toxic1

“Toxic people defy logic. Some are blissfully unaware of the negative impact that they have on those around them, and others seem to derive satisfaction from creating chaos and pushing other people’s buttons.”

—Travis Bradberry

A toxic work environment is like mold. It often grows hidden, slowly poisoning everyone in the organization. It can spread through your organization, your team, or your department one person at a time or it can sweep through entire segments like a toxic cloud. You can recognize a toxic work environment by a lack of trust, poor communication, negative attitudes, lack of participation in company activities, and a disengaged approach to work. So, where is it coming from?

People

One of the first places to look is to the people in the organization. This includes employees and management alike. As a leader, the tendency is to look for the employees who act like a cancer in the organization, spreading a negative attitude. But, sometimes the culprit is staring at you from across the table in an executive meeting or, quite possibly, looking back at you in the mirror every morning. Is there a toxic attitude or form of power hiding in your organization?

Structure

The management structure of your organization is another hiding place for toxicity. Structures that place too much power in the hands of few individuals lend themselves to micromanagement. Micromanagement is one of the most poisonous behaviors in an organization. Structures that support micromanagement, whether intentional or unintentional, breed a hostile work environment where no one wins.

Communication

Shhh, stop and listen. What do you hear? Is there silence, a clear sign that no one is sharing any information? Is there negative murmur, putting disengagement and poor attitudes on display for everyone else to witness? Communication is one of the first things to breakdown as your environment turns toxic. Poor communication turns into cycle of negativity that feeds on itself as your environment spins in a downward spiral.

Culture

What is the first feeling employees experience when they walk in the door each morning? Is it fear? Dread? Boredom? Your culture permeates the energy that employees encounter from the moment they walk through the door until, often, long after they leave for the day. If positive energy is not purposefully created by management, there is a good chance that your culture will turn toxic, poisoning everyone who comes into contact with it including your customers.

How Do You Stop It?

Undetected, a toxic work environment is deadly. So, how do you stop it? First you have to take your blinders off; no more walking around in denial of the danger. You need to become an encourager of people. Lifting them higher and investing in them so they can become the best they can be. Take a good look at your management structure. Is power placed so heavily that it results in toxic micromanagement? Make sure you are communicating openly and honestly. When employees see you, as a leader, demonstrating positive communication, they will learn to trust you and follow suit. What type of energy fills your halls, offices, conference rooms, and work areas? If you are not deliberately creating the positive energy that results to a great culture, you are part of the problem.

The bottom line is this: it all start or stops with leadership. Open your eyes; is your work environment toxic?


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LIZ is passionate about recognizing, inspiring, and igniting the leader in each of us. She focuses on helping organizations change attitudes, change communication dynamics, improve collaboration and problem-solving, engage employees, and strengthen organizational culture. Liz holds a Doctor of Management degree with an emphasis on organizational leadership. Liz offers 20+ years of pro-active operations management, problem-solving, team-building, human resources, accounting, and business administration experience in a variety of industries. She serves on the Editorial Review Board for the Independent Journal of Management and Production and the Journal of Managerial Psychology. She has also been a guest lecturer at the Bill and Vieve Gore School of Business, Westminster College.
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Chris Pehura
Chris Pehura

I never acknowledged toxic environments until I saw a department director suffer a myocardial infarction. He was the second to experience on in the last five months. Toxicity has it’s source, usually driven by one or two people that are so strongly entrenched they can’t be fired. They only can be moved somewhere else in the company.