How to Steer Clear of Toxic Environments

Posted on February 2, 2015 by Katherine Razzi

toxicToxicity can happen anywhere at any given workplace no matter how small or large, or what industry. Where there is human interaction, there is potential for disappointment that can add up to unhappy employees. Unhappy employees tend to want to spread their misery to others, even if unknowingly doing so. The disengagement of such employees is off the charts. What becomes toxic is the spread of that unhappiness and others’ reaction to it.

Now and again, everyone has a gripe about something. That gamut runs anywhere from unfair wages to the way some coworkers wear their hair. When it comes to the heart and soul of why we are employed, the essence of our work and wages, those issues need to be taken up with the boss. If that boss is a supervisor, and you aren’t satisfied with his or her answers, you may need to escalate it over his or her head to whoever is the next link in the chain of command. Hopefully, you will get the satisfaction you need in order to be happy and get back to work.

If you don’t like Suzy’s gum popping all day long, and you find yourself venting to a coworker, “OMG, I can’t listen to that gum popping all day! She is driving me nuts!” That anger can fester and before you continue your silent war on Suzy, by complaining to your coworker all day long, maybe it’s time to voice your concern to her/your boss. Most bosses will understand that these little noises in the office can be disturbing and will probably be wise enough to send out a mass memo to everyone in the department for everyone to stop popping gum so that others can work undisturbed. If you don’t say anything, you could end up getting so upset one day, that you lose it and let poor, unsuspecting Suzy in for a whale of a tongue lashing. Now the atmosphere is really poisoned if you do that. Suzy will be talked about, you will be talked about, and who knows what else will be talked about – a whole Pandora’s box could explode. And to think it all started with a piece of gum. Again, humans at the helm making poor human choices.

Toxic environments can get so bad that you may think the only way for it to go away, is to get rid of some of the staff or hope that some the toxic spreaders will leave the organization. It’s certainly not a practical solution if your staff is very talented and there are more than one or two people causing it. What can one do to stop a toxic environment?

We at TNS talk about measuring and inspiring higher performance in companies. If your company has a toxic environment, it’s surely not going to be high-performing. Therefore, it’s high time as a leader or HR representative, to conduct an employee engagement survey, but more than that, it’s time to act on one. Once those written comments come in, really listen and act on what employees have to say. And furthermore, if you cannot act on some of the employee suggestions, criticisms or comments, call a town hall meeting and discuss why you can’t. You shouldn’t have employees take a survey and then not act on the results. Let’s put it this way, if you don’t do something about unhappy employees, you may just be contributing to the toxic environment as well.

About Katherine Razzi

Katherine Razzi hails from the Midwest and holds a B.A. in Applied Behavioral Science from National-Louis University, Evanston Campus. Coursework in cultural diversity, management, organizational dynamics, morals and ethics, group interaction, and psychology.

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