How To Cure a Toxic Workplace


Get cracking.

Coloured eggs with smiley faces

Regardless of your seniority, a toxic workplace impacts negatively on everyone who exists within it. A high-pressure, cutthroat culture increases both stress and disengagement levels, which is turn increases absenteeism, lowers productivity and profitability. This means that not only is a toxic workplace bad for moral (and our health), it’s ultimately bad for the bottom line. Here’s how to fix it:

Identify any personal shortcomings

It’s time to get honest with yourself; could you be playing a part in perpetuating the toxic culture of your company or within the company you work – even if it’s just by turning a blind eye to bad behaviour? While a culture of fear has been shown to boost engagement in the short term, this spike in productivity is inevitably followed by disengagement, as it’s almost impossible to maintain a high level of performance under ever-increasing levels of stress.

“Our core values are so paramount that in our organisation we hire by them, we fire by them, we judge and track performance by them.”

“When management fails to act in a professional manner or does not address unprofessional behaviour among its staff, it is throwing out the rulebook that is imperative to keeping a solid moral foundation,” argues Dr Jan West, an organisational psychologist at the National Business Research Institute. But all is not lost; research shows that when managers lead by example, they’re often able to resolve the toxicity in the workplace. So stop burying your head in the sand and start addressing the issue head on.

Set and adhere to your company’s core values

For example, if your company struggles with competitiveness among colleagues (a common theme among toxic workplaces), consider making teamwork one of your core values. “Pick four core values that you live and breathe by and don’t waver on them,” Ben Kirshner, CEO of Elite SEM – a digital marketing agency that has won a slew of awards for their positive culture – advised when we caught up with him last year. “Hold people accountable and reward people for going above and beyond, and living those core values. Our core values are so paramount that in our organisation we hire by them, we fire by them, we judge and track performance by them. If you’re not living the core values, you’re not going to be a good fit.”

Gather feedback and act on it

Encourage your employees to air any grievances they might have with the company. Not only will this one-on-one time inspire trust and feelings of value (which, in turn, inspires them to go above and beyond for the company), it also gives you the opportunity to be proactive and nip these issues in the bud. Are they stressed? Being bullied? Overworked? When workloads increase yet expectations remain the same, it’s almost impossible to maintain feelings of positivity – this can easily be fixed by redistributing the workflow.

Address the bad apples

Finally, when it comes to fixing a toxic workplace, Ben advises to hire slow, fire fast and don’t be afraid of weeding out the bad apples. “We hire very slowly and we fire very quickly,” says Ben, who notes that you can train someone to do finance or SEO, but you can’t train them to be nice. “If there’s a bad apple, we address it very quickly. We don’t let it fester.”

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