As a high-level executive, it might be hard to understand your overall culture. Ask yourself these questions to determine if you have a toxic workplace.
Gut check time. How healthy is your workplace? We don’t necessarily mean physical health (though that will factor in.) But overall, how well does your organization function? Better yet, how poorly does it function? Do employees often feel “out of the loop” on essential communication? Do managers resort to bullying or intimidation to control employees’ behavior? Have you had more than one report of sexual harassment or racial discrimination? If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, your company might be a toxic workplace.
According to a recent survey by the anonymous work talk app, Blind, 52 percent of tech employees report that their work environments are not healthy. Since most adults spend the majority of their time at work, this is a big deal. A toxic workplace can contribute to poor physical health and damage personal relationships outside of work. Plus, slogging through 40 hours a week in a place where you feel threatened or unappreciated is a pretty miserable way to live your life. Yet far too many workers have to do just that.
If you are an employer, we’re guessing that you don’t want your organization to bear this particular distinction. So let’s give your place of business a quick checkup. Here are four questions you can ask yourself to determine whether or not you are fostering a toxic workplace.
Do You Have a Toxic Workplace?
1. How do your employees communicate with each other?
In a healthy work environment, employees and managers often communicate openly and honestly. There are regular, productive meetings. Employees write clear and concise emails and communicate exactly what others need to know. And people are generally friendly and social with each other.
But in a toxic workplace, communication works much differently. Employees and supervisors may try to hide certain information from each other. People feel “out of the loop” on important information. Workers engage in gossip over texts or instant messaging apps, or huddle together to commiserate over how much they hate their jobs when they think the boss isn’t looking.
Research shows that this type of negative communication is a symptom of a toxic workplace. The gossip may be a refuge from a stressful job. Dishonesty between managers and workers is emblematic of unethical organizational practices. It also creates stress among employees who don’t know what is expected of them.
And it can hurt your business’s bottom line. A Harvard University study found that gossip and other toxic workplace behaviors can cause company revenue problems. And unclear or dishonest communication between managers and staff can make it difficult for your employees to trust you. When that happens, you will find it nearly impossible to manage your staff.
How to address poor communication
If you take an honest look at your workplace communication and find it lacking or dysfunctional, it’s time to revamp your practices. Make an effort to communicate all important company information clearly and in writing. Give your employees explicit instructions and precise objectives.
And when you become aware of employee gossip, you should both discourage the gossiping and address the issues that employees are griping about. People will be less inclined to gossip if they have fewer complaints.
2. Have you ever had a report of harassment, sexual or otherwise?
While it’s possible for a “healthy” organization to receive an isolated complaint of harassment based on sex, race, religion, or something else, these incidents are always cause for concern.
When a manager or coworker harasses one of your employees to the extent of hurting that employee’s job performance or keeping that individual from showing up to work, that creates a hostile work environment. What’s more, if the harassment can be classified as discrimination, it is against the law.
How to address harassment in the workplace
If you have an employee or manager who is harassing other employees, it is important to address it immediately. The first step should always be to discuss the issue with the offending employee. Let that individual know that the behavior is unacceptable, and give the employee a chance to stop.
It is also important to discuss the problem with your HR manager. Hopefully, your organization has a written harassment policy with disciplinary procedures laid out. Be sure to follow each step of your policy.
Finally, train all of your managers and staff to recognize and address harassment in the workplace. When someone reports an incident to you, be sure to listen intently, and let them know that you will address it. When all of your employees know that you will not tolerate harassment, this may help prevent further problems.
3. Have you ever had a report of discrimination based on race, gender, sexual orientation, disability, national origin, religion, or any other group?
Many Americans believe that discrimination is an old problem that we’ve conquered as a society. Unfortunately, studies show that this issue is still a career obstacle for minorities in the US. Discrimination is not limited to harassment. If you treat an employee unfavorably based on a protected trait, such as race, disability, or religion, that qualifies as discrimination under the law.
It doesn’t have to be overt or illegal to be toxic, however. Many people hold subtle, discriminatory beliefs about a particular group, and those beliefs affect how they treat people. For example:
- A group of coworkers plans an after-work happy hour, but they don’t invite the disabled employee because his wheelchair unnerves them.
- A store manager assigns a female employee to work in the stockroom because he believes she is unattractive and doesn’t want his customers to see her.
- A restaurant server avoids eye contact with his gay co-worker because he’s worried that being friendly will encourage sexual attraction.
These subtle, discriminatory behaviors may not be illegal, but they can create a toxic workplace. Studies have shown that even the perception of discrimination in the workplace can harm both the employee and the organization. Employees who are the victims of discrimination experience increased physical and mental health problems. They are also more likely to lose focus and avoid work, which leads to low productivity and absenteeism.
How to address discrimination in the workplace
The best way to address discrimination in the workplace is to prevent it before it starts. Host periodic anti-discrimination training for all staff, especially managers. Write clear anti-discrimination policies, and be sure that everyone is aware of them. Remind people of the policy at least a few times a year through emails or announcements at staff meetings.
Even with the best prevention practices, though, you may still receive reports of discrimination from time to time. If one of your employees tells you that they have been discriminated against, actively listen to them. Let them know that you want to address their concerns, and that you are committed to helping all of your employees feel comfortable and valued at work. Then address the complaints using the steps outlined in your policy.
4. How many hours a week do your employees typically work?
Okay, so a lot of us are guilty of getting a little overwhelmed at work every now and then. But if you or your employees frequently put in well over 40 hours of work per week, or you constantly find that your team has to stay late at night or come in on Saturdays to meet a deadline, that’s a sign of a toxic workplace.
When people are stressed out from spending too much time working and too little time resting, it can make them sick. Stress causes all sorts of dysfunction, from anxiety and depression to memory and attention problems. What’s more, it affects workplace productivity.
How to address stress in the workplace
Encourage a healthy work-life balance for your employees. Remind workers to “clock out” at the end of a full day. Check in periodically to see if people are using their PTO. And if your team often has to stay late to meet deadlines, see if you can do a better job of planning projects to avoid a last-minute scramble.
If your employees are gossiping, calling in sick, or avoiding managers and coworkers, you may have a toxic workplace. Do a check-up on your organization to ensure that you are providing your staff with a healthy place to work. Not only will it make your employees happier, but it will improve your business too.