A toxic workplace environment is a legitimate cause for concern, both for worker health and overall productivity, and it’s essential to avoid these environments.
As we become more aware of how office culture can impact our personal lives, and the lives of those we work with, it becomes increasingly important to be retrospective about how we treat each other at work, and how simple changes in interaction and management can greatly boost morale and profitability.
While many managers and executives wish to maintain a positive and healthy office environment, they may be unwittingly contributing to a toxic work space. Below are seven important tips to preventing the growth of a toxic workplace environment.
1. Don’t Cater to Bullies
The workplace can be harsh. People don’t go to work to play, and ideally, they should feel motivated to get things done. Part of that can mean feeling immense pressure on some days, striving to achieve things that might not, at first, seem plausible. To bring out the best in people, managers and leaders must learn when to push, and when to give.
But there are other aspects of the workplace that are often harsh without needing to be, breeding a lack of trust in the management and undermining morale and productivity. These people often move up into higher positions within many corporate organizations, while leaving others in the proverbial dust.
Abuses of trust are a clear example, where employees who are superficially loyal to the management may go out of their way to emotionally sabotage those around them, vying for individual and selfish benefits while catering to the boss’s needs. It’s important to recognize the brownnosers and the troublemakers, and to make it clear that undermining others is not a viable path to promotion in your organization.
2. Provide an Outlet for Feedback
This can be hard without proper feedback and truthful, reliable information. That is why commanding a certain level of transparency and urging others to speak up about misuses of power is important.
While many might worry about the image of essentially promoting ‘snitching’ and an office environment wherein employees can be free to complain about each other, the ultimate goal is not to cull people but to build a cohesive team of people who trust one another.
Doing so is impossible without giving everybody the ability to speak up about one another, to avoid individual abuses of power or toxic behavior.
3. Give Credit Where Credit Is Due
When something is done well, it’s important to give credit to the right person, and doing it properly. Another problem with a toxic workplace environment is that people may try to claim credit when it isn’t deserved. Or, they may make false claims about how certain ideas came to be, and how certain decisions were made.
Managers should keep in mind:
- Which employees have been historically trustworthy and reputable
- Which employees are more likely to stay quiet and keep to themselves
- Properly give credit whenever credit is due
Even those striving for approval will likely get the shot they need to prove themselves, without feeling the need to undermine others.
4. Point Out Mistakes, But Reward a Job Well Done
Managers are often tasked with fixing problems and preventing messes, but if you perceive your role as manager as being one to crack down solely on the bad and lay in wait for mistakes, you’ll often find that your employees and workers begin to feel as though they are walking on eggshells.
They begin to fear taking any risks because there is no incentive to doing extraordinarily well. On the other hand, there’s also a good chance of catching flak whenever a mistake is made.
Subvert this by addressing mistakes but rewarding useful input. The best way to promote creativity and innovation is to incentivize risk-taking and out-of-the-box thinking, even if it doesn’t always pan out.
5. Remember That Employees Are People
People are individual in nature, and don’t always fit a particular mold. It’s easy to come to quick conclusions about a person’s character, but sometimes, it takes the right environment to properly allow an individual to flourish.
Some people thrive in a traditionally toxic workplace environment, easily capable of manipulating their way to the top. Others do very badly in such areas but have the potential to be amazing workers and top earners, should they have the right environment to unlock their potential.
Managers should strive to create teams that give each person ample opportunity to thrive, which can be very difficult; but by talking to your employees and recognizing their unique traits, strengths, and weaknesses, you can have a better idea of how you might structure your office and your organization to allow everyone to feel comfortable with their tasks and positions.
6. Avoid the Pitfalls of High Stress
Work is stressful, and there’s a lot of benefit 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, however, as that is entirely subjective. While incentivizing hard work is good, there are certain pitfalls to consider and carefully avoid.
If you necessitate extreme stress, for example, by suggesting that overtime is necessary to avoid potential termination or demotion, then you’ll find yourself stuck with a toxic workplace environment.
You’re then struggling with absenteeism, a high turnover rate, and workers who perform much worse than before.
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.
7. Bigger Space Can Help
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, coworking 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.