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A toxic workplace is a dangerous workplace, and it doesn’t take long for things to turn sour.
Toxic fumes, once they’ve begun being emitted, can seep through your workforce and infect those who might have otherwise been happy and engaged. Before you know it, employees can be driven away.
But a toxic workplace isn’t as easy to spot as a tyrannical boss or employees who appear disgruntled and unhappy – often, the bad vibes in an office can be more subtle in affecting the mental health of your workforce.
1. Your people aren’t willing to go the extra mile
No matter how big or small a team or an organisation, there are always times when people need to ‘dig in’ outside their job descriptions to get something done. If your people complain about this, or flat out refuse to get involved, it’s a serious red flag.
While you don’t want to make employees resent the company by feeling forced to step up outside their comfort zone too often (especially without thanks or compensation) you want to have a workforce who genuinely care about the goals of the organisation.
It’s up to you as a leader to make sure staff see themselves as part of the bigger picture, and an important part of the mechanism which keeps the cogs turning. Rewarding staff for their efforts when they do step up is necessary to eventually build a culture where people want to help, and don’t feel like it’s “not my job” to do something.
2. Your staff don’t socialise with each other
Colleagues don’t need to become best friends with each other, but it is important to fill your headcount with compatible personalities to ensure some socialising takes place. No socialisation = a robotic, disengaged workplace.
People are social creatures! Make sure you create an environment where they can chat with each other (although not to the point of distraction) and organise get-togethers outside of the weekly staff meeting. It can be as small as going for lunch together, or as big as getting one team member per month to organise and lead a team activity.
3. Employees count down to the end of the day
It’s definitely not advisable to be a workplace which encourages staff to burn the midnight oil every night, but if staff leave at 6pm on the dot every single day,without any flexibility, then you might have a problem.
While working only during official office hours is generally recommended for a healthy work-life balance, if you have a team which watches the clock count down until the end of the day – and then don’t stay a second longer – it gives the impression your people are simply at work for functional reasons, and not much else. You need to ask yourself why they are so keen to run out the door at 6pm. It’s a big question, but an important one.
You can counteract this by encouraging healthy working hours (i.e. don’t create a culture where staying until 10pm is normal) but then lead by example by staying back every now and then to ensure things get done and tasks get completed.
4. Cliques form and gossip spreads
Cliques are generally bad news for employees who feel left out of them, but they should also be a concern for leaders. The clique mentality is somewhat of a ‘group think’, where each member of the group falls in line with the status quo, believing the same things to be true. If these beliefs are negative in nature about the company or your leadership, then you have a problem.
As a leader, you should spend more time investing in your work relationships to try and find out what the general consensus is. Why are your staff grouping together to bitch about work? What has upset them? Alleviate the tension with increased communication and attempt to get to the bottom of the toxic feelings.