Cambridge Chamber of Commerce

Dealing with toxicity in the workplace can be detrimental to employee morale, productivity, and overall organizational success. 

 

For business leaders, addressing this issue requires a combination of empathy, clear communication, and proactive measures to foster a more positive and supportive work environment.

 

“Ultimately, it’s going to affect your bottom line because you’re going to spend a ton of money on recruiting talent because you’re going to have a revolving door,” says Carrie Thomas, a human resources expert and founder of Nimbus HR Solutions Group.

 

It's essential to identify the root causes of toxicity within the workplace. It can stem from various sources, such as authoritarian leadership styles, irresponsible behaviour of employees and managers, unrealistic performance expectations, lack of transparency, or a history of punitive actions. By understanding the underlying factors contributing to fear, leaders can develop targeted strategies to address them effectively.

 

“You have to find a balance. How do you maintain your employees and give them some input on things?” says Carrie. “But that’s where trust comes from. Change comes from the speed of trust.”

 

Address issues promptly

 

However, finding that trust can be difficult when leaders are faced with challenging issues surrounding time theft and absenteeism, especially after many businesses introduced hybrid work schedules. Employers must address these issues promptly and effectively to maintain a healthy work environment and ensure the smooth functioning of their operations.

 

“You have to nip the bad behaviour in the bud,” says Carrie, noting that inaction can easily demoralize other employees. “You can put policies in place because if one person burns that bridge it’s going to make it crummy for everyone else and the leader will have to deal with it.”

 

To offset potential issues that can lead to a toxic environment, she recommends leaders take a closer examination of the work culture which may require immediate attention and says creating an employee engagement survey can be a good starting point.

 

“If employees chose not to answer, that immediately tells me you have a culture of fear in your workplace because they don’t want to speak up,” says Carrie, adding in this situation HR assistance may likely be required. “But you have to ensure the HR person can handle the situation in a confidential and professional manner that follows the rules on how you handle an investigation or a complaint because there are laws pertaining to no retaliation.”

 

As well, she also suggests leaders visit the work review site Glassdoor to get a sense of what may be taking place at their company.

 

Good mechanisms needed

 

“I remember saying at the beginning of COVID, the businesses that will come through this is because their success in retaining people will solely be based on how they treated their staff during the pandemic,” says Carrie. “So, there are a lot of employers right now saying they can’t find anyone. But if you weren’t kind to your employees then, nobody will want to work for you. I call it the ‘tainted talent pool’. If people see a job continuously posted, they’re not going to want to touch it.”

 

She notes the ‘new’ generation of employees in the field are not apt to remaining in a job if they deem the work environment as toxic.

 

“Sometimes they may try and discuss their issues once, or even twice, with an employer but if they see no change, then they’re gone,” says Carrie, adding addressing concerns is imperative for leaders.

 

As well, she says having good mechanisms in place such as weekly one on one meetings are good vehicles to diffuse potential issues before they start affecting the entire team, especially when others may see their co-workers not adhering to the rules.

 

“I always say leadership is a shared responsibility,” says Carrie, adding ‘skip level’ meetings with a higher level of management may also be required to solve some of these issues. “But this falls in line with an open-door policy and being honest and transparent.”

 

 

A few key issues business leaders may encounter when dealing with a toxic work environment:

 

Decreased Employee Morale and Engagement: Toxic work environments can lead to decreased morale and disengagement among employees. This can manifest as increased absenteeism, lower productivity, and higher turnover rates, all of which can have a negative impact on the company's bottom line.

 

Negative Organizational Culture: Toxicity often stems from underlying cultural issues within the organization. Changing entrenched cultural norms and behaviors can be difficult and requires sustained effort from leadership to promote a more positive and inclusive culture.

 

Legal and Reputational Risks: Inappropriate behaviour such as harassment or discrimination can expose the company to legal liability and damage its reputation. Leaders must take swift and decisive action to address such issues and prevent them from escalating.

 

Loss of Talent: Talented employees may choose to leave the organization if they feel unsupported or mistreated in a toxic work environment. Losing key talent can disrupt business operations and hinder long-term growth and success.

 

Difficulty Attracting New Talent: A reputation for being a toxic workplace can make it challenging to attract top talent. Potential candidates may be wary of joining a company with a negative work environment, leading to difficulties in recruiting skilled individuals.

 

Impact on Leadership Credibility: Leaders who fail to address issues related to toxicity may lose credibility and trust among their employees. This can undermine their ability to lead effectively and diminish their influence within the organization.

 

Productivity Loss: Toxic work environments can impede productivity as employees may be preoccupied with workplace conflicts or feel demotivated to perform their best. This can result in missed deadlines, decreased quality of work, and ultimately, reduced profitability for the company.

 

Resistance to Change: Addressing toxicity often requires implementing changes to organizational policies, procedures, and cultural norms. Resistance to change from employees who are comfortable with the status quo can hinder efforts to create a healthier work environment.

 

 

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