Despite many people now working from home around the world, toxic work environments still exist proving that poor workplace culture is more than just a negative physical environment. Now, with more of a focus on mental health than ever before, employers have a responsibility to safeguard their workers against toxic work environments that can lead to anxiety and depression, and to ensure they are not fostering a negative workplace culture that could mean they are not compliant with Workplace Health and Safety laws.
Strong leadership plays a key role in fixing a toxic work environment. Here’s how.
Take ownership of the situation
If a workplace has become a toxic environment, the best thing a leader can do is take ownership and commit to change. Instantly, those who are feeling isolated or victimised will feel heard and become invested in the proposed changes being made around the workplace.
Leaders do not need to take personal responsibility for the toxic workplace culture, but by pledging to stamp out the poor behaviour contributing to the negative environment a leader will be seen to be taking appropriate steps in the right direction to improve the workplace and no longer allowing the bad behaviour to perpetuate.
Walk the talk
Once the poor behaviour has been identified the leaders in the workplace need to send a clear message that it will not be tolerated. Communicate clearly with employees that a certain standard of behaviour is expected and what the consequences are for not adhering to those standards.
Leaders should be seen to call out any actions, language or behaviours that contribute to a toxic work environment and encourage others to do the same because it is one thing to talk about how you will take action, but to really effect the change you must follow through and hold people accountable when they act badly.
Victims of workplace bullying and harassment will feel more comfortable coming forward about their experiences if they can be certain they will be taken seriously and if they know that their complaints will be taken seriously and dealt with in a fair and consistent manner. . If an organisation simply talks about how great their organisational culture is, but cannot follow through on its promises, then it will lose the trust of its employees.
Take the time to implement a bullying and harassment policy or update an existing one, making sure it includes a grievance policy that promises confidentiality, empathy and most importantly, the structure so that all parties know where they stand during the course of an investigation.
Before finalising the policy, leaders should seek input from team members from across the business:
- for diversity of thought;
- to make sure that those who are not in leadership positions are heard;
- to ensure the entire workforce feels respected and that their opinions are valued; and
- so that all staff understand the policy applies to everyone, not just those in leadership positions.
Embed the proper principles
Promoting proper principles and practices will help to set a new tone for the working environment. As new starters are onboarded, reinforce acceptable behaviours and induct them into the organisation's policy and processes. This will instil in the workforce the appropriate behaviours required and the weight they hold in developing and maintaining a positive working environment.
Lead by example
Leaders should always set the standard by role modelling the behaviours they expect from their employees. Culture begins at the top and works its way down, and if the leaders in the workplace allow poor behaviour to continue, or engage in it themselves, they cannot expect changes to occur. In fact, they are more likely to see the culture deteriorate further and the turnover in staff increase.
If your workplace culture has taken a negative turn it can be fixed. A positive working environment is just a few steps away, guided by the example set by the organisation’s leadership team.