Seven Ways to Avoid Toxicity in the Workplace

by Larry Checco
(Reprinted with permission from Guidestar - May 2014

Are you married? Do you have a partner or significant other in your life?

Most of us do.

If you identify, think how difficult it often is to come to consensus on issues, both large and small. ...

How much hashing and compromising needs to take place before some kind of agreement (hopefully) can be reached. ...

How painful the process can be at times. ...

How unhappiness can easily seep into the relationship when one or both parties feel taken advantage of, abused, or disrespected by the other—with dysfunction always lurking in the shadows.

And this is between just two people who ostensibly love, or at least care about, one another to some degree, have consciously chosen each other as soul mates or life partners, and sometimes even come from similar cultures, backgrounds, and value systems.

Now think about your workplace.

How many people must you interact with there? One? Three? A dozen? Scores? All of whom have been randomly selected to work together by a board, executive director, or HR department, and many of whom you have little, if anything, in common with or could care less about.

It's not hard to understand how things can get out of control and workplaces turn toxic pretty quickly.

Such work environments are not only unpleasant to wake up, shower, and brush our teeth for in the morning. More often than not they are less efficient and productive than they can be, lose focus on providing quality programs, products, and services, and, in turn, do great harm to the positive brand image the organization may be trying to project to outside stakeholder audiences, including funders.

So, what to do?

Some Suggestions

Denial or blaming others is not an option. Quite frankly, the quality of a workplace environment is everyone's responsibility.

  • Those who do the hiring need to look at more than just an applicant's skills set. How well will this person fit within the culture of our organization? What evidence did they project in the interviewing process that tells us that their values, work ethic, and personality are what we're looking for? Do they have a history of working well with others? How good a job will we do to orient this new employee to our workplace expectations?
  • Those who lead must do so by example. It's not enough to talk the talk. Good leaders need to walk the walk. They need to set the standards for civility and good behavior and constantly reinforce the valuable—and valued—role everyone, from board members to support staff, plays in the organization achieving its mission. They must provide not only the vision but also the mechanisms that make for a healthy work environment. Which leads to ...
  • Those who are being led need to have a voice and a fair opportunity to air what's on their minds. In short, employees must feel free to speak their truth to authority without fear of retribution or being labeled. Grievances not aired fester into negative relationships difficult to repair.
  • Those who excel need to be acknowledged. This does not always call for an awards banquet. A simple heartfelt "thank you" often will do just fine.
  • Those with new ideas deserve a hearing. We live in a dynamic age. Disruptive technologies are forcing all organizations to take a new, fresh look at nearly every aspect of their businesses. "This is the way we've always done it" is no longer a good excuse to resist change and often suppresses creativity and lowers morale, especially among Millennials.
  • Those who are intolerant of others should be sensitized to the maxim that some date back to the ancient Greeks: Be kind. Everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.
  • Those who fail to be accountable for their behavior and do not fit the profile of a cooperative, collaborative, and congenial coworker need to be reassigned or removed. Everyone deserves a warning and a second chance. But if things just aren't working out, for the sake of the entire workforce action needs to be taken.

I'm no marriage counselor, nor do I play one on TV, but I can attest that some of the above suggestions work in the home as well. Let's face it, there's no substitute for living, working, and playing in healthy environments. And most of it simply starts with respect for and sensitivity to others.

Bottom Line: There's no substitute for living, working, and playing in healthy environments. And most of it simply starts with respect for and sensitivity to others.

Larry Checco is president of Checco Communications and a nationally recognized public speaker, workshop presenter, and consultant on branding and leadership.

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