We often refer to a dysfunctional workplace as “toxic” but do we know what that really means? Wikipedia defines a toxic workplace as “marked by significant drama and infighting, where personal battles often harm productivity.” Toxic workplaces can be the result of an employer and/or employees who are generally motivated by power, money and/or narcissistic tendencies. This is in contrast to a workplace that can be hazardous to your health as a result of toxins present in the physical atmosphere. Interestingly, both can cause mental and physical harm if allowed to proliferate. Every workplace can have aggravating incidents occur on a regular basis but a full-blown “toxic” workplace is far beyond this. A toxic workplace destroys culture, interferes with employee performance, and damages relationships across an organization. So how do you recognize whether or not you have a toxic workplace?
There are several ways to ascertain if your workplace is turning toxic. Here are a few to get you started:
- First of all, listen to your employees. Conducting regular Employee Satisfaction Surveys (also called engagement surveys) will allow you to ask questions about the workplace environment, management practices, and culture, which could help you to identify whether or not yours is becoming toxic.
- Are their ongoing disputes among employees or work groups that cause disruptions in productivity, or create a climate of fear and/or anger?
- Do employees feel bullied or maligned in the workplace?
- Is their abusive supervision where a leader is blaming or haranguing employees for their performance on an ongoing basis?
- Is there workplace gossip and incivility that is allowed to continue without accountability or intervention by management?
- Is the workplace impacting the health of employees either through mental and/or physical burnout? An uptick in sick days?
- Do you have a chronic problem with employee retention?
By proactively looking for signs of toxicity you can reduce the likelihood of it occurring in your workplace. If you see any of the symptoms discussed then you should advise your boss (unless he/she is the source of these symptoms), seek help from your human resources manager, and consult with a colleague as to how the symptoms can best be addressed.