[The article below, a follow-up to “Secrets of a Toxic Workplace [Part 1]: Why Employees May Not Be Performing at their Best ” offers solutions for remedying or mitigating the impacts of toxic work environments. The above word cloud contains responses to my online community survey that asked the question:”What comes to mind when you think of toxic workplaces?”]
Secrets of a Toxic Workplace: How To Turn the Ship Around!
When you’re stuck in a toxic workplace, it can feel like nothing will change. Ever. But did you know that, in many cases, acknowledging that a problem exists is the first and most important step towards curing a toxic work environment?  Yes this may not be a big shocker but it is true none the less.
Another important question to ponder is, “Why do so many organizations fail to remedy their toxic work environments? Well the answer may simply be that – they just can’t believe things are going wrong under their watch.
Repairing a Toxic Work Environment: What Leadership Can Do
To effect positive changes in toxic work environments, we first need compassionate, forward-thinking leaders who are willing to:
- expose and call out organizational shortcomings;
- ask the difficult questions;
- truly listen to their employees;
- be open to feedback on what’s working and address what’s not.
And, leaders who are genuinely concerned about employee well-being.
Mission critical leadership qualities and actions required to begin the healing process and chart a new course for the organization!
A caring leader can go a long way towards making a work environment – even a toxic one – a better place in which to work.
Consider this – in our growing age of digital engagement, we get fewer and fewer opportunities to connect with other human beings. We miss human contact. Getting to know your employees as real people, not as commodities, can help the entire team feel connected, motivated, engaged and, generally happier.
So how can leadership prove that they truly want to listen?
The conversation needs to shift from targets, problems, and misconduct to discussions of “corporate culture, trust, teamwork and collaboration.” And to effect that shift, the entire team (or organization) needs to be engaged in high-quality communication.
Communication is the key to expressing oneself and understanding others.
Without good communication, it’s almost impossible to tackle large, complicated issues like hostility in the workplace.
We know all too well what communication in a toxic environment looks like. I’ve heard clients who describe it as “an evil version of the game, Telephone,” an image that has stuck with me for quite some time. In contrast, an organization with healthy communication is all about clarity and transparency.
According to Patrick Lencioni in “The Advantage,” his book on the benefits of organizational health, a healthy organization will have leaders who have determined the six most important questions concerning their organization. All leaders must then commit to answering those questions in a habitual, consistent manner. Once those answers have been determined, leaders must communicate the answers to the rest of the team – again and again, “clearly, repeatedly and enthusiastically.” And once the team understands and accepts the basic tenets of the operations, leaders can then go on to establish sound, logical systems to make sure that all subsequent interactions with their employees are clear and transparent. Once proper communication is in place, leaders can start getting to the good stuff such as…
2) Fun and Socialization
Work doesn’t have to be a constant party, but a small dose of fun can have a dramatic impact on the tone and climate of organizational culture. Keep in mind that not everyone will have the same definition of fun, so it’s important to encourage socialization and human connections in a variety of ways.
So whether, like AirBnB, you establish office theme days, or simply bring in breakfast for your team once a month, you can’t really go wrong in this arena: socialization and a sense of belonging within a group are some of the most fundamental needs human beings exhibit.
Just like communication, socialization is a highly effective defense against a toxic work culture. In many cases both of these necessities can be provided for simultaneously – for example, communicate department or organization-wide announcements at the start of a fun activity, I bet you’ll notice greater acceptance and adoption of new policies or ideas.
[Image compliments of Kelly Goodwin, one of our Certified Workplace Wellness Ambassadors and her employer NumberTen Architectural Group.]
3) Hiring for Culture Fit
Of course, socialization won’t be as effective if your team members can’t understand or connect with one another. When interviewing job candidates, consider: will these potential new hires help build a dream team, or a shark tank?
Before adding any new members to your team, it’s vital to have a good sense of what your organizational culture, employee personalities and interests are all about – are you tech nerds? Dedicated sports fans? Do you want to establish a monthly book club or out-of-office running group?
Whatever your office “thing” may be, it’s crucial for leadership to define and embrace it.
Understand that not every candidate’s “personal culture” will match that of the organization. And, since culture clash can be a source of toxicity in the workplace, and a center for attrition, evaluate each candidate for organizational and team fit before making any hiring decisions.
If senior management spends their time locked in their offices, there’s a good chance they’re unknowingly planting seeds of toxicity in their organization. Not only is it crucial for leaders to spend time with those they’re leading from a decision-making standpoint, it’s also important on a personal level.
Employee recognition is one of the most effective ways to combat a toxic workplace, though it’s sorely missing in many organizations.
As Josh Bersin, an admired human resources analyst, mentioned in a recent Forbes article, “…our research definitely shows that 83% of the organizations we studied suffer from a deficit in ‘recognition.’ And these companies are under-performing their peers.” 
Consistent, meaningful recognition initiatives and practices can mitigate or eliminate multiple toxic elements from an organization’s culture by helping to ensure that everyone’s contributions are given the appreciation they deserve.
Recognition initiatives as simple as a “Wellness Wall of Fame,” an “Employee of the Month” or a “High Five Award,” can go a long way towards keeping employees motivated and excited about coming to work. And they do not require significant time or financial investments (other than the expense of printing a certificate such as our High Five Award below that recognizes our WWCOE program graduates for extraordinary initiative and achievement in corporate wellness leadership. )
Coping With A Toxic Office—What Employees Can Do
While employees can’t make some of the sweeping changes available to leadership, there are definitely measures they can take to improve difficult working conditions.
First and foremost, it’s crucial not to become as negative as the office in which you are working. 
If that seems like an impossible goal, don’t worry. Let’s explore the step-by-step process you can take to limit your own negativity so you can survive (and thrive!) in rough working conditions.
1) Acknowledge your options
When your office environment is toxic, you still have choices: you can leave the company and search for a new position. Or, you can take a step back from your emotions and try to figure out exactly what bothers you most. Once you’ve identified your most pressing concerns, you can start to change your reactions in order to mitigate the emotional toll your job is taking on your well-being.
2) Don’t Take Work (or Work Negativity) Home With You
If you’ve already identified your work environment as toxic, why would you welcome that energy into your home? It’s like opening the door and inviting a cloud of darkness into your happy space. Don’t do it! Let that negative energy stay at work, where it belongs. Set a rule for yourself that you don’t talk about work in your home. Refrain from checking your email after you get home for the night (unless absolutely necessary or a requirement of your job). If your mind starts to wander back to work after hours, distract yourself with something else. Protect your happy space!
3) Have Someone You Can Vent To (Outside of Your Office!)
Having a support system is so key, especially if you want to follow the previous tip. This way you can vent and release pent-up frustration without bringing it home. Ask a friend or a wellness buddy who you trust if they would be willing to let you vent to them every so often. You can even let them know you don’t need a response, but just a safe space to release your pent-up frustration.
4) Look For the Positives, ANY Positives
Are you at a point where you have lost all motivation and are basically checked out? Well this is the perfect time to try and figure out any positives to your situation. Focus on those! Perhaps there are professional development or mentorship opportunities you can pursue to help train you for a future position (i.e. become a Wellness Champion or Wellness Leader for your organization). Take advantage of what’s available and think about how this job is just a stepping stone to something better down the road.
5) Create An Exit Strategy
Regardless of whether you plan to stay at your job for two more years or two more months, if your workplace toxicity continues or gets worse, you might want to think about a “self-preserving” exit strategy. (This is important because it will signal your brain that whatever you are experiencing now does not have to be a forever thing.) Remind yourself of what you are working towards (i.e. your career goals) and what you are creating instead of what is happening right now.
Final thoughts! Whether you are management or staff, you don’t have to accept a toxic work environment. As a unified force, you can work together to mitigate workplace toxicity and co-create an organization you can all be proud of. Yes, collectively you have the power to can turn your ship around and chart a new course!
Become a “wellness change agent” and help cultivate a healthy, positive work culture for your organization!
About the Author:
Lisa Kelly, President, Workplace Wellness Centre of Excellence (a division of KWC Inc.), has been cultivating healthy changes within workplaces and with personal clients for over 20 years. Through her “Workplace Wellness Leadership Certification Series” and Executive Wellness Leadership Programs, Lisa’s mission is to create an innovative and collaborative landscape for global workplace wellness that fosters employee-driven, results-oriented wellness solutions that benefit employers, employees, and communities at large.
 George Dickson: “21 Expert Antidotes for a Toxic Work Environment.”
 Forbes.com: Liz Ryan, “Ten Signs Your Workplace is Toxic: Whether You Know it or Not.”
 Patrick Lencioni: “The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business.”
 Forbes.com: Josh Berson, “New Research Unlocks the Secret of Employee Recognition.”
 Huffington Post: Kassy Scarcia, “11 Tips for Staying Sane in a Toxic Work Environment.”