Managers have a critical role in safeguarding employees against toxic work environments. They are responsible for creating a safe and healthy work environment, which includes ensuring that employees are not subjected to harassment, discrimination, or other forms of mistreatment.
Pinpointing the elements of toxic culture in an organisation can help managers focus on addressing the issues that lead employees to disengage and quit.
Millennials and the younger workforce in particular have understood the significance of work-life balance and choosing to work for organisations that support their goals instead of putting up with a toxic work environment.
Feeling psychologically safe at work is the starting point for connection, agency, trust and to feel we belong. Leaders are influential in setting the tone for the workplace culture, creating a positive and healthy work environment, and promoting employee wellbeing.
What does a toxic work environment look like?
A study published in MIT Sloan Management Review analysed more than 1.3 million Glassdoor reviews and found that employees describe toxic workplaces in five ways: disrespectful, non-inclusive, unethical, cutthroat, and abusive.
Employees pick up on how leaders react to behaviours that they themselves would deem unacceptable and so conclude “this must be how it’s done around here”. This belief manifests itself in a toxic work environment that tolerates poor behaviour.
A toxic work environment that is characterised by unhealthy behaviours and attitudes can have a detrimental effect on employees’ physical and mental health, as well as their job performance. Toxic work environments can be created by a variety of factors, including poor leadership, high levels of stress, a lack of support and resources, and a lack of diversity and inclusiveness.
Examples of toxic behaviours in the workplace can vary and may include bullying, harassment, micromanagement, lack of communication, discrimination, favouritism, or lack of accountability. These behaviours can lead to high levels of stress, low morale, employee burnout, and turnover.
What does a toxic work environment mean for your organisation?
According to research, a toxic work environment is the number-one reason people leave their jobs.
Employees may feel unsupported, disrespected, and undervalued. They may experience physical and emotional health problems, such as anxiety, depression, and chronic illness, because of the negative environment. A toxic work environment can also lead to decreased productivity, creativity, and innovation.
Just one toxic person in the system can disrupt the functioning of an entire team and lead them to lose focus, interest or motivation to perform to their optimum potential.
How can managers safeguard employees against toxic work environments?
The role of managers in safeguarding against toxic work environments is crucial for creating a safe and healthy workplace for employees. Managers have a responsibility to set clear expectations for appropriate workplace behaviour, communicate those expectations effectively, and provide support and resources to employees who may be experiencing toxic behaviours in the workplace.
Some specific ways that managers can play a role in safeguarding against toxic work environments and setting clear expectations include:
Take complaints seriously and investigate them thoroughly
This involves taking a proactive approach to addressing any toxic behaviours that have occurred, taking appropriate disciplinary action and providing resources to employees who come forward with complaints such as counselling, or supervision that can help them manage the emotional fallout of toxic behaviours.
Communicate policies and procedures
Managers should communicate policies and procedures related to workplace conduct, harassment, discrimination, and other issues related to a toxic culture. This can help employees understand what is expected of them and what the consequences will be if they violate these policies.
Set clear expectations
Managers should set clear expectations for appropriate workplace behaviour and communicate those expectations to employees. This can involve discussing expectations in employee onboarding, regular team meetings, and in performance evaluations. An employee handbook or document that reflects your company’s culture and philosophy can be useful. This is a guide for your employees to understand what is expected of them and the people around them.
Lead by example
Increased self-awareness goes a long way in helping employees—from top to bottom—maintain a positive work culture. If you criticise your staff for making a mistake while letting yourself off the hook without any consequences, you are sending a message that it is OK for other managers to do the same. Managers should lead by example and model the behaviours they expect from their employees.
Provide training and education
Training on topics such as diversity, inclusion, good relationships and compassionate leadership can help your employees and managers with the practical skills they need to support their own mental health and their teams.
Encourage open communication
Provide a safe and confidential channel for employees to report concerns about poor company culture. This can help employees feel supported and valued and prevent negative behaviours from going unchecked.
With feedback, you can identify toxic team members, managers and leaders. Clear, two-way communication between the employees and leadership becomes the most effective tool against the development of a toxic work environment.
Strategies for creating a positive work culture.
Research suggests that successful leaders:
- Feel and demonstrate genuine respect and concern for colleagues and employees
- Develop together with their colleagues a shared vision for the organisation, based on values
- Trust colleagues and allow them autonomy
- Are inclusive, welcoming diverse viewpoints and identities
- See it as their role to understand their team, and to focus on how team members work together
Humanising processes and creating a compassionate workplace culture help ensure healthier environments and positive working relationships.
Organisations are complex and unique; there’s no one-size-fits-all answer but here are some strategies you can try:
Build trust with employees
Managers can build trust by being transparent, honest, and authentic with employees. This includes keeping employees informed about company news and changes, being responsive to employee feedback, and treating employees with respect. This means giving your full attention to employees when they are speaking, asking questions to clarify their concerns, and following up on any issues that are raised.
Encourage good work relationships
Key to both mental health and successful and productive workplaces are the core building blocks of good relationships: trust, respect, empathy, genuine concern for each other, appreciation of diversity, openness, and effective communication. Think through any challenges to good relationships at work and ways of overcoming them.
Encouraging feedback and collaboration
Encouraging feedback and collaboration can help employees feel valued. Managers can encourage feedback and collaboration by asking for input from employees on important decisions, recognising and rewarding good ideas and performance, and creating opportunities for employees to work together on projects.
Providing opportunities for growth and development
Providing opportunities for growth and development can help employees feel motivated and engaged. Managers can provide opportunities for growth and development by offering training and development programs, mentoring and coaching, and career advancement opportunities.
Creating a supportive workplace culture
Creating a supportive workplace culture means creating an environment where employees feel comfortable talking about their needs, concerns, and ideas. This can involve creating a culture of respect, inclusiveness, and support, where employees feel free to ask for help when they need it, and where employees feel valued for their contributions.
Eradicating toxic workplaces and safeguarding employees’ wellbeing is all about allowing employers and employees to reflect safely and honestly on their work, relationships and workplace culture.
From there, you can co-create the conditions for good communication, a mentally healthy organisation, positive working relationships, and staff who feel valued and listened to.
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That’s why our workplace wellbeing offer is tailored specifically to you, based on the needs of your teams and employees. It’s all based on a collaborative process of getting to understand what makes your organisation tick. Get in touch for more information.
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