Transforming a Toxic Work Environment

How to Thrive at Work in Any Situation

A productive workforce starts with a healthy work environment. Honest evaluation of our work environment and our employee’s well-being is essential for keeping up productivity as well as creating a positive work experience.

Ultimately, improving a toxic work environment is mainly the responsibility of the company’s leadership. However, contributing to a healthy workplace is the duty of everyone within a company regardless of their level or function.

A toxic work environment is created by a perfect storm of negative leadership characteristics that need to be identified in order to be rectified:

Hypercritical: With this type of leadership, management is solely interested in pointing out problems, what’s being done wrong or what’s missing. Yet, the most important elements that are missing from this leadership style is positive feedback.

Micromanaging: This old-school style features several levels of leadership most commonly referred to as a corporate ladder which often results in too many leaders overseeing their employees.

Money, money, money: This type of toxic work environment is completely focused on the bottom line. For example, beating out the competition at all costs rules over sustainability of over-time work schedules.

Lack of compassion: This characteristic goes along with a leadership style focused on the bottom line because employees are seen as assets rather than people. With this type of leadership style, there is little thought towards employee’s happiness or well-being and creates a work environment seen as lacking in empathy. This insidious leadership style increases work stress, burnout, and turnover.

Bullies: It’s no surprise that our nation has a bully problem and that goes for leadership styles as well. It goes without saying that leaders who use bullying as a tactic to control employees or tolerates bullying amongst their employees create an intolerable work environment.

Competition: Being competitive is generally seen as a good thing in business. However, encouraging internal competition amongst employees or using a performance assessment system based on comparison leads to a lack of cohesion and an increase in resentment amongst the employee population.

Lacking work life balance: Work environments that require a person’s personal or family life to be sacrificed are toxic. Whether requiring employees to work long hours, offering little to no vacation time, or expecting all-time access for work communication, this lack of work-life balance and leads to decreased employee satisfaction, burnout and ultimately lowered productivity.


How do you improve a toxic work environment?

Connection is key when looking to improve a toxic work environment. The more you connect to your employees and they feel that they are being supported, the more they can do their best work.

Consider using engagement surveys where employees have the opportunity to anonymously assess and honestly discuss the workplace environment and leadership styles. Make sure all employees know that if there is a problem, the organization’s human resources will step in and work towards healthy resolution.

Human resources and managers who use surveys and regular interviews with employees can keep their finger on the pulse of the workplace environment and will be able to make adjustments as needed to retain their best people.

It is important for all organizations to invest in leadership coaching not just for their managers but their entire staff. This will help managers and employees learn how to set workable boundaries, understand what is acceptable behavior and more importantly their impact in creating a healthy workplace. With proper coaching, managers and employees will learn how to communicate assertively and still respectfully.

Creating a healthy work environment begins with an organization’s managers. Leading by example is one of the most powerful rules for creating a healthy workplace.