By Robert Half on 16 July 2021
Estimated Read Time: 4 minutes

As an employer, how aware are you of the culture in your office?

High employee turnover rates, low staff morale, widespread gossip – these are characteristics of a toxic work environment.

The actions of even a single toxic employee can have a detrimental effect on the entire workplace, and this is especially true in smaller organisations that may not now how to manage them.

The more intimate the workplace, the faster negative interpersonal issues can spread. Workplace conflicts and decreased office morale can disrupt productivity, alienate workers and have a catastrophic effect on your employee retention efforts.

Related: Why is employee engagement so important?

The goal of every employer is to boost productivity among employees. Even if you prefer a more traditional hard-line approach to management, there is a fine line between a driven work environment and one that is overly competitive to the point of toxicity and work stress.

How to stop a toxic work environment

Knowing some of the characteristics of a toxic work environment can make it easier to identify negative patterns within the organisation.

Related: The benefits of good staff morale

Low employee morale, staff dissatisfaction, or employee burnout are all symptomatic of a toxic work environment and can express themselves in a number of ways, including:

  • A critical culture with negative feedback
  • A lack of enthusiasm or participation in office events or meetings, or a lack of new ideas and initiatives
  • High staff turnover or frequent unexplained sick days
  • Office cliques or favouritism towards certain team members

Related: Conflict management in the workplace

Here are some simple tactics and mind-sets that may contribute towards the creation of a toxic work environment, and some tips on how to resolve team issues in a healthy way.

1. Give credit where credit is due

Do your employees take credit for their colleagues’ work? Do they belittle each other’s efforts to make themselves look good? It’s a dog-eat-dog world out there, but it doesn’t have to be that way within the company.

Ensure that everyone who contributes to a project is getting the credit that he or she deserves by observing your staff regularly and asking for updates on their progress.

Related: Ways to recognise your employees

2. Encourage team sharing

Though there can only be one top performer at a time, it doesn’t mean everyone else is incompetent.

It’s normal to incite some friendly competition among your employees, but how you deal with the results of the competition matters.

Do you subject the “losers” to humiliation or ridicule? Doing this could lead to resentment and the loss of morale. You want your employees to be driven, not discouraged.

Related: The benefits of mentoring in the workplace

Consider arranging for top performers to mentor the ones who are having trouble hitting their targets. This will naturally foster a positive working environment, and results in a more cohesive team.

3. Avoid playing favourites

A team leader that plays favourites and scapegoats is a huge contributing factor to a toxic work environment.

Not only does this behaviour alienate the designated scapegoats, it can induce workplace bullying and the formation of cliques, leading to the eventual breakdown of the team.

4. Lead by example

Do you heavily penalise or criticise your staff for making mistakes while excusing your own blunders? Do you set rules that you don’t follow?

A good boss admits to mistakes and lives by his/her own code of conduct, instead of merely enforcing it on others.

Related: How to motivate staff

5. Provide adequate outlets for mutual feedback

People like to know that they are doing well in their roles. It’s important to provide employees with an avenue to communicate with the management.

Assure them that negative feedback will be considered and addressed, and offer incentives for sharing ideas that can improve the workplace.

Related: 7 key employee engagement factors that really matter to staff

6. Encourage an open office culture

If your employees are hesitant to approach you for help, there’s a good chance that it is fear holding them back, not awe.

While boundaries are important in maintaining your role as a leader, it also pays to encourage your employees to approach you with their concerns or if they need assistance.

You might find that they have good ideas to share, but were afraid of being criticised and maybe even blacklisted.

Related: How to improve workplace productivity

All in all, fostering a harmonious working environment is not as straightforward as simply following these tips closely. If you’re guilty of any of the above-mentioned scenarios, don’t worry – it’s not too late to resolve matters.

Preventing a toxic work environment

By keeping the lines of communication open and fostering a collaborative work culture, you can turn a toxic work environment into a dynamic workplace where employees are happy and motivated.

To thwart future problems, let your teams know that your door is always open and they can rely on you for support and discretion. Give them tips on how best to cultivate workplace connections.

Also, take a look in the mirror: Do you communicate well, and are you as considerate and approachable as you could be? The best way to keep a bad apple from spoiling the bunch is to lead by example.

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