IN THE MIDDLE | beyond the job description

5 Ways to Deal With a Toxic Workplace

By Alyanna Silvestre
Published June 17, 2022

We all have bad days – mornings when we feel a little too heavy to lift ourselves early and get ready for the day; afternoons when we aren't looking forward to our usual morning routine the next day; and days when we just want to finish up work and get home as soon as possible. When you think about it, nothing's really wrong with that since these examples are surely not unusual to all kinds of employees. However, when dreading going to work becomes a constant for you and your subordinates to the point that every day feels all the same or even like the most dreaded day of the week, Monday, you might be working in a toxic work environment.

What is a Toxic Work Environment?

As hinted earlier, a toxic work environment is one where employees find it difficult to function or even progress in their respective career paths due to the negative atmosphere created by coworkers, supervisors, or the company culture itself.

It can be tricky to identify whether you have a toxic work environment, but it's even harder to admit even when signs are so often there. It usually boils down to corrupt culture, poor leadership, and harmful employees, and stems from a mix of things, such as:

◦ poor communication,
◦ workplace cliques that are often linked to gossiping, backstabbing, and spreading of rumors and speculations,  
unhealthy competition and a lack of fair recognition of excellence,
◦ bullying and harassment, 

◦ unclear and conflicting roles,

◦ inconsistent enforcement of policies and rules,

◦ misaligned processes, guidelines, and core values,

◦ unclear goals and no transparency, and

 burnout and high levels of stress due to overly demanding working conditions and a lack of work-life balance.

Feeling a little more exhausted? Learn how to break through burnout here!

So, considering these, it's not hard to see that it can take a toll on one's health and lead to absenteeism, depression, disengagement, and dissatisfaction among employees, ultimately resulting in rapid employee turnover and the disruption of the company's overall operations. In other words, toxicity at work, when left unchecked, will hurt your overall brand. So, it's crucial to immediately act upon and eliminate your organization's problems once you've identified them. And here, we have mentioned a few ways to deal with a toxic work environment.

How to deal with a Toxic Work Environment

1. Get to the bottom of it

    First and foremost, it's important to really understand the root cause of any toxic behavior or atmosphere present in your workplace. Ask around, initiate discussions, or – the best possible option – work with your employees to understand their challenges, learn what they think, and find out which departments are affected for you to identify potential solutions better. This, however, does not end in determining the cause and providing solutions. Consistency is crucial, so be sure to continue gathering feedback and listening to concerns. You can do this by either regularly conducting surveys or providing a safe forum for everyone to share and be heard.

    2. Avoid playing favorites

    Unhealthy competition usually takes place when there is favoritism or any other form of discriminatory treatment, which often leads to:

     increased feelings of resentment,
    ◦ loss of respect for the leader/s,

     demotivated employees, and

    ◦ damaged team unity.

    Now, many leaders might not be aware that they are playing favorites, but employees are perceptive and may think otherwise. With this, it's better to take a step back, make an effort to become more self-aware, and see for yourself. Here are some of the common signs of favoritism:

    ◦ Questionable praises and promotions
    ◦ Bias in terms of considering people's ideas, input, and recommendations

    ◦ A sense of entitlement from an employee

    ◦ An employee getting off scot-free after making a mistake

    ◦ An employee getting extra attention from the leader as well as privileges like a bigger desk space or access to resources other employees don't have

    If you feel like you are guilty of this or you recognize any of these scenarios at work, you must act on it by fostering and promoting professionalism in your organization. Defining metrics to fairly weigh employee performance and be able to give credit where credit is due is crucial to accomplish this. Additionally, disseminating tasks equally and assigning projects to the best person for the job to allow each team member to shine will also prove helpful in establishing as equal of a playing field as possible for everyone.

    3. Provide ways and tools for the management to better manage and internal conflicts

      Another way is to equip yourself and your managers with tools to deal with internal conflicts. You can do this by providing conflict management training as well as other soft and leadership skills training for new managers to ensure that they:

      ◦ Understand the difference between an internal conflict that employees can solve on their own and ones that need to be raised to the management
      ◦ Understand their boundaries so they know the right time and way to act and not to act depending on the situation and the matter at hand

      Can understand differences or are able to appreciate diversity and see things from differing points of view to see the bigger picture and better understand how to manage and avoid conflict in the future, as well as avoid any kind of bias when addressing issues

      ◦ Capable of maintaining transparency and building trust within teams

      Can communicate effectively around difficult issues

      ◦ Are able to encourage mutual respect and empathy

        4. If it involves a specific employee’s behavior, give them the benefit of the doubt a be a true leader

        We all have personal problems outside work that we don't have to nor want to discuss with our colleagues. We never truly know what they're struggling with like how they're most likely clueless about our personal stories too, so when specific individuals are the cause of a toxic workplace environment, the best initial move to deal with them is to have a thoughtful discussion in private.

        You are their leader, and empathy has always been a critical skill for leaders. So, as their superior, you must give them the benefit of the doubt and be patient rather than condescending right away. After all, you never know what they're going through and your harsh actions may even trigger them into doing things you don't intend them to do. Give them a chance. Maybe they're unaware of their disruptive behavior; maybe they're not sure how to change and make a change. Just try to be gentle and understanding, but be sure to come prepared because if they are, in fact, aware of their wrongdoings and negativity, chances are they will argue back and pull out the gaslighting card on you. When that occurs, be ready to reprimand them but keep your comments and criticisms about their behavior rather than them personally.

        5. Find better professionals and rethink how you hire.

          If all else fails and an employee's attitude and behavior continue to be a problem, you can save your resources instead by improving your talent acquisition efforts and considering cultural fit aside from skills and experience in hiring to find professionals that suit your organization best. 

          Hire the best out of the rest. Outsource your recruitment and connect with the best professionals to do the job – headhunters! Learn about their role and significance here!

          If you need some help with that, we'd gladly assist you and accommodate your needs here at Icon Executive Asia, a boutique yet premium executive management solutions firm offering retained recruitment services ranging from executive search to consultancy search. Connect with us now to know more about us and our services, and let our seasoned executive recruiters handle your requirements effectively and efficiently to help you find the quality candidates that are the right fit for you!