By Paul White
Toxic workplaces are a hot topic in business literature—and rightfully so. Employee surveys continue to document the downward spiral of job satisfaction and employee engagement across all types of industries and work environments. But a “victim” mentality is starting to emerge in the world of work. The tenor of the message increasingly sounds like: “I have the worst job!” or“You should feel sorry for me because I have a bully boss.”
My professional expertise is in helping workplace environments become more positive and healthy, so I am fully aware of the negative, damaging communication that occurs in many work settings. I am appalled the damaging statements and actions that are occurring and the stories I hear from employees, supervisors, and managers. The dysfunction impacts all levels of an organization.
But we do not have to be passive victims, unable to affect those we work with on a daily basis. As I remind groups all the time, being “dysfunctional” is not limited to everyone else; we often contribute to the sickness of the system in which we work.
If you work in a toxic workplace—one that is poisonous, damaging, and even potentially dangerous to the mental and emotional health of those who work there—you can take steps combat the negativity. Here are three actions that you can take today to make your workplace less toxic.
#1: Conduct a Self-Assessment
Ask yourself: What am I doing that isn’t helpful in creating a positive workplace? This could include both actions (complaining about a co-worker to another colleague) and attitudes(harboring anger and grudges for past offenses). Consider your response carefully. See if any of the attributes below might apply to you:
- quick temper
- quick to find fault
- rarely compliment anyone
- withhold information
- “it’s their problem” attitude.
#2: Disengage From Negative Actions
The second proactive step you can take is to actively disengage from participating in negative interactions. This can simply mean that you stop complaining. (Remember the saying, “If you can’t say anything positive, don’t say anything at all”?)
Or, if a group discussion turns negative, excuse yourself. You don’t have to say anything, and don’t judge others. Just quietly excuse yourself and don’t contribute. Your leaving will send a message, and may lead to a follow-up discussion with one of the team members (Someone may say, “I noticed you left when we starting griping about management’s lack of communication.” Yor best response would be, “Yes, I’ve decided to try to not engage in that type of discussion. I’ve found it really isn’t helpful.” See how simple this step is.
#3: Begin to Communicate Positive Messages to Others
Positive communication is the third simple step we each can take. Often, the easiest thing to do is to share your appreciation for your teammates and the work they do. A simple “thanks” can be meaningful, especially if it specific. Something like, “Jen, thanks for getting your report to me on time. That will help me get the information together for the manager’s meeting without having to rush at the last minute.” This can be an effective way to “soften up” those colleagues who seem fairly hardened and angry—though, it may take some time.
I know what you’re thinking: “That’s it? Stop being so negative and try to be more positive?”
The simple answer is yes. We know that toxic workplaces are comprised of many components, but one of the key aspects is the accumulated negative communication (and lack of positive messages) that feed off of each other and become like a poisonous gas that suffocates those working in it. We also know that when individuals start taking responsibility for themselves and their actions—and they have a sense that they can make a difference—change can occur.
The more complicated reply is that these recommendations are just a starting point to rectifying the toxic workplace. There is more to do when you are ready. Bottom line: Even though you may work in a really toxic environment, don’t succumb to the belief that it is all just happening to you. First, figure out what you can do to not add to the trash heap. Next, let your positive actions help clean up the air a bit.
About the Author
Dr. Paul White is a psychologist, author, speaker, and President of Appreciation at Work. Dr. White is the co-author of three books, including The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace, and he has shared his expertise with Bloomberg Businessweek, CNN.com,Fortune.com, Entrepreneur.com, Fast Company, FoxBusiness.com, Huffington Post LIVE, U.S. News & World Report, and Yahoo! Finance.
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