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Got a toxic work place? How to change culture from within.

Workplace culture plays a massive part in the productivity of a company. Unhappy employees have lower productivity levels, are more likely to make mistakes and to look for a new job. It also has a domino effect on co-workers and, on a larger scale, can damage the reputation of your company for future employees.

For individual employees, a toxic workplace can cause physical and mental health problems. Mental stress is one of the biggest workplace injuries in Australia, with 7,500 people compensated for work-related mental disorders each year (resulting in approximately $480 million paid in compensation). About 3.2 days per worker are lost to stress-related issues. Minimising factors that contribute to these issues can lead to higher productivity and improved staff loyalty as employees have happier and healthier lives.

When a toxic culture is improved there is benefits for everyone– not just individuals. On a financial level, businesses benefit as well. With research suggesting that up to 30% of a company’s financial results are determined by the climate of an organisation, anything that can positively affect the culture of a workplace is a win.

Key signs of a toxic workplace aren’t hard to see. All you have to do is take a good look at your employees; are they tired? Unmotivated? Burnt out? It’s easy to dismiss these tell-tale signs as individuals having a bad day but if you’re seeing multiple employees struggling to get through a day at work, it could be a sign of a larger workplace issue.

Here are some of the key signs of poor workplace culture to keep an eye out for:

– Constant negative gossiping
– Lack of accountability
– Poor communication between team members and managing staff
– Excessive absenteeism
– Favouritism and double standards
– Unrealistic workloads or deadlines
– Unsafe working conditions
– Dishonesty

Once turned bad, recovering a toxic workplace can be hard but it is possible to change the culture from within.

How we can change workplace culture

  • Behaviour of management

John Kotter argues that culture change is from the top:

“How does culture change? A powerful person at the top, or a large enough group from anywhere in the organisation, decides the old ways are not working, figures out a change vision, starts acting differently, and enlists others to act differently.”

On the flip side, what doesn’t work to change culture is one group deciding what the new culture should be and simply communicating it down the line. Culture is only changed by modelling behaviour so that new practices become the norm for everyone.

  • Make it easy for employees to implement core values

While management is modelling positive behaviour in the workplace it’s important to make it easy for employees to also implement these changes. For example, if you’re trying to create a workplace that is more encouraging of presenting new ideas and ways of looking at things, think about whether there are subtle punishments that currently come with suggesting new ideas. Do fresh ideas get shut down as soon as they are brought up in meetings? Are new ways of doing things instantly dismissed because no one has the time to try them due to their overloaded work schedule? Is there public embarrassment if a new suggestion doesn’t work as planned?

  • Acknowledge good work

Research suggests that globally, appreciation for your work is the most important element of a job. Workers who don’t regularly receive recognition for a job well done experience frequent high levels of stress which can lead to disengagement and lowered productivity. Taking the time to praise staff for their achievements and hard work can go a long way in changing a toxic workplace.

  • Team bonding

A large portion of all our lives is spent with the people we work with and a key part of any work culture is the relationship between co-workers. Research suggests that employees who have a best friend in the office are seven times more likely to be engaged with their work. Group outings, office parties and team lunches give employees the opportunity to build positive relationships with their colleagues away from the constraints of the office.

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