Workplace culture

Cleaning Up Toxic Workplace Waste

February 23, 2017

Toxic workplace behaviour is often elusive, but it's detrimental to your organization's culture. Like its biological namesake, behavioural toxins are subtle, seeping into the workplace and wreaking havoc on employees and customers.

Toxic behaviour can include being noisy or otherwise obnoxious, making it difficult to concentrate. It may also mean socializing or goofing off instead of working. Sometimes, toxic behaviour is directed: an employee may refuse to work with a specific colleague, and be uncooperative or petulant towards them. Other forms of toxic behaviour include scapegoating: if an employee refuses to take responsibility for their mistakes, it damages the team and the organization. Even moods can become toxic; everyone has bad days, but if someone is constantly miserable, it drags down everyone they interact with.

What makes toxic behaviour so difficult to detect is that there is rarely a single, clearly addressable incident. Instead, the behaviour works like any other toxin, slowly accumulating, bit by bit, day by day, frustration by frustration, until, without knowing exactly how it happened, the workplace becomes a cauldron of resentment, mistrust, and bitterness.

In order to better identify specific incidents of toxic behaviour, HRdownloads conducted a poll in January 2017. Our poll identified that criticizing and nitpicking destructively was the worst kind of toxic workplace behaviour among respondents.

The other questions in our poll received similarly overwhelming responses:

  • Are toxic employees an issue in your workplace? Almost 87% said yes.
  • Does your workplace distinguish between toxic behaviour in the workplace and outside of it? More than 68% said no.
  • Does your workplace enforce progressive disciplinary measures against toxic behaviour? 75% said no.
  • Does your workplace have adequate policies and procedures to correct toxic behaviour? More than 80% said no.

It can be difficult to correct toxic behaviour, but it’s important to try. How can organizations fix toxic workplace behaviour?Toxic workplace behaviour comes in a variety of forms, but the detrimental effects are the same regardless. Toxic colleagues damage the morale of other employees, and may even drive top performers to quit. The effect is multiplied if the toxic employee is a supervisor or manager.

Download our FREE Workplace Detoxification Guide for helpful tips on how you can rehabilitate your workplace culture.

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