How To Fix A Toxic Work Environment
We don’t choose our neighbors and we don’t choose our colleagues(usually), but we do need to try to get along with them and, in the case of colleagues, work with them. There are bosses who are awesome to work for and there are bosses who (“seem to”) make every day a burden. We click with some of our colleagues and with others, we can never see eye to eye. But, at the end of the day, there is a job to be done and we all need to work together to accomplish it.
Peter Drucker has said that:
60% of all management (work-related problems) are the result of poor communication problems.
So, if we can get the communication factor fixed up, maybe the workplace can begin to be more pleasant and stimulating to work in. Maybe, by communicating in a way that works for everyone (colleagues and, bosses), misunderstandings can be corrected and even avoided. Egos can be salvaged and attenuated.
Main Causes Of Workplace Dissatisfaction
In surveys conducted by J.C Staehle with employees of different organizations, the following were found to be the main causes of dissatisfaction with supervisors and the workplace:
Failure to give credit for suggestions
Failure to correct grievances
Failure to encourage
Criticizing employees in front of other people
Failure to ask employers their opinions
Failure to inform employees of their progress
Favoritism and cliques
Failure to Give Credit for Suggestions
Here is one area that is actually quite easy to resolve if the right perspective and attitude are present. If we go with the optic that all people desire to be accepted, approved and appreciated, then it goes without saying that where credit is due, credit should be given. Of course, in the workplace, it is not so cut and dry. There are many, and often complex, dynamics involved. There are egos, there are professional situations and much more at play. To give credit where it is due means we have to let go of our own desires and our pride and be generous about passing the limelight to someone else.
Failure to Correct Grievances
In a medium to large scale organization, this kind of situation is dealt with in the Human Ressources department. Grievances can involve workload, hours and compensation, among other things. In smaller businesses grievances can be more personal and handled as best as the parties involved know-how. But what causes grievances in the first place? Often these are caused by a lack of effective communication of objectives, expectations, and limits.
When expectations are not clear or when policies and rules keep changing, this lack of clarity can cause disgruntlement among employees and frictions between employer-employees or among employees. Without clear ongoing communication concerning such things as wages, hours, job definitions and expectations, it is highly likely that grievance swill come up.
Failure to Encourage
Encouragement is such an important element in any organization and, yet, it is often noticeably conspicuous by its absence. Once again, it really comes down to the fact that all people have a need to feel accepted, approved and appreciated. They want to feel that they are making a noticeable contribution to the organization and they want their efforts to be noticed. The failure to encourage stems from focusing more on performance, tasks and profits over-focusing on building up the team members and the team as a whole. As a result, people begin to feel that they are only valued for their performance and not for the person they are.
Criticizing Employees In Front of Other People
Who has ever been to a restaurant or a store and witnessed an employee being given a lecture on some aspect of his job – in front of customers? This situation happens a lot and is absolutely humiliating and degrading to the employee who is subjected to such treatment. Furthermore, customers witnessing such a scene are highly likely to take their business elsewhere and probably lodge a complaint. That is not good for business!
You can be sure that if this kind of situation is commonplace in your work environment, things are going to go downhill fast. Turnover will be rampant and the finances and productivity of the organization will feel the brunt. This situation of publicly shaming an employee is an ego problem that needs to be dealt with quickly. Clear communication of expectations and effective attitude training need to be a part of the solution.
Failure to Ask Employees Their Opinion
Once again, this is a very frequent situation in workplaces of all kinds. Leaving employees out of the decision making process or anything involving the organization leaves employees feeling that their input is not needed or appreciated. It is also a source of disgruntlement and powerlessness felt among employees since they are left on the receiving end of any decisions and changes.
And yet, when business organizations understand the true power of harnessing the brain (as well as the Braun) of their employees and involve them in important decisions that concern them, dynamics change for the better and these positive changes reflect all over the organization including increased productivity and profits. Everyone benefits when everyone feels involved and appreciated.
Failure To Inform Employees of Their Progress
We all want to know how we are doing with respect to our skills. It is important for us to know that we are doing a good job and that our work and our improvements are noticed. We need a scoreboard of sorts to help us measure where we have been and we are now. Most people are sincerely interested in improving and learning. So, when there is a working environment that fails to highlight progress, employees may question whether or not they are working to expectations and whether or not they are improving.
When employers give regular feedback to their employees in a constructive manner, it gives the employees an opportunity to adjust and correct any errors or weaknesses. The failure to inform employees of their progress is simply a failure to value the importance of good interpersonal communication and a failure to view employees as team members rather than just workers. Everyone needs feedback on how they are doing.
Favoritism and Cliques
We all hated favoritism and cliques in school and we certainly don’t have a liking for it in our professional life anymore. And yet, these behaviors are prevalent in the workplace as well. We naturally have affinities towards some people as opposed to others and we like to have our “friends” around us. But there is no professional reason for these negative aspects to take root and fester in the workplace environment. We really just need to grow up and leave these behaviors behind. No one gains from them.
Behaviors such as these need to be confronted and speedily addressed. There should be zero tolerance for this kind of toxic environment. The organization needs strong leadership that is willing to confront the people involved and communicate clear expectations for the working environment. By allowing these attitudes to fester, everyone loses. The workplace is a team sport and everyone has a role to play.
How Can We Improve Work Relations?
It all begins with and is all about how we relate with one another. Author and speaker, John Maxwell says that our success and happiness depend on our ability to serve others (even those that we have difficulty relating to). It really is that simple. When we have an attitude of service towards others, no matter who they are or how much they make our life difficult, relations will improve and the toxic environment will begin to dissipate.
Where to Begin?
It all begins with what we think inside our heads and with our attitude towards others. No matter what has happened in the past, each workday is a new day. Attitude is always a choice and we are in control of our attitude. In fact, our attitude is really the only thing we are in charge of. Good workplace relations begin with good workplace attitudes, so that is where we need to start if we want to be instrumental in fixing a toxic environment.
Even if others in our work environment are difficult or making our workday difficult, we do not have to follow along with that program. We can lead by example and show them what valuing others really looks like. We can choose to find something we like about those “difficult people” and take the lead in bringing positive changes.
Here are some questions we can ask ourselves to see how we are doing in being the best colleague or employee we can be. Let’s see how we do.
Are we quick to see and respond to other’s needs or do we tend to wait around for others to serve us?
Do we see what needs to be done and straight away take initiative to do it, or do we tend to wait for others to take initiative?
Do we try and find ways to fix problems and confront them or do we run from problems or wait for the problem to be fixed by someone else?
Do we assume responsibility for our mistakes, and do we take ownership of mistakes or problems even if we are not responsible? Or, do we hide behind excuses and expect others to “fess up”?
Do we give other people the benefit of the doubt and do we tend to look for the best in people? Do we give others the opportunity to give their side of the story?
Do we try to put ourselves in the other person’s place or do we try to put them in their place?
Top Things That All People Are Looking For
They want to be encouraged in what they do.
The want to be appreciated for who they are and what they contribute.
They want to be forgiven and to be able to move on from mistakes and failures and feel safe to be able to learn from mistakes.
They want to feel that they are being heard and understood.
It’s A Relationship
Work relations, like any relationship, really are a matter of effective communication and focusing on others and their needs. We may have people who are difficult to work with. They may come across as domineering, lazy, indifferent, bossy or any other combination. Maybe they talk too much and never listen to what we say. But, at the end of the day, getting along will be a win-win for everyone.
We can choose to be that person who is attractive to others in the way we treat people. We can choose to try to “walk a mile in the other person’s shoes”. Who knows, we may discover that they have a lot to offer and are not as ornery or difficult as we thought. We can choose to listen and hear what they are saying to us. We can choose to give them a little grace and space. We can be that person that makes everyone want to work as a team. Change begins with us and not with what we think others need to change.
Workplace problems are, more often than not, communication problems. More people are fired or quit their jobs due to communication issues than they do because of competency issues. People are hired for their competence and often fired for relational problems. So, really, the key to improving the workplace environment is to create an environment where communication is encouraged and where people feel valued and actively value one another.
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Diana Lynne’s passions are family, travel, self-improvement, pursuing a debt-free/financially free life. She also loves hanging out with family, friends and being with her dog Skye. Diana is a Quebec City girl. who loves living life. You can connect with her through Livingandstuff.ca