It’s probably an understatement to say that so many aspects of the workplace have changed in the past few years.
We’ve seen the ‘expectations pendulum’ dramatically swing – in everything from employees’ relationship to the workplace, to how they think about their wellbeing, and even more fundamentally than this, how work and life actually intersect.
But one relationship we’ve arguably seen evolve most of all, though, is the employer-employee dynamic.
Now more than ever, employees want to have a say in their growth and career development, as well as their working arrangements and hours.
Employers meanwhile. want to voice their opinions too, which can lead to a push-and-pull that creates tough conversations. And somewhere in the middle of all of this, is an attempt to build cultures and working environments that fit both parties’ needs.
The toxic workplace dilemma
Nowhere are these sometimes conflicting scenarios being seen more clearly than when they emerge and create ‘toxic workplaces’.
Toxic workplaces are different to simply seeing tough conversations. The latter (especially when it leads to constructive feedback), is not necessarily a bad thing. Tough conversations can lead to valuable growth for employers and employees alike.
However, it’s when feedback isn’t delivered correctly, that it can add to a growing disconnect between the two groups. It’s this very disconnect that has left many businesses to deal with the “toxic workplace” dilemma.
Recent events have proven that no industry is immune to toxic workplaces.
From late-night talk shows to start-ups and even fast food restaurants, this issue chips away at threads of connection between workers and between workers and their employers, leading to decreased productivity and engagement and increased burnout and turnover.
Fortunately though, there are ways to spot signs of a toxic workplace, and there are solutions talent leaders can tap into to create a workplace that fosters connection and inclusivity for all.
What makes a workplace ‘toxic’?
Toxic workplaces can bubble up for a number of reasons but, in most cases, the primary driver is how people interact with each other.
Characteristics like language, tone, and attitude shape the way people communicate with one another, and they have a direct effect on employee morale.
I would argue that when people aren’t communicating with each other in an effective and authentic way, it is hard to build a connected and trusting workplace.
Without effective communication, employees start to feel disconnected from their coworkers and unsure about who they can turn to for feedback or concerns.
When those issues, whether small or large, are left to fester, there is a higher chance that toxic relationships will emerge.
Toxicity in the workplace can also lead to disengagement among employees.
Our latest research shows that disengaged workers used words such as “disorganized,” “chaotic,” and, of course, “toxic ” when asked to describe their work culture.
If people feel like their sole purpose is to make money, they struggle to establish a true connection with their peers, their work, and their organization.
Employees are people first, and without the ability to be human and build genuine relationships with their peers, engagement with their day-to-day work is harder to come by.
Why ‘authenticity’ helps combat toxic workplaces
Fortunately, there are a number of strategies leaders can take to help prevent or heal toxicity in the workplace.
First and foremost, any business looking to increase connectivity should focus on bringing more authenticity to the workplace.
While authenticity can manifest in many different ways, let’s focus on a few specific ones:
One of the best ways leaders can bring authenticity and vulnerability to the workplace is by expressing an openness to feedback.
Creating a safe space for employees to be vulnerable and share their thoughts can go a long way in building trust between employees and their employers. This is especially important during times of change in any organization.
Return-to-office plans, for example, are a perfect opportunity to take employee feedback.
Allowing individuals to express their concerns, hesitations, or questions about RTO plans will give talent leaders and executives the evidence they need to create a structure that works for each and every individual.
Showing a willingness to change things that aren’t working also helps secure employee buy-in on key issues, and helps avoid any long-term friction.
If employers aren’t willing to hear employee feedback on issues like this, it can create bigger issues down the line.
Authenticity needs to be practiced
Leaders should also practice authenticity when they give feedback to employees.
Feedback should be shared consistently and personalized to each recipient.
It’s important to consider what different types of workers want out of feedback. Gen Z, for example, wants to tie themselves to employers that are invested in their growth, so feedback that acknowledges how they can develop will help better engage the younger generation of workers.
No matter what someone’s age, frequent check-ins and clear pathways to improvement help employees feel the company is invested in both their professional and personal development.
It’s also important to remember that authenticity extends beyond feedback. Celebrating workers and acknowledging their contributions is another key ingredient to creating a connected workforce.
Leadership can consider implementing programs that recognize employees financially, professionally, and personally to foster stronger connections and, in turn, a create a greater sense of belonging for each and every employee.
Getting your priorities right
To combat toxicity in their workplace, employers must focus in on feedback, authenticity, and recognition.
Prioritizing these areas can help build trust between leaders and employees and well as employees and their peers, ensuring that toxic traits don’t creep into the workplace.
By keeping these strategies in mind and creating talent management programs to help implement them throughout the organization, businesses can avoid the ills of a toxic workplace while retaining, engaging, and growing their talent more consistently.