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How to avoid a toxic workplace

Friday January 06, 2017


Posted on: Friday January 06, 2017

Re-engaging members of your team after a period of absence

According to the CIPD, Employee satisfaction is at a two year low. There are many theories on what the reasons for this could be but one thing is for sure, when staff are unhappy, they aren’t as productive and that is a huge problem for everyone.

When staff return back to work from time off, it is so important to re-engage them quickly and then keep them engaged throughout the year. If you don’t make the effort, there is every chance that a toxic work environment could develop. To avoid a toxic workplace and keep staff happy, you need to create a positive environment, and that needs as many people in the business as possible to work to embrace the positivity and reduce any toxic influences.

But before you rollout a new engagement programme take a step back. There is little you can do for your staff unless you know the reasons for any unrest, unhappiness or discontent, and the easiest way to understand what is going on is to take stock of 2016. What worked well, what didn’t and what are your employees trying to tell you? Could it be that something happened last year that has caused your staff to worry about job security? Had there been rumours of major business changes? Taking the time to go over the previous year not only helps you get an idea of the catalyst behind the way staff are feeling but it also helps you plan for the future. It also must be remembered that annual surveys might not be the best way to get inside the heads of your employees. In-the-moment surveys are a fantastic way to understand how people are feeling in the here and now. These can be done in the workplace with survey buttons or via push notifications to their mobile phone. Showing you care about how staff are feeling will more than likely make them feel valued which is a great way to start eliminating any negativity in the office and can open up a conversation with discontented team members.

Employee recognition, or lack of it, is a common theme that runs through the toxic workplace. When people feel like they make a difference, they do, but on the flip side, when people don’t feel like their contribution matters, they stop trying to contribute! Recognising problems in the workplace is important, but recognising the great work of staff is a great way of increasing engagement and another way of making HR more visible across the business. In the moment recognition programmes are a great way of thanking staff for the little things as and when they happen. Quarterly or even annual rewards are still very positive initiatives, but appreciating the little things gives a chance for those who regularly go above and beyond, to be recognised. It may be that there are admin staff that have mountains of paperwork to process daily, their contribution to the quarterly performance may not be obvious but they can have a massive influence on the day to day productivity of the office. A culture of appreciation and encouragement is a great way to instil a positive culture that celebrates staff and encourages them to grow with the business.

It has been found that staff are up to 50% more productive when their leaders are grateful, so it is clear that a simple ‘Thank You’ can make a huge difference.

As well as the occasional thank you and small tokens of gratitude, reaffirming what your company provides for employees is a great way of demonstrating that it is a great place to work. There can often be cases of Grass is Greener syndrome amongst staff, so taking the time to communicate which benefits are already available is a simple way to remind staff of what they actually benefit from being part of your organisation. Hosting benefits in one easy to find place, alongside a well thought out and personalised communication strategy is one way to ensure that staff can’t miss the good things about their existing employer, and can make switching to another employer much less appealing.

Despite the best efforts of any HR department, eliminating a toxic environment is impossible unless you get buy in the wider organisation. At this point, having covered what you can do for your staff, it is important to also understand what your staff need to do for each other. and there is one easy way to do this: get your staff involved. For example, create a team of Benefits Champions that act as the voice of your workforce, helping to shape which Employee Benefits you offer rather than HR just providing staff with what you think they want. An open dialogue between staff and HR or senior management makes it far easier to increase adoption of benefits, boost engagement and to help staff see the value of their total benefits package.

Finally, after covering all of the things you should do, there is one thing you must never do - Don’t ignore the negativity. The head in the sand approach will not work here. Respond to the negative Glassdoor reviews, call out negativity within the office and take action when staff bring something to your attention. Showing staff that you care about them and their work environment will reaffirm that employee engagement isn’t just a box ticking exercise. If you actually care about how staff are feeling, show them. Happy staff are more productive staff and are less likely to churn. When people feel like they make a difference, they do.

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