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Warning – Toxic Workplace

I am a book junkie. If you visit my home, there are certain rooms, like my home office, that are literally overflowing with books. Even my work office has at least 100 books in it. So it will not surprise you that on this Sunday afternoon, I am scanning the books available on Amazon.com.

I put the words “toxic workplace” in the search engine looking for one particular book. And to my surprise, a long list of books popped up, starting with these three:

  • Toxic Workplace! Managing Toxic Personalities and Their Systems of Power, by Mitchell Kusy and Elizabeth Holloway
  • Rising Above a Toxic Workplace: Taking Care of Yourself in an Unhealthy Environment, by Gary D. Chapman and Paul E. White
  • Surviving the Toxic Workplace: Protect Yourself Against Coworkers, Bosses, and Work Environments That Poison Your Day, by Linnda Durre

Where there is smoke, there is fire. If the search “toxic workplaces” generates 1,569 possible books to choose from, we must have a problem in the workplace.

“So much of what we call management consists in making it difficult for people to work.”

—Peter Drucker

Who is responsible for the workplace environment? The leader.

Here are four questions to contemplate to see if you are creating the conditions for people to give you their best work:

WELCOME: Do you set up the team for success from the very first day?

The first day on the job sets the stage for success. Do you personally spend time sharing your enthusiasm for their arrival and getting to know them better? Do you set up an opportunity to build relationships with the team outside the pressures of the day-job? Do you designate a person to onboard new team members and ensure a smooth transition?

INSPIRE: Have you inspired your team with clearly defined goals and an exciting role for them to play?

The word inspire is defined as: to make someone want to do something; to give someone an idea about what to do. The leader must do both. Have you explained to your team why the work they are doing is important and purposeful? Have you given them clear expectations for what you need them to do? Have you defined what success will look like? Have you told them you are confident in their capability?

GROW: Are you investing in the growth and development of each team member?

In my experience, one of the primary reasons talented people disengage from work is that they are no longer challenged and growing. Do you have regular conversations with your team members to understand what they want to learn, and how they want to grow? Do you collaborate with them to find opportunities and roles that expand their experiences and capabilities? Do you express personal interest in their development by checking in regularly on their progress?

CELEBRATE: Are you celebrating, rewarding and thanking the people who deliver results?

The lowest cost option for creating a great work environment? Two simple words: thank you. A 2014 engagement survey found that only 21% of employees feel valued at work [1]. When asked why, they cited lack of appreciation and recognition. Who did you thank today for their contributions? What thank you note did you write this week to a worker in a remote location? What fun award do you give at the team meeting to express your appreciation to team members?

Let’s end the need for books on toxic workplaces. And serve the people well.

Learn more about helping your team find meaning at work with our companion video discussion guide.

[1] TINYpulse 2014 Employee Engagement & Organizational Culture Report, www.tinyhr.com.


2 Responses

  1. Such a simple thing in concept to do but a difficult thing in practice to execute against! However, an organization that leads with gratitude is a much higher performing organization. Great reminder.

  2. Nice article. Thanks for the concise words. It’s true that it’s the leader’s responsibility first. I wish more leaders would read this.
    I like the way you summarized it in four points:
    – Welcome
    – Inspire
    – Grow
    – Celebrate

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