6 Ways to Avoid a Toxic Work Environment

Company culture and workplace environment have an enormous impact on employee satisfaction rates. Employees who feel comfortable and supported at work are much more likely to maintain high productivity and feel satisfied with their work. Toxic work environments can lead to negative consequences for both your employees and your bottom line. Learn what a toxic work environment is, discover the side effects of a toxic workplace, recognize the signs of a toxic environment and a toxic employee and review ways to avoid a toxic work environment. 


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What is a toxic work environment?

A toxic work environment is a workplace that has an overwhelmingly negative culture and unsatisfied, unhappy employees. Toxic work environments and the employees in them often demonstrate negative characteristics like:

  • Bullying
  • Distrust
  • Othering
  • Creating in-groups
  • Pessimism

Some toxic work environments exist for multiple reasons while others are due to the behavior of a few employees. 

Related: Employee Complaints: Properly Listening to Team Members


What are the side effects of a toxic work environment?

Toxic work environments can have real and significant effects on your workplace and employees. A few of the most common results of a toxic workplace include: 

  • Low productivity: Employees in a toxic workplace rarely seek to support their colleagues or assist with additional projects. Instead, employees often finish their work as quickly as possible to limit interactions with others. 
  • High turnover: Many toxic environments see unusually high turnover as employees lose satisfaction with their position and look for work elsewhere.
  • Increased illness and absenteeism: Employees can suffer real mental and physical health effects that cause them to take more sick days and miss more days of work than healthy employees would. 
  • Poor reputation: Your company could develop a reputation for having a toxic work environment, making it a challenge to hire highly qualified employees. 
  • Decreased mental health: Your employees could suffer from increased depression and anxiety, which may affect their productivity and work products. 
  • Poor production quality: Unhappy, ill employees are less likely to submit high quality work products, decreasing the overall quality of your company’s goods or services. 


Signs of a toxic work environment

Look for these signs to see if your company’s environment has grown toxic:

  • Your company goals are unclear and obscure.
  • Employees disregard the company values. 
  • Employees are unsure what their roles include and what tasks they should perform. 
  • Internal company communication is rarely clear or inclusive.
  • A small group of people make decisions for everyone in the company with little or no employee input.
  • Employees feel the company does not consider personal feelings important. 
  • Company leadership is not transparent with the employees about decision making or company direction. 
  • Individuals avoid solving conflicts which grow into large challenges. 
  • Employees feel the company considers them a commodity rather than important members of the organization. 
  • Employees feel they only have one option for completing their work and have little autonomy.


Signs of a toxic employee

Sometimes, a small group of toxic employees or a single toxic employee can cause major negative repercussions throughout the organization. Look for these signs of a toxic employee:

  • Negative attitude
  • Does not or will not take responsibility for their actions
  • Gossips about their colleagues or supervisors
  • Actively tries to or succeeds in undermining their coworkers or their team
  • Not productive while at work
  • Uses company messaging or phone systems regularly for personal communication
  • Shares too much company information on private social media channels
  • Harasses or bullies their colleagues 


Ways to avoid a toxic work environment

As a company leader, you have enormous power to create and sustain a positive, healthy work environment. Use these tactics to avoid a toxic work environment: 


Provide praise and acknowledgement 

Praise and acknowledge excellent work. If your company is highly competitive, consider highlighting a different employee’s achievements each week to ensure everyone on the team or in the company feels recognized and appreciated for the work they do. If you want to foster healthy competition, you might introduce an incentive program and provide a reward to the top performer each week or month. 


Implement mentoring

Establish a mentoring program to help new or under-performing employees improve their skills. Provide a perk for those established employees serving as mentors to entice them to take on a mentee. Not only will your employees all improve their work performance, but they’ll also foster new relationships and improve communication. 


Treat everyone fairly and professionally

Ensure that you treat all your employees as professionals. As a company leader, it’s best to avoid establishing personal relationships with any employees who report to you. Instead, treat all your employees the same to demonstrate equity and professionalism.


Model appropriate behavior

Show your employees how you expect them to behave at work and with one another by modeling appropriate behavior yourself. Ask your leadership team to do the same. Their teams and employees should model their own workplace behavior based on what they see their supervisors doing. 


Request feedback

Ask for feedback from your employees at regular intervals. Field ideas and suggestions for how to improve company processes and procedures besides seeking guidance on how to improve the company culture and work-life balance. 


Address concerns

If employees bring concerns to your attention, take them seriously. Do what you can to rectify the situation and ensure the employee feels heard and supported. If your employees feel you care about them and are willing to help them with problems, they’re more likely to work productively and stay with the company. 

A toxic work environment can cause problems for your employees’ wellbeing and your company’s health. Regularly assess your business’s culture to ensure your employees feel safe and respected at work. Take steps to rectify any elements of toxicity in your organization to increase productivity and improve employee wellbeing. 

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