Let's get straight into it. Workplace toxicity and politics are real. We all know someone who would use a passive-aggressive remark or even an overtly-aggressive remark. Then there is an occasional instance when something is said or done distastefully, and all this is detrimental to the work environment.
Influential leaders always look for ways to fix the toxic work environment because they know that a hostile work environment can not yield good results. It is not suitable for the mental health of the employee. Additionally, it may result in lower employee retention and consequently damage your company's reputation in the job market. So let us discuss some ways you can fix a toxic work environment.
How do you identify a toxic work environment?
The best way to fix a toxic work environment is by working on the root cause of the problem. So let us look at some reasons why your work environment could be toxic.
1. Exploitative leadership/ management structure
Often the management and/or leaders can act exploitatively towards their employees. If you are in a leadership position, it is your responsibility to safeguard your employees' rights and provide them with a safe working environment.
As a leader, you serve the role of a bridge between the employees and management. Make sure that your employees are getting paid for working overtime and getting other perks they were offered.
2. Constant gossip and rumors
People are social creatures, and gossip is part of every social group. We need to remember that if this simple feature of every functional group setting goes out of control, it can turn the group into a dysfunctional mess.
The thing is, you can't control what people say. The best way to fix this is by discouraging gossip by subtle means, such as shutting down conversations headed in that direction and keeping things professional.
As a leader, you might miss out on the toxic gossip culture because employees tend to be more professional with their bosses. This is why you need to be part of the group. To be a sensitive leader, you need to know your employees are going through daily. As adults, they will not complain about being bullied for fear of being cast out further. These things need to be sensed and worked on and require working your EQ a fair bit.
3. A lack of transparency from the top down
Employees deserve to know what is going on at the management level. Sudden changes can cause friction and/or anxiety among employees. In today's competitive job market and recession almost at our doors, most people fear being laid off suddenly and unexpectedly.
There is a need to curb this anxiety among salaried employees. Clear communication and transparency from the top down become essential to foster a healthy work environment for all.
4. "It's everyone for themselves" attitude
If this is the general outlook that your employees have, then you need to do something about it ASAP. This is a sign of hostility and the abhorrent opposite of teamwork.
This can result from various reasons, including but not limited to the following-
Unhealthy competition among employees
Indifferent on the part of the employees and/or the organization
Undefined roles and responsibility
Lack of loyalty and responsibility
5. Lack of healthy work/life balance
Lack of work-life balance can create some seriously dissatisfied employees. An overworked employee is not happy or productive. To be an effective employee, one must have a healthy work-life balance.
But what we see commonly in offices worldwide is overworked and underpaid employees. Employees work over 10 hours daily and are available over email and mobile even after official work hours. This is too much work and can adversely affect their personal life and mental well-being.
Sooner or later, this will catch up at the workplace too. Especially if it is common among all employees. Lack of work-life balance can reflect in the following ways-
Difficulty in concentration
Deteriorating mental health
Brain fog and increased forgetfulness
This is one we all know too well. We have all experienced it at work, school, or on playgrounds. Discrimination can manifest in many forms at work, such as-
Preferential treatment during the assignment of task and/or promotions
Unequal pay for the same work
Dumping blame on one person
Nobody can effectively work and thrive in such an environment. This can significantly reduce employee retention. Nobody wants to work at a place where getting ahead is based on favoritism rather than skills and merit.
Some companies promote people based on how long they have worked for the said company rather than the amount of work and effort they have put in. policies like these discourage young hardworking employees and create tension between colleagues, resulting in a toxic work environment.
How to fix a toxic work environment?
1. Defining roles and responsibilities
To mitigate the dissatisfaction between employee and employer, it is necessary to define roles and responsibilities. Employees should know exactly what they are working for and how much they have to work. Also, the employer should know what they are paying for.
When hiring, a clear contract and a straightforward conversation about work and pay are required. This significantly reduces friction. Another essential thing to discuss is how overtime will be calculated and reimbursed.
2. Managing expectations
We expect too much; that is a human flaw we can do little about. What we can do is keep reasonable expectations from our employees and employers. As an employee, you can't expect 10 paid leaves every month from your employer, and as an employer, you can't expect your employee to work 5 extra hours every day for free.
Both parties involved should know that only so much can be negotiated. Humility and understanding are essential, and sure there are extraordinary situations that may need you to defy the norms. Still, it is generally a better idea to be respectful of the norm and not fixate on exceptions.
3. Clear and active communication
Effective and constant communication is the key. As a leader, you don't want to sit in the ivory tower and ignore what is going on in your team. It is important for you to know the working conditions and challenges faced by your team. This will help you set realistic targets and monitor the social environment to prevent gossip and bullying.
4. Build a community mindset
"One for all and all for one" should be your team's motto, and you should be included in it as a leader. People who work in a community feel secure and happy. This then translates into their work as well.
An additional benefit is that no work gets delayed when all people feel connected and responsible. This is because they pick up each other's slack as the goal and the end goal become more important than "who did what" and "who got what."
5. Work-life balance
Work-life balance is crucial these days. I say this because there is no turning off from work. Everyone is available by text or call, even on holidays and at all hours. This way, the work never stops.
You might think this is great as an employer, but it is not. Over time this reduces productivity and creativity and adds to fatigue and burnout. To remedy this, set standard times for communication and adopt a strictly no contact policy during holidays. There will obviously be exceptions, but this should be the standard approach.
6. Building a meritocracy
Create a space where people can learn and grow. Everyone wants to succeed, which motivates them to work harder. If your employees think promotions or pay hikes depend on favoritism, they won't put in the extra effort. On the other hand, a meritocracy will motivate them to succeed and do better work.
7. Create a safe space for all
Make sure the grievances of all employees are heard. All sorts of issues might come up at work, like unfair treatment, sexual abuse, bullying, cheating, fraud, etc. There should be a proper place for the redressal of such complaints. Employees should feel safe and assured of fair treatment in all situations.
I hope this was helpful to you. As a leader, it is your responsibility to harbor a healthy work environment and make working a positive educational experience for all.
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