At a time when it seems everything has changed, so much hasn’t. Many workplaces are still toxic.
A quarter of employees say there’s a high level of toxicity in their workplace. A third of employees say it’s moderately toxic, according to a Skynova survey.
What’s more, HR experts and researchers say the problem with toxic workplaces isn’t contained inside the company walls these days. Remote and hybrid work arrangements are just as susceptible to toxic dangers.
What could be even worse is, it’s tougher to recognize toxicity in hybrid situations. After all, it’s nearly impossible for a manager to see Carley give Devon the side eye. Or it’s unlikely a supervisor will hear Bruce make a snide remark to Julieann. More likely, those employees turned off their cameras or started a private chat.
“At the very core of all successful remote and hybrid workplaces are leaders that are taking very conscientious efforts to intentionally consider and then thoughtfully build their company’s work environments,” said Sara Sutton, CEO & Founder of FlexJobs, which recently released research on toxic hybrid work red flags.
So HR leaders – and their front-line managers – will need to look for the signs they have a toxic workplace. Then they’ll want to take steps to stop negative behaviors and move teams forward with more civility.
Here are seven signs you might have a toxic workplace, regardless of the model – full time on-site, hybrid or remote:
Communication slows, not flows
Almost 40% of employees say bad communication – between management and them and among employees – is the top contributor to toxicity in their workplaces, according to the Skynova study.
More specific to hybrid or remote work situations, problems start when leaders don’t have – or execute – a plan to communicate, the FlexJobs study found.
Bottom line to communication issues: Employees feel left out when they don’t know what’s going on. They tend to fill voids with gossip, assumptions and misinformation. That creates some of the worst possible workplace situations.
Fix it: Make a plan. Most companies plan for everything from workflows and disaster recovery to new product launches and break room schedules. But they don’t create a communication plan. Even if you can’t create an in-depth plan, build some guidelines on:
- communication frequency from upper management
- feedback frequency from employees
- communication expectations between managers and employees
- intervals when leaders share company performance details, and
- which channel to use – call, chat, email, app, etc. – based on the kind of information that’s being shared.
Employees stressed, burned out
Employees may not look overwhelmed – and if they’re remote, you wouldn’t see it anyway – or say outright they’re stressed. But they’re overwhelmed. In some ways, they’re so used to it after a pandemic year, they don’t even recognize the stress and burn out.
But more than a third of employees say burnout makes theirs a toxic workplace. Burned out employees tend to care less about their work, their coworkers and their company. And when they don’t care, they won’t perform well or be a positive colleague.
Fix it: HR leaders know so many things contribute to burnout. So there’s no one predictor of or solution to this issue. The best bet is to train front-line managers on the warning signs of burnout. Then keep them updated on how to help employees combat it, or at least, direct them to resources to help with stress and burnout.
Employees hang out more
Whether employees are at the water cooler or in chat rooms, if they’re spending more time than ever there, you likely have a toxic issue.
Sure, they might be catching up after time apart. But if their voices lower or they break up when management is near, there’s a good chance they’re gossiping, forming cliques or spreading rumors.
That’s the stuff toxicity is made of.
Fix it: Work to build more inclusion in your workplace. Involve employees in Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI) initiatives and let them take the lead on building more DEI groups. Keep the lines of communication open with a regular cadence of company news – and give employees outlets to offer feedback and share insight.
Leaders hang out less
When executives work behind closed doors or from home all the time – or essentially keep a low profile – in the workplace, it can become toxic.
Again, employees who are in the dark about what’s going on in their company – on everything from performance and management decisions to vending machine options and hybrid work hours – will feel insecure. They worry about job security and company viability. And they’ll often create negative talk to fill the holes.
Fix it: Executives and all leaders need to work behind closed doors at times. They need to focus, make tough decisions or do confidential work. That’s OK. But when that’s the case, try to let employees know why the door is closed – and employees won’t think the worst.
You lack a hybrid/remote plan
If you choose a hybrid work or remote work model, and just wing it, you’ll have problems, according to the FlexJobs research. Without a plan, most hybrid or remote work plans end up inequitable.
What often happens: Teams don’t function cohesively. Employees work in silos. Managers can’t engage employees equally.
Fix it: Work with executives to create a clear plan to integrate remote and hybrid teams into the workplace – not just allow them to be “the other group” or an afterthought.
Some people can’t celebrate
Good company cultures are based on shared visions, work and wins. When employees don’t feel part of – or engaged in – any one of those three elements, they tend to feel like they work in a toxic environment.
When celebrations, praise and reward activities are for a small group – or specifically for on-site employees – you create a negative experience.
Fix it: Managers want to use every tool they have – personal contact, Zoom, calls, etc. – to praise and reward employees often. You want to use technology, off-site gatherings and virtual tools to include everyone in celebrations, praise, rewards and events focused on the company vision.
Tech is a pain in the neck
Even if you run on the newest technology, it can still contribute to a toxic workplace.
How’s that? If people can’t or don’t share the right information quickly, they will become frustrated. Similarly, if employees don’t have the right equipment to do their jobs effectively – especially those working in a remote situation – they will resent the company.
Another recipe for a toxic workplace.
Fix it: You don’t need the newest technology tools to create a positive work environment. But you do need the right tech for your company, people and demand. More importantly, you want to train employees so they can get the most out of your technology. Work with IT and vendors to keep tech and training for it up to date.
Bottom line: Toxicity hurts
It’s important for HR and other leaders to address toxic behaviors and situations. Skynova researchers found in toxic work cultures, employees:
- have low morale
- do lower quality of work
- are burned out
- are dissatisfied with their company
- become apathetic
- start late and leave early, and
- engage less.