at work. It’s important to be firm when confronting social issues among employees, particularly about abusive or aggressive behavior. It’s never acceptable for employees to bully or belittle each other. Most abuse stems from an imbalanced power dynamic. In these instances, you’ll want to consider an anonymous reporting system, so that employees can communicate concerns without fear of retaliation.
One of the most powerful tools you can use to turn around a negative work environment is employee feedback. Depending on the specific circumstances, employees may not always feel comfortable coming directly to their supervisor with complaints and concerns. An anonymous feedback system can be a great solution for this.
Although somewhat time-consuming, personally mentoring employees, especially those who exhibit problem behaviors at work, is absolutely worthwhile. Taking the time to coach your employees not only shows that you’re an open-minded and understanding leader, but it also shows them that you really do care.
If you notice an employee struggling to socialize with their coworkers, or a manager who can be borderline authoritative, odds are that coaching can help them adjust their behavior. Additionally, when a workplace leader is an active mentor to employees, research reveals that they experience a 102% increase in motivation. You just can’t beat those odds!
Connect People to a Purpose
Employees feel better about the work they’re doing when they can link it to a clearly established company goal. One way to improve teamwork and collective motivation for your employees is uniting everyone through a common purpose. Your company’s mission should be communicated to every employee. It can help to emphasize that everyone’s efforts contribute and matter.
Time and time again, positive reinforcement has been proven effective in maintaining progress toward an established goal, and it continues to work wonders in a professional environment as well. Employees respond to recognition when they’ve gone above and beyond.
It’s not uncommon for employees to dread going to work, especially in a particularly repetitive field. However, when provided positive reinforcement through rewards for progress, they begin to associate work with positive interactions. This creates a better relationship between your employees and their work, which naturally results in better workplace culture and higher productivity.
Maintaining a Positive Company Culture
It takes time and a great deal of effort to improve a negative workplace culture. It may take multiple strategies and meetings to reach an ideal level of comfort and job satisfaction. Be patient, and understand that improving office culture is a process.
In order to maintain a better workplace culture, implement backup strategies to prevent employees from reverting to old habits. Boundaries should be set which deter employees from exhibiting toxic behaviors. For example, receiving multiple complaints via the anonymous feedback system could result in a private meeting with a supervisor to discuss the underlying issue.
Encourage your employees to get open and honest about the issues they face at work regularly. Where there’s consistent communication, there are opportunities to make the situation better.
Having an unhealthy work environment is detrimental to your productivity and your bottom line. Turning your company culture around may require some extra effort, but it goes a long way in ensuring your business’s future success and the satisfaction of loyal employees.