top of page

Are You Contributing to Your Organization’s Toxic Work Environment?

Five Solutions for Overcoming Toxicity & Increasing Productivity in the Workplace

Organizations are mini-societies composed of their very own cultures and subcultures defined by values, norms, beliefs and rituals. While there’s much talk around the need for robust workplace cultures, it is important to recognize that not all professional environments – their values, norms, beliefs or rituals – are healthy nor positive. The alternative, toxic workplaces, can lead to destructive gossip, high employee turnover, and excessive use of sick time, with each of these factors ultimately hindering productivity and organizational success.

Despite our tendency to believe we are victims as opposed to contributors to a toxic workplace, the apple doesn't fall far from the tree. An organization is, at its most basic, a group of individuals working together to achieve a common goal; a collective result. In general, the sum is greater than its parts, and each of us plays a valuable role in helping or hurting our organization’s plan for success.

Whether a manager or team member, here are five strategies for bringing about the changes you desire to see in your workplace culture.

Transition from “Tell” Mode to “Coach”

A 2017 survey by Gallup reported that three out of every 10 employees strongly agreed their opinions did not matter at work. Unlocking and maximizing employees’ utmost potential requires much more than barking orders at subordinates. To improve productivity and organization-wide performance, managers must assume the role of coach.

Nondirective coaching involves listening, questioning and withholding judgment to bring out the best in each individual or team. Perhaps most important, asking the right questions helps with getting to know who it is we work with, and promotes self-discovery among employees as they come to realize their passions and abilities, and where they wish to go. In the words of Patty Azzarello:

"Real success is personal. It's not what anyone else wants for or expects from you."

This self-realization is key to sparking employees’ creativity and ability for tackling challenges productively, improving decision-making, boosting morale, and promoting energy in a once lacklustre workspace.

Lead with Heart The “contagion hypothesis” predicts that charismatic leaders – expressing positive emotions toward their organization, its people, and the work they do – have the ability to pass these same feelings on to their colleagues and peers. In short, changing the culture of your organization starts with you. To become someone who leads with heart, it is necessary to first embrace and encourage others to adopt a growth mindset. In addition to regularly coaching employees, getting to know and demonstrating an appreciation for their achievements can go a long way. Showing meaningful gratitude, in particular, has been known to increase productivity and transform toxic workplace cultures. Promote Productivity with Ownership & Accountability In a 2019 Development Dimensions International (DDI) study of more than 1,000 managers, senior leaders and individual contributors, 57 percent of employees admitted to leaving a job due to their manager, while another 32 percent actively considered leaving for the same reason, but did not act. You do the math:

Eighty-nine percent of those surveyed either left or wanted to leave because of their boss.

COVID-19 made the impulse to quit a reality for many professionals in 2021, as throngs of people abandoned their micro-managed careers to pursue endeavors on their own pace and accord. This loss of talent could – perhaps – have been avoided had managers demonstrated positive supervisory behaviors allowing individuals heightened self-control and ownership of their work. For CEO of NextPR Heather Kelly, granting her staff personal flexibility and control has proven beneficial for both productivity and retention despite the ongoing pandemic. “Giving our teams the freedom to work during hours they feel at peak productivity, to take all their PTO, and even a half-day off every Friday makes a huge impact on results,” Kelly said in the 2021 Forbes Magazine article 2022 is Uncertain But Your Marketing Strategy Doesn’t Have to Be. “They’re happier and, therefore, more effective. And because I have measurable metrics of our firm’s success, I know it works,” she added.

Set Positive Examples Cultivating positive change stems from the top down, requiring that managers embody the same behaviors they aim to see from their employees. This process, known as “modeling,” not only shows others you can walk the talk, but also builds momentum for transforming a toxic work environment into one where every employee is “all-in” and essentially happy.

Office gossip, a toxic threat found across many organizations worldwide, often leads to losses in productivity and wasted time.

In such situations, it is vital that leaders practice idealized influence in the workplace and take the presidential route to expressing their own emotions at work. Doing the right thing – whether refraining from gossiping, stifling gossip in the workplace, or defending others who have been targeted either in-person or via email – can engender the trust and respect of others and set into motion a wave of positive trends organization-wide. Foster an Environment of Psychological Safety A psychologically safe environment allows employees to experiment, fail and learn without judgement or repercussions. When seeking answers to the age-old question “What makes a team effective?” Google’s Project Aristotle found psychological safety most important for driving progress, fostering innovation and building healthy workplace cultures. Such environments in which employees feel valued and supported likewise increase communication and transparency among teams, contribute to employees’ overall well-being, and forge trust.

You Have More Influence Than You Realize All too often, managers operate under the assumption that the unhealthy environment they encounter will eventually mend on its own following the replacement of a few “bad apples.” When issues are not addressed clearly and outwardly for all employees to witness, however, leaders are held equally accountable for spreading toxicity. Employees will come and go; as is life. Your goal, though, should include retaining the “good apples” – those talented individuals who embrace the need to work positively to achieve collective results, as you promote a healthy work environment organization-wide.

You can effect positive change by actively subduing the negativity present in organizational situations, modeling the same behaviors you’d like to see, and disembarking from the gossip train. You hold the power to unite your employees; the ability to show everyone that your organization is one entity – one organism that functions and succeeds most when input is received from each individual involved in day-to-day operations. Elevate your organization to this level of understanding and sustain this momentum, and you’ll have new employees racing to work for you and your drama-free company.


bottom of page