As an executive leader, your worst nightmare is that your workplace becomes toxic. Perhaps you feel there are signs of a toxic work environment or you have a gut feeling something just isn’t right. Perhaps there is dead silence when you walk through the office corridors. Maybe you’ve noticed a drop in productivity rates, or your team members just don’t seem as enthusiastic as they once were. Whatever it is — it doesn’t sit well with you.
Part of you is hoping this will pass. All businesses experience temporary efficiency lulls and dips in team morale, right?
However, the cracks may have been showing for awhile now and despite the conversations with upper level management and the annual employee appreciation BBQ, the major shift still hasn’t materialized.
Just how bad does a situation have to be to qualify as a toxic work environment? What are the biggest red flags companies should watch out for? And what remedial actions yield the best results?
These are all questions companies grapple with when they suspect they may be dealing with a toxic work culture — and at Eden Health, we’re here to provide the answers.
What is a Toxic Work Environment?
Before a business can prevent or effectively counteract a negative company culture, it needs to have a clear and accurate understanding of precisely what a toxic workplace is and where the line between normal and concerning should be drawn.
By definition, a toxic workplace is any professional environment where employees find it difficult to work, or where there is evident dysfunction due to frequent interpersonal conflicts, a lack of support, or the absence of guidance or order.
In a toxic work culture, issues such as bullying, harassment, gossip, discrimination, and exclusion are widespread and pervasive. As a result, employees frequently experience burnout and job satisfaction rates begin to plummet.
What are the Consequences of a Toxic Work Environment?
If left unchecked, a bad work environment can have a significant and lasting negative impact on a company. Let’s take a closer look at the unfavorable outcomes businesses are often left to face.
High Turnover Rates
One in every five American workers is exposed to a hostile or threatening work environment on a regular basis, according to a study conducted by Harvard Medical School, which takes a very real and dramatic toll on their mental health. And since we know that more workers are quitting their jobs for mental health reasons, it is evident there is a direct link between a toxic workplace and high turnover rates.
Productivity is the cornerstone of profitability. When productivity levels drop, the viability of a business is instantly put at risk. And what is one of the primary contributing factors to poor productivity rates? You guessed it — workplace culture.
Happy employees are 12 percent more productive, on average, than unhappy ones, and on a national scale, unhappy workers cost the U.S. $450-$550 billion annually in lost productivity.
Absenteeism is one of the most vexing issues companies face when dealing with a toxic work environment. Remember, 60 percent of employee absences are related to stress and these absences equate to $51 billion in lost revenue.
When employees experience toxicity in the workplace for extended periods of time, absenteeism becomes all but inevitable, leaving them and the company they work for in a dire situation.
Former employees talk. They tell their families, friends, and larger social networks about their negative experiences. They may even leave a negative review on websites like Glassdoor or Indeed, where potential hires will likely see them — 86 percent of job seekers check online reviews and ratings before accepting a position.
The longer a company goes without addressing its toxic work culture, the more word spreads, until eventually that word evolves into a poor reputation.
This is the final nail in the proverbial coffin. Many companies have faced a branding crisis due to bad work environments that were left unaddressed for too long. The Ellen Degeneres Show, NBC Entertainment, and Uber and just a few examples of established, successful brands that have dealt with radical repercussions as a result of toxic work environments.
When brand damage occurs at this level, customers begin to look elsewhere and it becomes more difficult to secure sales. Also, if you have investors or other stakeholders, they may sell their shares or reconsider their involvement with your company.
The Toxic Workplace Checklist: Signs of a Toxic Work Environment
Now that we’ve clarified what a toxic workplace is and the reasons why it is a substantial concern, it’s time to focus on how to recognize the red flags. Here are the toxic work environment characteristics to keep an eye out for.
- Low Team Morale – Your employees are not motivated to give you their best. Their overall quality of work has dropped and maintaining standards of excellence is now a taxing and arduous process. You are struggling to get your team(s) to engage and buy into the bigger picture of success.
- Unrealistic Expectations – There aren’t enough employees to keep up with the amount of work required. Your staff members are overworked and overwhelmed. Their frustration is growing because their workload is not sustainable. And since the company is in over its head, there is a constant pressure to perform and a limited capacity for empathy or support.
- Lack of Work/Life Balance – Your employees are working well beyond the typical 40 hours per week. They frequently bring their work home with them, sacrifice their lunch breaks, or come into the office during the weekend just to meet deadlines. Under the surface, resentment is building as they feel they are giving more than they are receiving and their personal lives are being compromised.
- Poor Leadership – Your company’s upper management team is aware of issues impacting employee satisfaction but has done little to remedy these concerns. Management is struggling to unite with a single plan of action. There are conflicting opinions on how employee matters should be addressed and it’s causing a delay in problem resolution. Leadership may be more focused on the company’s profits rather than its people.
- Limited Opportunities for Growth – You aren’t providing your team(s) with opportunities for professional development or advancement within the company. Your employees don’t feel challenged within their roles and feel like their potential isn’t recognized by those in more senior positions. They are becoming increasingly interested in seeking employment elsewhere, with a company that will provide them with more avenues for advancement.
- Frequent Absenteeism – Employees are calling in sick regularly with little to no warning. Perhaps some team members have gone on stress or medical leave for extended periods of time. You’re noticing that employees seem to be experiencing colds, stomach bugs, or migraines more often, as their immune systems are lowered due to high levels of stress.
- Recurrent Disrespect – There have been repeated instances of name calling, bullying, or inappropriate outbursts. Tension levels are high and your management team has been unsuccessful in mitigating interpersonal conflicts between coworkers, teams, or departments.
- Low Tolerance for Constructive Criticism – When you try to offer guidance or performance recommendations to your employees your efforts are met with resistance. Even the most minor comments or suggestions result in pushback or annoyance. Supervisors and managers struggle to find a way to provide feedback without it leading to larger issues.
- Lack of Enforcement – Despite company policies and procedures being in place, they are rarely enforced (or, if they are, they are done so on a case-by-case basis resulting in a lack of consistency). Employees do not have confidence that issues relating to a toxic work environment will be resolved fairly or in accordance with policy.
- Acts of Abuse – Managers frequently yell at or belittle lower-ranking team members. There are reports of harassment, sexual misconduct, or physical altercations between staff members. Previous employees have taken legal action against the company or have threatened to do so.
- Unprofessional Conduct – Team members are engaging in activities or behaviors that aren’t in accordance with your company’s code of conduct. This may include consuming alcohol during lunch breaks, socially excluding specific coworkers, dressing inappropriately, or engaging in romantic relationships between coworkers. These types of issues may be happening more often or may be increasingly difficult to combat.
- Unclear Boundaries – Your company expects employees to answer their phones in the evening or on weekends. Managers and other executive team members frequently send emails and text messages outside of regular business hours. Employees disrupt one another on a regular basis by barging into each other’s offices or disregarding each other’s need for privacy. There is a general sense that “anything goes”.
- Micromanaging is the Norm – Your management team doesn’t trust frontline employees to do their job. Projects or workflows are often bottlenecked due to the need for review and approval from the chain of command. Employees are frustrated by the inability to make judgment calls or work autonomously. Your leaders seem to care more about maintaining control than they do about empowering others to work independently.
- Communication Breakdowns – Information is getting lost between teams and departments. Workflows are often stalled or derailed due to misunderstandings and confusion. Employees are often blamed for not relaying information adequately, however there are no standardized systems or processes in place to streamline communication efforts. Your team members have asked for clarification regarding which channels should be used and when, but continue to receive mixed messages from decision makers within the company.
- Unwelcome Input – Your leadership team makes decisions without gathering insights from the people who are actually completing the work. There is no formal process for employees to share ideas or strategies with upper management and thus actions are often implemented that do not meet the needs of the company as a whole. Overall, the existing decision-making process is more authoritative than it is participatory, and this lack of employee engagement is leaving your employees feeling undervalued and underutilized.
How to Deal With a Toxic Work Environment
If you have reviewed the signs of a toxic workplace above and feel any of them apply to your company, there are 5 key steps you’ll need to take in order to successfully resolve the issue and regain a healthy workplace culture.
- Accept Accountability – Above all else, a toxic workplace is the result of poor leadership. Your senior management team is responsible for determining the greater direction of your company and uniting all team members under a shared vision for the future. If standards within your business or organization have not been upheld, it is management’s responsibility — and management’s alone — to take ownership of the problem and to develop a detailed, well-informed plan for change.
- Identify Clashes – Are there people within your business that have demonstrated a lack of regard for your standards of excellence or your code of conduct? Are there specific teams or departments where toxicity seems to be more prevalent? In order to truly implement solutions that work, you’ll need to determine where these solutions need to be implemented. It may not be realistic to roll out a company-wide action plan, but you can definitely address concerns in phases by order of importance.
- Establish a Clear and Formal Communication Process – Even the best employee engagement strategies will deteriorate over time if they aren’t supported by an effective communication plan. You need to determine how employees should communicate their concerns about matters that affect company culture and clearly define the steps to be taken. Who will be responsible for managing these concerns at each level? What is the expected timeline for responding to concerns? How should these matters be documented and presented to senior management? These are all questions you’ll need to answer.
- Create Cohesion With Empathy and Compassion – Disgruntled employees need to know you hear them and that you actually care about their negative experiences. It will be nearly impossible to unite your team(s) if you do not come to the table with genuine appreciation for what your employees have been going through or the willingness to actively listen to their wants and needs. It is also important to maintain humility in these situations, express your accountability, and emphasize your commitment to improving as you move forward.
- Commit to Continuous Evaluation – Repairing a toxic work environment doesn’t happen in a single day. You will need to check in regularly and use tangible success metrics to determine if your plan is working and whether or not adjustments need to be made. Remember, your employees don’t want a band-aid solution. They want to feel confident the company is moving in an entirely different direction and that any improvements made will be permanent.
How We Can Help
At Eden Health, we understand the urgency companies face when their workplace culture is compromised. When employees consider leaving a toxic job or when productivity levels plummet, it’s the company that pays the ultimate price. So whether you want guidance on fostering mental health in the workplace or you’re looking for solutions on how to increase work efficiency, Eden Health can help.
That’s why we’ve created a convenient, all-in-one mobile app that makes caring for your employees easier than ever before. From connecting with top-rated psychiatrists and licensed therapists, to quickly accessing insurance coverage information and obtaining referrals to specialized healthcare services, we help you provide the absolute best care for your team, without adding more to your plate.
Are you interested in learning more about how our mobile app benefits both your business and your employees? Request a demo today.