There’s a massive difference between having a bad day at work and genuinely feeling miserable because of who you work with or where you work. Unfortunately, for some people, the red flags of toxicity and hostility rarely rear their ugly heads until they feel it’s too late to change courses. Plus, employees who experience toxic or hostile work environments often feel uncomfortable speaking up to leadership, perpetuating this vicious cycle.
Toxic and hostile work environments often result in employees struggling with productivity and engagement, which can, in turn, make it hard for them to grow professionally. Plus, this type of setting is prime for high turnover due to competitiveness, low morale, negativity, and bullying — leaving your organization with the expense of training new talent repeatedly, a destroyed brand reputation, and sometimes even legal ramifications.
So, how do you prevent uncomfortable situations from escalating beyond control? First, it pays to know the differences between toxic and hostile environments. Then, you’ll need to devise strategies to prevent these behaviors among your staff.
What Is a Toxic Work Environment?
“Toxic” is a term that’s gained popularity in recent years. Lately, it seems like there’s always a toxic friend, partner, or colleague in most circles.
By all means, we’ve all had at least one work experience that we could classify as toxic. But what exactly does that mean? A toxic work environment is one where gossip runs rampant, coworkers make each other uncomfortable, there are Mean Girls-style cliques excluding or discriminating against others, and there’s a coworker or even a manager who seems to thrive on negativity or passive-aggressive behavior.
However, these microaggressions aren’t the only ways to identify a toxic work environment. Toxicity also shows up through a lack of goals or duties, undefined or conflicting roles, one-way, defensive or aggressive communication, single-ways to complete tasks, negative behaviors, and staff treated as disposable.
While a hostile work environment sometimes has significant ramifications, a toxic work environment is equally damaging to the employees it effected.
Some signs of a toxic workplace include:
- Poor communication among teams
- Cliques, exclusion, and gossip
- Poor leadership
- High rates of absenteeism
- Unmotivated workers
- Stifled growth
- Rapid employee turnover
- No work-life balance
- Poor boundaries
- High rates of burnout
- Little or no forward movement
These signs are significantly associated with how the organization has contributed to cultivating and encouraging toxic behavior. These toxic behaviors may come from a lack of corporate culture, which can create a clock-in/clock-out mentality with little to no motivation for growth within the organization.
Companies that place less emphasis on valuing their employees and more on their output breed a fear of failure and burnout culture.
To make matters worse, hostility is often found soon after toxicity becomes present because a lack of concern for employees’ well-being can breed more significant issues.
When Does a Toxic Environment Become Hostile?
Toxicity is the lower end of the spectrum for harmful work environments, but it can sometimes lead to hostility.
A hostile work environment includes harassment, threats, and discrimination. Hostility targets a person or group based on age, sex, race, religion, national origin, special needs or disabilities, or sexual orientation. Some examples include:
- Sexual harassment from one employee to another or between management and employees.
- A boss making fun of an employee’s religious beliefs.
- An employee making fun of another for being homosexual.
- Offensive language or images sent in emails.
- Racial slurs used in the break room.
- Any threatening or demeaning behavior.
Anyone can cause a hostile work environment, from leadership to junior employees. The main factors are behaviors and communications that affect others so much they make it nearly impossible to get work done.
Not only is this type of behavior disruptive to the workplace, but the lack of consequences sets a poor example for employees. Their morale could also take a hit as a result. This is especially true if a manager is aware of an issue and doesn’t do anything to protect their employees.
In the face of toxic or hostile environments, employees may feel like speaking up about issues is moot when there are no consequences.
As a Leader, What Can You Do To Protect Employees From Toxic and Hostile Situations?
There are several ways to take a proactive stance and protect employees from a toxic or hostile workplace.
First, you need to create an open environment for communication. If employees don’t feel safe or comfortable speaking up about harmful situations, they won’t be able to alert you to take action.
Secondly, you’ll need to review protocols and procedures when an employee wants to communicate such issues surrounding a toxic or hostile situation. This is especially important when issues may escalate into legal matters like racial discrimination or sexual harassment.
The next step is creating a reward and recognition system for deserving employees who perform a job well done. If your team is new to a rewards system, this may incentivize them to go above and beyond a clock-in/clock-out mentality.
Another thing you may want to consider to support your staff is giving attention to those who are overworked. In these cases, you’ll want to review tasks and projects to prioritize, alleviating some of the stress and burden from those employees on the verge of burnout.
Toxic Work Environments Hinder Your Team’s Growth
As a leader, you can foster and encourage open communication, motivate employees to grow professionally, and create a company culture that promotes positivity, teamwork, and inclusivity to prevent issues from arising.
Do you suspect that toxic or hostile behaviors are occurring in your organization? Book a discovery call now to devise a strategy and correct courses.