The Need to Address Toxic Behavior
The dictionary meaning of “toxic” is poisonous. Fun fact: “toxic” was the Oxford Word of the year 2018. Unfortunately, in 2022 it’s still a word that won’t go away, particularly as it applies to workplace culture. And like any poison, it can cause serious, long-lasting damage to your organization.
“Now more than ever business leaders need to be talking about and addressing issues of workplace toxicity…employees aren’t afraid to jump ship when faced with a toxic workplace—and if it’s your high performers jumping ship, you’re in trouble.”
Unfortunately, toxic behavior is often unreported and goes unrecognized whilst continuing to wreak havoc with employees, productivity, company reputation and even intellectual property. To help your organization detect and prevent toxic behaviors, preferably before they irrevocably poison your work culture, let’s take a look at the top five signs of a toxic workplace culture.
- High turnover
- Disengaged employees
- Communication breakdowns
- Inappropriate conflict
- Lack of trust
- How to stop toxic communications
High turnover is probably the most significant indicator that something is wrong with your work culture. The widely reported Great Resignation is in part a result of pandemic fatigue, but also toxic behaviors unbeknownst to senior leadership taking place in remote work email and messaging communications. As Fast Company contributor Marc Blinder puts it, “It’s conventional wisdom that ‘people don’t leave their job, they leave their boss and toxic bosses create toxic environments that drive people away.”
Indeed, according to a Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM®) report, 58 percent of employees who quit a job due to workplace culture say their managers are why they left. For some bosses the impersonal nature of email and messaging apps enables ranting that they would never do in person.
To be clear, the problem lies not just with bosses who overstep boundaries, but co-workers as well. As Adnan Olia points out,
“Email abuse in the workplace exists in various forms, ranging from co-workers simply exchanging emails with inappropriate language, to more serious situations involving sexual harassment and bullying. And chances are, in today’s world so dominated by email, your organization is not immune to the many forms of email abuse.”
Particularly during the stress of the pandemic and social isolation of working from home, people all too often press the send button before taking time out to think about how what they wrote might affect their colleagues.
Engaged employees are enthusiastic about their work products, reliably produce assignments on time and frequently “go the extra mile” to assist colleagues and volunteer for special projects and actively contribute to team meetings. Disengaged employees are just “punching the clock.”
The Forbes Research Council points out that, “Employees who are disengaged will withdraw from any non-necessary conversations or activities. They also tend to only do the minimum to get by, will decrease their productivity and no longer give discretionary effort.”
If a team or individual is not meeting expectations, a toxic workplace is not not necessarily the cause; it could be overwork, poor match with skill levels, insufficient support are just a few examples. But if otherwise competent people seem to be “off” in some way that can’t be attributed to anything else, a toxic workplace is likely the culprit.
This is particularly difficult to determine in a remote working environment. Even Zoom calls don’t provide sufficient clues as to body language and personal interactions, certainly not on the level you can observe in actual in-person discussions.
If you’re getting feedback about crossed signals or constant requests for clarity about expectations, it could be a matter of poor chemistry and/or a failure of management skills. Also, keep in mind that when people feel threatened, marginalized or mistreated, they tend to shut down so as not to further expose themselves to potential harm.
Differing opinions and perspectives as part of respectful discussion leads to creative problem-solving. Continual bickering, gossipping and denigrating colleagues with different viewpoints doesn’t solve problems at all.
Once again, the remote work makes this all the more difficult to identify with inappropriate conflict taking place on email, chat and messaging communications. Making matters worse, when team leaders are the root cause of the conflicts, they feel all the more emboldened because these communications aren’t transparent to senior management.
Lack of Trust
High-trust cultures are marked by collegiality, constructive feedback and an openness to asking for help when needed. When there is no trust among employees, people are disrespectful to one another, teamwork is dysfunctional, deadlines and goals are missed.
Here once more (by this point you’ve detected the underlying theme), in remote working it’s difficult to detect lack of trust unless you are somehow continually monitoring employee email and messaging communications. The difficulty here is that if you were to institute continual monitoring, this could lead to employees feeling the very lack of trust you are trying to avoid.
How to Stop Toxic Communications Before It Poisons Your Organization
How, then, can an organization monitor employee email and messaging platforms to flag and stop toxic behaviors, tone and sentiment without acting like Big Brother? The way to mitigate the risk of toxic communications without creating an atmosphere of fear and distrust among employees is a software tool that flags potential issues only if and when they arise for proper review by HR and security professionals to act on accordingly.
CommSafe AI Safe Communications Software™ detects in real-time potential toxic content, tone and sentiment in employee email and messaging communications. It’s the intelligent, scalable and easy-to-use solution that combines machine learning and human understanding.
If you want to know if your organization exhibits any of these top five signs of a toxic workplace, take a look at this demo.