By Published On: November 11th, 2019

A toxic workplace doesn’t happen overnight. Sometimes it’s difficult to see that your workplace culture might be lacking or has become a negative environment. A more positive and productive culture can reduce employee stress, improve productivity, and contribute to overall health, while also boosting employee retention, and helping to attract new talent.

There are four major ways company cultures can start to become negative and even toxic.

1. Self-centeredness

One of the fastest ways for a work environment to implode is with a self-centered atmosphere. In these workplaces, employees do not reach out to co-workers or support systems. Collaboration takes a back seat, and employees become primarily interested in their own success and progression, rather than the company’s success. This environment will ultimately support backstabbing, which perpetuates isolation and mistrust.

The easiest way to fix this is by intentionally building teams. Structure teams not only within departments so employees are able to interact with their peers, but also across departments. There is rarely a problem or a project that only involves one person, and encouraging, or even enforcing the establishment of cross-collaboration can combat self-centeredness.

2. Drama

Almost every workplace will have some workplace drama. The top culprits are often grandstanding and hypersensitivity, which create constant conflicts that can be easily overlooked or ignored.

It’s essential to address drama as soon as it occurs and work through conflict resolution. When leadership ignores the conflict or stays hands-off, the emotions and toxic repercussions can solidify and never be addressed or resolved.

3. Tools, Not People

When employees feel like nothing more than a means to an end—tools used to get a product or result, rather than valued people—they become disconnected from their job and their sense of community within the company.

To help employees feel more invested and integral to your company, consider training opportunities. A sense of importance can help employees identify more with their job. Focusing on creating more workplace flexibility in allowing employees a variety of work hours and paid time off opportunities can give them the freedom to manage their personal lives, while still performing their job. And it shows that the company cares about their well-being outside of work, too.

4. Living in the Past

When a company is first starting, they set lofty goals and work hard to achieve them. This can push them harder to become better and they are more willing to change. Once they achieve their initial goals and are met with a measure of success instead of continuing to move forward, they dwell on their past wins. This makes for a stagnant culture where professional development and organizational innovation aren’t cultivated or encouraged.

Only wanting to see success can lead to complacency. A process or project worked well, and to change that process is to put at risk the success that is attached to it. If a company changes, they might not be able to meet the same goals and growth that they want. Rather than daring to be better, the company and employees become stuck in the past relying heavily on past wins instead of focusing on the potential of growth and improvement.

It can be difficult to motivate and move people out of their comfort zone. The best way to fix this is to go back to the past and see what progressive standards and expectations your company had and revive that spirit. Focus on emphasizing growth, change, and the benefits that come from being adaptable and from taking risks. This can come from team-wide, or even company-wide, recognition and awards. Even having corporate and personal goals can foster an environment of growth and development.

Become Your Company’s Doctor

If you are running into other problems with your culture, and don’t know what to do, the process to fix it breaks down into four easy steps. To be able to fix a toxic culture, you are going to have to think like a doctor would about a toxic injury or illness.

1.   Diagnose

Start by identifying the correct pain point. If you’re looking in the wrong place, or not considering the big picture, then you’ll never be able to fully heal your company’s culture. It’s like a doctor who only wants to look at a fever and ignores a broken rib.

Trying to diagnose where the toxic culture originates requires research. This should include interviews with employees, management, and leadership. If you are having a difficult time with employees not wanting to be transparent about the culture, try using anonymous online polls or response options so they can be free to share without fear of repercussions.

2.   Evaluate the Pain

Once you know there is a problem, you have to determine how bad a problem it is through more pointed surveys and interviews. Like appendicitis, if caught early, the response is quick and easy to treat, but if allowed to fester and progress much further, the treatment options are much more drastic.

Part of this is getting an understanding of how large the toxic culture is within a company. If only surface details are addressed, the toxicity will still exist. You must have a complete view of the problem to be able to create a solution that entirely addresses it.

3.   Implement a Recovery Plan

Just as a doctor has to prescribe medication or even perform surgery to fix a problem, something more than a diagnosis has to be done to fix a problem with company culture. Plan a repair strategy and then take the necessary steps to implement it.

The recovery plan for a company’s culture changes depending on the problem that is presented. There is no panacea.

4.   Reflect and Adapt

After surgery, there is usually a follow-up visit to see how a patient is doing. When repairing a company culture, you also should plan for follow up. Sometimes the measures taken fix your company’s culture problem instantly. But in most cases, you will see some improvement, but not yet the ideal culture. It’s important to be honest and acknowledge the wins, while also determining where there is still the need for further growth and development.

Negative company culture can be changed and improved. With direct attention and strategy, you can help improve your company’s culture problems, building in your employees a sense that they are people who matter to the company, who have the tools to do their job well, without drama, and with steady leadership.

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