How to Improve a Toxic Work Environment

It’s no secret: with work, comes stress. In fact, surveys from the American Psychological Association find each year that money and work are the top two sources of significant stress for adults.

Unfortunately, we can’t always see right away when our current environment starts harboring negative feelings. It’s important to be aware of what toxicity actually looks like in its early stages.

To create a more positive outcome for you and your workplace, try these tips to reverse a toxic work environment:

1. Focus on solutions, not complaints

Nothing is more toxic and contagious than employees complaining. Whether it be bad-mouthing each other, company leadership or dress code policies, complaints show a mentality of defeat rather than feeling empowered by the company culture.

What do you want to overhear instead? Solutions. When workers believe they can change any problems that arise, they take action to alleviate issues instead of passively complaining. Positive growth is sure to occur when the focus turns to what is going well and what can be done better.

2. Increase input from employees

When company leaders don’t ask for input, employees will believe they aren’t valued, leading to decreased productivity and contribution.

By showing employees their opinions are valued, they’ll naturally feel more fulfilled and will offer their best work to their companies. Your employees are your greatest asset, especially when it comes to company growth. Don’t let that resource go untapped.

3. Encourage responsibility

When your staff members withdraw from their own professional responsibilities and leave other members picking up the pieces, it sends a blatant message of disrespect to both fellow employees and the company as a whole.

Instead of letting laziness slide, be proactive and try these tips to promote responsibility in the workplace. If you’re taking steps to improve the culture but are still seeing negative behavior in an employee, more serious action like a write-up or firing might have be taken.

4. Foster positive relationships among employees

Animosity between employees is a key ingredient of a toxic culture. Of course, it’s a given that your employees won’t necessarily be best friends. However, all employees should be expected to complete their job responsibilities and collaborate with staff and customers in a courteous manner.

To get the ball rolling, try these fun and unique team building activities. See how many hard feelings are left after a game of “organizational Jenga”.

5. Define your culture – and live by it

A critical component to any company’s success comes from outlining a purpose and vision. While most organizations have mission statements, many haven’t taken the one step further to define the values of the company’s culture.

For example, when Zappos was in its first few months, the employees came together to define their core values. From here, they developed their culture, brand, and business strategies, which was clearly successful. With points such as “create fun and a little weirdness,” the input from Zappos’ employees was the backbone for a positive and encouraging workplace environment.

6. Coach your problem employees

Probably every office has at least one person that the whole company points to as “the problem.” This doesn’t come from a mentality of blame, but rather from acknowledging that a person with a negative attitude and poor work ethic truly does affect daily operation and stunts company growth. But what can be done about such a person, short of firing them?

In his book Taking People With You, YUM! CEO David Novak shared about an employee who constantly wanted to cut costs at every opportunity – rather than adding value – and turned every meeting toward a negative direction. Novak didn’t want to let him go, so he had a frank chat with this employee – who, with constructive feedback, began to adjust his attitude to the betterment of the whole team. “I still believe in replacing people who are getting in the way of progress, but you need to be a coach first before you can make the right call,” Novak wrote in his book.

Long story short: before jumping to stern disciplinary action, try your hand at mentoring. You could inspire a shift in attitude.

7. Focus on exceeding expectations

Lastly, a great way to boost morale among the whole company is to implement a focus on exceeding expectations for everyone you come across during your day. Employee to employee, manager to employee, employee to customer – each interaction should have the emphasis of going the extra step. Not only is this good for business, but in doing so, it provides consistent positive exchanges for everyone involved. These shared experiences make everyone, customers and employees alike, feel like they are a part of something important and meaningful.

When you are working in and running a thriving professional environment, you’ll notice that employees are taking ownership for their actions and attitudes. You’ll see your entire team collaborating on projects and offering suggestions to solve problems. You’ll recognize your employees taking pride in their work and their contributions, which leads to a company filled with purpose and meaningful output.

The most beneficial result? When your employees feel valued, they give loyalty, dedication and hard work to your company These steps become a cyclical effect of upward movement that will propel your company toward increasing productivity, affirmative mindsets and growth in company revenue.

How to Improve a Toxic Work Environment