6 Ways to Revitalize a Toxic Workplace Culture, Part 1

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PlantsThe “2014 Employee Engagement and Organizational Culture Report” from TINYpulse found that only 36 percent of the 200,000 survey respondents rated their organizations’ company cultures as “strong.” This means that, even if you look around your office and see what you believe are contented faces, there’s a good chance that roughly two out of three of your workers regard your company culture as weak and unsupportive.

Given these findings, employers should do some serious investigating to find out what the culture is like at their companies. If your investigation reveals that your culture is more toxic than you expected, here are some tips to help your make things better:

1. Reduce or Limit Overtime 

Studies show that productivity drops by around half after eight hours of work in a day; for knowledge workers, productivity begins to drop even earlier, after six hours.

If your time sheets reveal that employees are consistently working long hours — 45-60 hours a week — it is likely that your employees are not only less productive than they could be, but also more stressed, frustrated, and prone to conflict and illness than they need to be.

If you have a “long hours” kind of workplace, it’s very likely that this is contributing to your toxic organizational culture. Improve conditions for your employees by hiring more staff members and reducing workers’ overtime loads. Doing so should make your staff feel more effective, energized, competent, and engaged.

2. Create an Anonymous Online Suggestion Box

One problem with toxic cultures — especially ones in which bullying and negativity run rampant — is that many people are afraid to speak up for fear of judgement or retaliation. If you try to run a focus group or brainstorming session about your toxic culture, you may find participation rates low, and that the employees who do participate are afraid to share their true feelings.

FlowersAs an alternative, try creating a positive, safe, anonymous online “comment box” where employees can put forward ideas to improve the culture — without anyone knowing who said what. You may also want to allow employees to vote on the ideas, thereby surfacing the ones your workers feel most strongly about.

3. Eliminate Cronyism and Favoritism

Research tells us that 25 percent of workers consider fair pay to be the thing they want most in an organization. If you have a system in which favorites and cronies are recognized and rewarded over genuinely hardworking and dedicated employees, then you have a recipe for resentment, toxicity, and negativity in your organization.

Hopefully, you already knew that and didn’t need me to tell you favoritism was wrong, but I digress.

Another issue with favoritism is that it can lead to unnecessary underperformance as a result of the “Pygmalion effect.” When managers expect great things of their favorites, those favorites will rise to the challenge and do great things. Conversely, when managers expect little from their non-favorites, those non-favorites will fail to thrive. They won’t reach their potential. They won’t be as passionate and productive as they could be.

Cronyism and favoritism are highly damaging in the workplace, and they can become especially virulent in high-pressure corporate environments. The most dangerous thing about favoritism and cronyism, however, is that these phenomena can happen without us even realizing they are. That’s why leaders and managers need to be constantly vigilant, always looking for signs of favoritism — especially in their own behavior. If they see any, they need to squash it right away.

For more tips on repairing your broken workplace culture, check out 6 Ways to Revitalize a Toxic Workplace Culture, Part 2.

Kazim Ladimeji is a Chartered Member of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, and has been a practicing HR professional for 14 years. Kazim is the Director of The Career Cafe: a resource for start-ups, small business and job seekers.