An employer may take a look at their business one day and realize that the workplace environment may not be as healthy as it would like. An employer may notice that its employees are gossiping and spreading rumors around the office or that there is favoritism being shown by some managers or supervisors towards certain employees. Gossip and rumors along with favoritism are all signs that an employer may have a work environment that is more toxic than it is healthy. A toxic work environment can lead to employee absenteeism, high turnover, and a lack of productivity among employees. Further, employees in toxic workplaces generally do not have positive things to say about their jobs and/or managers and supervisors, which can lead to an employer’s reputation being damaged.

Fixing a toxic work environment may seem like a daunting task. However, there are some simple steps an employer can take to start moving the work environment in the right direction. First and employer should take responsibility and explore how their own conduct may have contributed to the unhealthy workplace environment. Maybe the employer has no policies regarding workplace behavior or maybe supervisors and managers have been lax on enforcing the employer’s policies. It is important for an employer to do an assessment to determine the causes of the unhealthy work environment so that it can formulate the best plan for improvement.  

An important step an employer can take to combat a toxic work environment is to have up-to-date policies. Workplace polices set the expectations as to how employees are to act within a workplace. When an employee fails to act in accordance with a policy, the employer has a mechanism to hold them accountable for the unacceptable behavior. As such, it is important that all employers have clear polices regarding acceptable behavior in the workplace and that all employees are aware of these policies.

Next, all employees should be held accountable. Playing favorites or inconsistent enforcement of workplace policies can lead to anger and resentment among employees. All mangers and supervisors should be coached regarding consistent enforcement of rules. Further, if a manager or supervisor is failing to consistently enforce an employer’s policies then they need to be held accountable as well.

It is also important for company leadership to walk the talk. Leadership sets the example for what behaviors are and are not acceptable in the workplace. If leadership participates in or fails to stop unhealthy workplace practices, then the employees will follow that example. Employers should make sure that leadership is aware of and recognize their responsibility in encouraging and deterring certain behaviors.

Another step an employer can take to fix a toxic work environment is to make work a safe place for employees. This means the workplace should be safe from bullying, mockery, harassment, and fear-based leadership. Managers and supervisors should be trained on how to spot bullying in the workplace and, as stated above, should be well versed in enforcing an employer’s discipline policy.

An employer should also focus on creating a workplace where employees feel safe to voice their ideas as well as concerns. One way this can be done is having an open-door policy. Open door policies encourage open communication, feedback, and discussion between managers and employees. Other avenues that an employer can use to get feedback from employees are anonymous polls, suggestion boxes, engagement surveys, regular one-on-one meetings, and team building events. When an employee feels heard they also feel respected and valued by the employer, which boosts morale and can restore unity back into the workplace.

Employers can also increase recognition and implement reward programs for their employees. Employees are more motivated to work harder and complete work if they know that the company they work for will acknowledge and reward those efforts. Further, if an employee sees the company rewarding another employee for their hard work and/or healthy workplace behavior, they may be motivated to work harder to get the recognition the other employee is receiving. Clear examples of recognition are bonuses, raises, or promotion. Other simpler way to recognize employees is things like VIP parking spaces, small gifts, and public acknowledgment.

Recognizing that you may have a toxic work environment on your hands can be a difficult realization. However, if an employer takes thoughtful and effective action, they can turn a toxic workplace into a healthy one faster than one might think.