Every business goes through ups and downs with employees. Some companies experience friction while growing rapidly while others run into problems as they struggle to keep the business afloat. The truth is, your employees are humans and they’re not perfect. They will make mistakes, they will get emotional, some will get along and some will not.
A certain degree of employee conflict is expected. It’s important to handle it quickly and appropriately when it occurs. Regardless of the situation your business is in, you should always be monitoring for symptoms of a toxic work environment and identifying ways to extinguish any problems before they get worse.
How can you tell the difference between situations that are non-threatening and situations may be problematic? The key is being able to identify the situation for what it is and taking the best course of action. To help, here are five common symptoms of a toxic work environment, plus how to resolve them.
5 Ways To Identify Symptoms & Eliminate Toxic Work Conditions
Symptom #1: High Stress Levels
Certain jobs inherently carry more stress than others. For instance, it’s safe to say an ER doctor maintains a higher level of stress than a high school janitor. When managing high-stress jobs, it’s important to pay close attention to the people in those roles. Employees who are chronically stressed tend to get burnt out more quickly. In addition to dissatisfaction with work, it can cause potential dangers such as depression, fatigue, and more mistakes at work. But at what point does working through stress become toxic?
Solution: When it comes to stress, it’s important to understand what your employees are like when they’re not stressed out. When you first hire an employee, make notes about their demeanor, their performance, their ability to communicate and more. Keep monitoring these qualities through the duration of their employment. Keeping notes will make you more aware of changes and encourage you to take action when needed.
Symptom #2: Low Team Morale
A toxic work environment isn’t always marked by arguments and mistakes. Employees should be motivated to contribute instead of simply punching the clock every day. A company with no “team spirit” can be just as damaging as a company that has clear personnel problems. That doesn’t mean your employees need to be uncontrollably excited to get to work, but they should feel generally good about their personal performance and the overall health of the company.
Solution: An effective way to boost team morale is to hold regular team functions. Host a quarterly company event or take 20 minutes each week to get the company or department together. The more opportunities your employees have to communicate and work together outside their daily whirlwind, the more they will bond.
Another great way to boost team morale is to get them more involved in the company’s bigger picture. If your employees are working in a bubble, without knowing what it’s all for, they will care less about the final outcome. To avoid this, create a shared company goal that you keep track of on a wall or via email. This visibility will increase your employees’ desire to help the company reach that goal. This works especially well if you add incentives, like bonus pay or vacation time, for reaching the goal.
Symptom #3: Responding To Workplace Injuries
You want your employees to work hard to fulfill their responsibilities. It’s great when employees voluntarily work overtime to complete projects and ensure the company stays on the right track. That may even remind you of your own work ethic. But, there’s a fine line when it comes to working hard and being overworked. Your employees may seem eager when talking to you, but then complain when they get home. If you think one of your employees is working beyond what’s expected or necessary, it might be time for a conversation.
A more clear symptom of a toxic workplace is when the number of injuries or illnesses rises. If your company has physical demands, the risk of injuries is high relative to other work environments. Keep detailed records of who and how people are getting injured. If the same people seem to be getting hurt or they’re getting hurt during certain tasks, immediate changes are necessary. Showing a lack of action over a situation as serious as employee health sends a dangerous message.
Solution: Take a proactive approach to ensure employees are maintaining a healthy work-life balance and that they’re satisfied with their role in the company. Team leaders should hold regular one-on-one meetings with each employee as often as possible (weekly or monthly is recommended). The goal of these meetings is to encourage positive relationships in the workplace and to offer employees the opportunity to voice their thoughts and concerns.
When a workplace injury does occur, the well-being of your employees should be of utmost importance. Make sure your employees are okay, but also investigate all injuries in an effort to decrease the risk of repeat incidents. If you notice a pattern of injuries (in one person, in a particular position, etc.), take action to create a safer environment or alter bad habits.
Symptom #4: Poor Communication
Poor communication throughout the workplace should be a red flag for any business owner. In nearly every business, effective internal and external communication is essential for productivity and viability. If your employees are unable to work well together, it will have a tremendous impact on your company’s performance and could create negative indirect impressions on customers.
Likewise, ineffective communication with external parties, including customers, could be just as damaging. So, what’s the cause of these communication problems? It could be because of employee friction or basic apathy. If you find your employees have chronic communication issues then you need to figure out why it’s happening and determine how to fix it.
Solution: Internal communication issues should be dealt with before external issues. If your team is unable to work together then it won’t matter whether or not they communicate well with distributors, customers, etc. Similar to building team morale, improved communication is attainable through increased team meetings, events, and other vehicles for bringing employees together.
Symptom #5: Chronic Productivity Problems
When you hire someone, it’s because you think they can satisfy or exceed their position’s demands. If that employee fails to live up to a certain expectation, you will naturally investigate why. But, when an employee is constantly underperforming, it creates problems beyond that individual. It’s not uncommon for a colleague to observe an individual’s faults long before their supervisor. By the time the supervisor becomes aware of an individual’s productivity problems, the problem has already festered within the team. The timeliness and severity of the supervisor’s actions sends a strong message to the entire team. Lack of action, for what has now become a lingering problem, can result in significant cultural issues.
Solution: First, look at your production expectations to make sure they’re reasonable. If your employee was able to meet goals last year but has failed to reach a higher goal, the new goals may be unrealistic. Be sure your setting optimistic yet attainable goals for your employees and departments. Also, be sure to talk with team members so everyone’s on the same page en route to those goals. If an employee misses their goals constantly with no feedback, she may become less motivated over time.
If the established goals seem reasonable and your employees are still underperforming, then it’s time to take more serious action. Whether it’s the employee’s personal life seeping into their work, an equipment problem, or a personnel issue, the goal is to identify potential causes and work to resolve them. Remember: Your actions will be observed by the entire team, not just one individual.
Eliminate And Prevent Toxic Work Conditions
Being able to identify toxic work symptoms before they become destructive is essential for keeping your company moving in the right direction. The larger your company grows, the more personalities involved and the more potential issues you could have.
To truly provide a toxic-free workplace, you should be taking a proactive approach to employee and productivity management. Talk to employees before they have the chance to become disengaged in their work. Host team events before their ability to communicate diminishes. Preventing toxic work conditions before they start is just as important as extinguishing problems when they arise.
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