4 ways to improve a toxic work environment

A toxic workplace can only harm staff members and the business as a whole. Use this advice to address, or avoid, any toxic traits within your company.

A toxic work environment creates and enables dysfunction. Whether that manifests itself as feuds between specific employees, a lack of overall respect, poor performance or other negative consequences, it's something every employer wants to avoid.

"Toxic workplace behaviors have to be addressed immediately, or they will create dysfunction and lead to poor performance quickly," says Jennifer Bird, Division Manager of Beacon Hill's Technologies Division in San Diego. "It is important for team members to enjoy coming into work. We work hard to keep our environment fun and positive, and we do that by creating a space where people can feel comfortable. We recognize our mistakes and take accountability, and I always have an open-door policy so that people know they will be heard and feel valued. Creating this sort of working environment has allowed us to build a team-centric approach – we always consider the perspectives of those around us, and not just our own."

Consider these four strategies for addressing and improving a toxic workplace, thereby increasing productivity and making employees feel more positive and engaged:

1. Emphasize respect and professional interactions

LinkedIn contributor Tim Denning said earning the respect of staff is a critical element of addressing a toxic work environment. Some widely applicable advice for putting this concept into action include:

  • Valuing professional and polite interactions, and setting a standard for all staff members - management included - to do so.
  • Recognizing a job well done, whether it's consistent performance day after day or a Herculean effort on a specific project.
  • Showing compassion and working with staff to identify and rectify problems, instead of only emphasizing issues and problems.
  • Reminding staff that arguments, bullying and personal attacks are not acceptable, and being sure to follow this rule.

2. Offer support and encouragement for staff

Inc. columnist Justin Bariso highlighted the value of positive reinforcement, noting that employees often feel underappreciated. By focusing on the positive actions of staff, your managers can offer reminders that the time and effort employees invest each day is valued. This strategy can take many forms, from an informal "thank you" to specific notes during employee reviews and events that highlight staff achievements. When it comes time to discuss situations where employees have fallen short, focus on the specific issue and refrain from overly general or irrelevant criticism.

"Respect, encouragement, and feedback are contagious. When you give it, you get the same in return," says Emily Haines-LaPenta, Division Director for Beacon Hill's Technologies Division in Philadelphia. "If you want to see more of it in your team's communication, give it out and before too long, it will become a trend. I frequently receive emails from our team acknowledging something that a colleague did to go above and beyond for the good of the group. Reputation is a big motivator and everyone likes being appreciated when it's deserved. I'm proud of our team for making it such a big part of our culture."

Two co-workers smiling during a meeting.

3. Build a meritocracy

As long as employees behave in a respectful and professional manner, the major factor in everything from assessing their performance to offering promotions should be their ability to fulfill their responsibilities and successfully complete tasks on time. Implicit biases based on everything from existing friendships to similar backgrounds can be hard to recognize.

As a leader, it's your job to take an objective, proactive view of all situations within your company. Consider your own potential biases and make sure you're not playing to them in a professional setting. The Society for Human Resource Management noted examining internal systems to ensure they don't block diversity or inclusion is a vital part of improving a toxic workplace.

4. Encourage feedback

Employees who feel they can't share reasonable opinions and insight based on their responsibilities and the workplace as a whole can quickly grow disengaged or feel as if they're unheard. Work with your human resources department to field this feedback and make sure all input from staff is acknowledged and addressed appropriately.

Dismantling a toxic workplace, or preventing one from ever arising, with this advice focused on positivity and inclusion helps employees as individuals and the business as whole. To learn more about how Beacon Hill Staffing Group can help you hire dependable, professional staff, get in touch with us today.

This content is brought to you by the Marketing Team at Beacon Hill Staffing Group.

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