Usually, it is employees who complain about having to work in a toxic workplace. You will rarely find a business owner with such gripes. There are two reasons for this. The first is that if a business owner finds that his offices have toxic environments, then he can directly make changes to take that toxicity out of the picture. The other and more common reason is that business owners rarely ever realise that their offices have become toxic. This happens because it is very unlikely for a business owner to experience the toxicity in his own workplace.
Typically, his presence counters the toxicity directly. This is precisely why it is so difficult for business owners and entrepreneurs to find out whether their employees are operating in a toxic workplace. However, if you can ensure that your employees are not working in a toxic workplace, then you’ll actually improve the productivity of your business.
Fixing a toxic workplace isn’t all that difficult a task. What is more difficult for a business owner is finding whether his employees are working in a toxic workplace. It requires active observational skills and a considerable understanding of employee dynamics, which a lot of business owners don’t have the time for. Still, it’s easy to start, if you have no problems with a little introspection.
Toxic Workplace Sign #1: Narcissistic, Self-Serving, Toxic Leadership
The environment of an office and the culture of a business are the direct result of the attitude and behaviour of the leadership. In fact, all things that happen in a business are filter down from the business owner. Any employee, no matter how senior, will only behave in a certain manner if he thinks he can get away with it or if he feels that he won’t be sanctioned for it.
Therefore, one of the easiest ways of finding out whether your business has a toxic workplace is to see how the big boss and reporting managers behave. Generally, a toxic workplace will be typified by narcissistic, self-serving and toxic leadership. Generally, this behaviour will manifest in the form of the boss putting himself and his reputation above his employees’ or even his business’s. He will try to take credit for other’s work in times of success and absolve himself of blame in times of trouble.
Toxic Workplace Sign#2: Absent Unifying Policies and Guidelines
While the business owner affects the business’s culture and workplace environment indirectly, the policies and guidelines in place do so directly. Policies and guidelines create the same sets of rules for all employees whether senior or junior. They allow for every employee to be held accountable for their behaviour and performance while at work.
In a way, it can be said that company policies and guidelines have a unifying effect on the workforce and assures all employees of justice and fairness. Thus, if formulated properly, policies and guidelines can prevent a toxic workplace from coming into existence and even counter the toxicity if it is already present.
Toxic Workplace Sign #3: Distinct Lack of Equality and Fairness
When unifying policies and guidelines are missing, the usual fallout is lack of equality and fairness in the workforce. In such scenarios, merit goes out of the window and people rise or fall on the basis of their “impressions”, “emotional connections”, and “networks”. This creates a culture of sucking up, toadying, ingratiation, and sycophancy. Ideally, a business should be built purely on merit, attitude and skillset.
However, in a sycophantic culture, it is often the undeserving and unskilled individuals that rise to the top. Similarly, since merit is no longer valued, mistakes are punished and rewards doled out undeservingly too. This, naturally, creates a toxic workplace because employees that work hard feel hard done by.
Moreover, the employees who used to work hard tend to stop working hard which affects the overall productivity of the business. General dissatisfaction and disgruntlement results in short tempers and fuses which further add to the toxicity of the workplace.
Toxic Workplace Sign #4: Miscommunications, Misunderstandings, Emphasis on Documentation
Any workplace where miscommunications are misunderstandings are rife is a toxic workplace. Any workplace that places undue importance on documentation of simple instructions is either for a business in the legal field or a toxic workplace. Offices that operate seamlessly don’t really have to cope with a lot of miscommunications and misunderstandings.
In such offices, employees have a good understanding not only amongst themselves but also with the senior management. In contrast, toxic workplaces where these problems are widespread and frequent tend to not have any established systems or process flows. Absence of systems and process flows means that everyone tries to do things in their own way, which not only creates miscommunications and misunderstandings but also friction.
It is this friction that forces the senior management to put in place a simple instruction to all employees – “if you don’t have something in writing, you cannot claim it to be true”. Consequently, every employee avoids doing any work without written instructions or confirmation.
Toxic Workplace Sign #5: Defensive, Passive, Regressive Staff
Toxic workplaces are typified by unsatisfied and disgruntled staff. Employees with these characteristics tend to be defensive, passive, and regressive. These employees are always worried about getting in trouble which forces them to always be on the defensive.
This same reason forces these employees to avoid taking initiatives which makes them generally passive towards their mandates and tasks. Finally, their regressive nature is a culmination their defensiveness and passivity because without being proactive and taking initiatives moving forward in life is virtually impossible.
Toxic Workplace Sign #6: Psychologically, Physically, Emotionally Struggling Workforce
Negative environments such as a toxic workplace breed negative mental states, health problems, and emotional stunting. Therefore, a sure shot sign that your staff is working in a toxic workplace is that your employees are struggling psychologically, physically, and emotionally in life. Signs of these types of struggles in life will be more than evident in how they appear, behave, and react to various situations.
For example, when faced with new challenges such employees will shut down or react in an even more negative manner such as lashing out. Similarly, cynicism and sarcasm will be common amongst your workforce, if they’re unhappy in life. Finally, a toxic workplace will almost always and in the majority of times be devoid of all fun, laughter, and happiness. Employees will come to see their work as drudgery and, hence, start behaving as if it’s a chore as opposed to enjoying what they do.
As mentioned earlier, it isn’t all that difficult to detoxify a toxic workplace but it does require a major overhaul on the part of the organisation. Far more difficult is spotting the problem in the first place, especially for the business owner. We can still assure you that if you can observe your employees and the workplace environment, you will be able to spot the problem fairly quickly.