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Harassment & Discrimination

5 Signs of a Toxic Workplace (And What to Do About It)


Apr 05, 2016

A toxic workplace will drive talented employees away, lose money and gain a bad reputation. So how do you know if your workplace is toxic? Check for these five signs. And if you see any in your office, don’t worry because we’ve also included some suggestions to help you fix it.

1. High Performers Don’t Have to Follow the Rules

Even though the office has rules and policies stating that everyone should be treated with respect, the unwritten rules state that high performers can get away with anything. For example, when an executive makes sexist comments to his assistant, cracks racist jokes and frequently curses when things don’t go his way, management turns a blind eye because he brings in a lot of business.

And when someone does complain about the behavior, their concerns are ignored, or worse, they are the ones punished for speaking out against a high performer.

Enforce the rules for everyone

Create policies that apply to everyone—no matter how well they perform—and enforce them. Also, make sure you train your employees on harassment prevention so that their behavior doesn’t break the laws and they can learn how to communicate with respect.

2. Management Uses Fear as Motivation

No one wants to get fired, so bad managers will take advantage of this fear and use it as a motivation tool. They threaten employees that if they don’t stay late, exceed their goals and keep their mouths shut, they will lose their jobs—all classic signs of workplace bullying.

Additionally, when an employee makes a simple mistake, their supervisor makes it public knowledge and berates them in front of their co-workers—which leaves employees paralyzed with fear.

Try different motivation strategies

Have managers give employees feedback on what they are doing well to help motivate them to continue doing well. Create mentoring programs and encourage professional development so that employees can gain new skills and succeed.

3. People Don’t Trust Each Other

Co-workers talk behind each other’s backs and gossip thrives. To some people in the office, creating drama almost seems like it’s more important than working. Instead of speaking to each other about problems, employees run to the boss to bad mouth each other.

Plus, employees can’t work together because they are afraid of someone stealing credit for their work. And some employees won’t do any work but expect their co-workers to pick up the slack—fostering even more resentment and anger.

Encourage and reward teamwork

Create an environment where no one person is singled out for failure or success, but instead, the team works together to accomplish a goal. Encourage employees to help each other and behave like professionals.

4. Clear Communication is Non-Existent

Clear communication is essential to every workplace, so when employees face problems such as these described by Fast Company:

  • Lack of communication: where employees actually find out about decisions made after they have been implemented
  • Indirect communication: sending messages through others
  • Withholding information
  • Giving misleading information

Employees aren’t able to work together. Misunderstandings become more and more frequent, deadlines are often missed, and employees make mistakes because they don’t know what they are doing.

Set expectations and follow up

Managers should set expectations for their team members and check in to ensure they aren’t having any problems. Additionally, they should keep team members in the loop when planning tasks so that there are no big surprises.

5. A High Turnover Rate Coupled with Low Morale

When large groups of employees leave what should be a good job, it means they aren’t happy with something. And that something is probably the environment created by their boss or the company culture.

On the other hand, some employees don’t leave, but they do have a very low morale. They frequently complain, feed into office gossip and never have anything positive to say about the company.

Work to re-engage employees

Help employees become more engaged with their jobs—and the company as a whole. Try getting their input on ideas for creating a healthier culture or hosting more team building functions to promote comradery.

Key Takeaways

Don’t let your workplace become toxic. Invest the time and effort into creating a positive culture that promotes equal treatment, encouraging feedback and clear communication to keep employees engaged and happy.

Also, employees that experience or witness workplace bullying should contact their HR department.

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