19 Oct 2022

Four Treatments for Toxic Workplace Culture

Nothing sucks the joy out of your life quite like a terrible workplace. We spend so much time at work that enjoying our workplace – even if we don’t absolutely love our job – is absolutely essential. It’s common knowledge that crummy workplace culture can kill employee morale and lead to lower productivity, quiet quitting, higher turnover rates, low employee satisfaction and poor client outcomes. In short, when your workplace stinks, so does your company.

You can’t fix it overnight, but below are four treatments to start addressing toxic workplace culture:

Set Expectations: Employees from the top down want to know what’s expected of them throughout the day, week, month and year, especially if you’re in knowledge work. It’s not just about having someone show up the run the grill. When employees don’t know exactly what they are supposed to do or what success looks like for their individual role, they get frustrated and disappointed. This will send motivation, innovation and employee satisfaction into the ground, eventually leading to higher turnover or, in some cases, quiet quitting. This is another reason why goals-based employee evaluations can be so helpful – it gives people a gut check on how they are doing, what’s going well and what needs work.

Communicate: Ever played the telephone game as a kid? It applies to your business too. Maybe an employee overhears that last month’s numbers weren’t as expected and, next thing you know, team members are running around worrying about layoffs and the rumor mill is in full swing. If you’re going to keep your culture strong even when things aren’t sunny and bright, you have to be transparent and open with your managers and your employees. Even when news isn’t great, they want to hear it from you directly and in a timely manner. Don’t let fear-based leadership kick in. Don’t close your office door because you’re scared. And, for the love of everything business, don’t let an employee continue to struggle just because you don’t want to have uncomfortable conversations. You’re the boss. Make it happen.

Provide Support: People want to be supported as employees and as people, which means you need to work on your compassion and empathy. We’re not saying to excuse excessive absenteeism or let people leave every day for a long coffee break, but we are saying you need to understand that your employees are not cogs in a wheel. They are not machines who show up every day to do a job. So, in addition to giving them time to work on professional development and expanding their horizons at work, you also need to find ways to build flexibility into your workplace. And, if there are issues with an employee, have that conversation privately. Nothing kills morale quite like watching someone being called out in front of the entire staff for being 5 minutes late.

Show Appreciation: People, especially younger generations, want to know they are appreciated with much more than a paycheck. When someone does something amazing, recognize their work and the effort they put into the project. Take them to lunch. Give them a handwritten card with a small gift card inside. Talk about them at the staff meeting. That said, do not let this turn into either an unhealthy competition for accolades (we don’t even really like employee of the month) or a trap that forces you into picking favorites. Be careful and thoughtful about the work that’s being recognized. Don’t only pat the backs of the employees who pat their own backs. Remember that everyone from your COO to your secretary does important work for your company.

Being a great leader can be challenging and repairing workplace culture is a huge lift. If you need support, your local Growth Coach can help.

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