Symptoms of toxicity at workplaces

Opinion & Analysis
A toxic work environment is one where employees find it difficult to work or progress in their careers due to the negative atmosphere created by co-workers, supervisors or the company culture. A toxic workplace can be defined as any job where the work, the atmosphere, the people, or any combination of those things cause serious disruptions to one's life.

Emmanuel Zvada A TOXIC work environment can cause problems and  overturn the culture of any organisation, interfering with employee performance, destroying relationships and demotivating top performers. Toxicity also has a dire impact on the business. Many employees agree that the decrease in the quality of their work lies in a toxic work environment as they would have taken their frustration out on customers. Resignations are not only about poor salaries, sometimes they are caused by toxic workplace environments.This article will unpack some symptoms of toxicity at workplaces.

What does “toxic work environment” mean?

A toxic work environment is one where employees find it difficult to work or progress in their careers due to the negative atmosphere created by co-workers, supervisors or the company culture. A toxic workplace can be defined as any job where the work, the atmosphere, the people, or any combination of those things cause serious disruptions to one’s life. Toxicity at the workplace can also create negative results, illness, high turnover and even abusive behaviour among employees. A toxic workplace defines a situation where organisational problems affect employee motivation, hence impacting performance and productivity. Here are common toxic work environment characteristics and how they demotivate employees.

Unclear goals and lack of transparency

Goals make a company move forward. When everyone knows the company’s aims, as well as the small, individual goals, employees will know how they contribute to the big picture of the company which makes them more productive and happy. Every workplace benefits from transparency and in that way, employees feel that their contribution actually makes a difference. A toxic workplace doesn’t have clear goals or they were forgotten a long time ago in pursuit of financial gain. The danger of this is that it leads employees to feel lost in their career path or stagnant and underutilised.

Bad bosses can create toxicity

Managers need to be self-aware to avoid contributing to a toxic work environment. It’s known everywhere that employees work hard when their bosses are great leaders with clear visions and enviable work ethics. When managers are insincere and seem not to really know what they are doing, hitting the ground will always be the best option. That is also the same reason employees don’t leave organisations but bad bosses. It’s a fact that companies cannot be successful if they are managed by unskilled people.

Communication is one-way in a toxic environment

A key sign of a toxic work culture is that communication normally flows one way; as directives from the higher ups to the employees. Employees are afraid to ask questions either because they will be singled out for not understanding quickly enough or that nothing will be done. In a toxic environment, communication is never two-way. It is used as a tool to assert dominance. A healthy environment supports open, assertive communication. Proper communication is based on an understanding of previously mentioned roles, goals, attitudes and beliefs. Knowing the roles and hierarchy of each person helps  to achieve better results.

Decision-making is top-down

In a healthy work environment, decisions are made collectively, with input from all concerned parties. In order for an organisation to run smoothly, decisions must constantly be made and how those decisions are made is an important factor in the successful implementation of a decision. The leader of an organisation must decide whether to take full control of the decision-making process or to allow input from employees. In a toxic work environment, there is no consensus on how to solve problems. When a decision comes from a higher-up, without the input or consultation with employees (who could understand the situation better) it hinders innovation as employees fear expressing themselves. This leads to bottled up frustrations that can cause loss of focus and a  drop in productivity in organisations.

Micromanaging breeds toxicity

Engaging employees at all stages of running the company is very crucial as it eliminates the feeling of being left out or that of being irrelevant. Employees who are hired to perform various duties at workplaces should feel their relevance all the time. Most managers have a problem of micro-managing their employees, they think that constantly checking on employees’ work and dictating how everything should be done help companies to move forward. Micromanaging people decreases productivity and work quality. Employees feel paralysed to make decisions independently even if such decisions are good. At its worst, micromanagement can turn high-performing employees into disengaged workers. This lowers productivity and creates a negative environment where workers just get by.

Trust is limited

A lack of trust at the workplace is a virus that can create a poisoned workplace culture. Trust is one of the core foundations of a successful organisation. But in a toxic working environment, trust is perceived as something that needs to be earned rather than accorded. Lack of trust in an employer can be evident through the absence of open discussion in meetings. In this regard the staff may not feel that their contributions are valued and as a result, stay silent on key issues that can affect organisations sometimes. The workplace cannot and will not survive without trust — it’s reciprocal and key for employee loyalty and minimising employee turnover.

Favouritism and office politics

Nobody wants to be in a company where the boss plays favourites. It’s good if you are the favourite employee, but not good for everybody else. Maybe the reason your employees refuse to follow your instructions is that they know you will not appreciate them in the end. True, we cannot avoid having star employees because of their effort, skill and wit. The fact of the matter is they are not the only employees in your organisation. As a leader, you have to give everyone the same treatment. A strict rule imposed upon one employee must, therefore, be enforced on another who commits the same offence.

Mismatched job responsibilities

Having mismatch of functions is a ticking time bomb, even with star players on your team, they will be demotivated and obviously productivity will be affected. When a manager is given roles and responsibilities of an officer or clerical work then it is a clear indication of function mismatch and that is a good recipe for killing employee motivation and morale. It is natural for someone to dislike a job if it requires him to do something he has not been trained to do. When there is a mismatch of functions, not only will the company get low quality output, but also results in a very disgruntled employee.

When a workplace becomes toxic, the poison spreads beyond its walls into the lives of its workers and their families hence the symptoms of toxic cultures should be dealt with promptly. It is, therefore, vital for an organisation to fight it, but you can’t fight what you can’t see. The above symptoms will help you diagnose and manage symptoms of workplace toxicity.

  • Emmanuel Zvada is a human capital consultant and international recruitment expert.

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