Employers and employees alike are under more pressure than ever. Accordingly, more and more workers are experiencing toxic workplaces and developing burnout. In fact, more than two-thirds of American workers think that burnout has increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, despite (or because of) work-from-home environments.
In order to retain the best talent, employers need to watch out for toxic workplace behaviors developing amongst their staff. In many cases, toxic behaviors in the workplace can quickly give rise to workplace discrimination. This can leave an employer exposed to legal liability, reputational risks, and other issues that could have been avoided had toxic behavior been stopped or prevented.
Our Smithey Law Group team will walk you through what a “toxic work environment” means. We’ll also help you identify common examples of bad workplace behavior that can cause legal liability for a company. Finally, we’ll touch on some key ways to prevent toxic workplace behaviors and discrimination in the workplace. If you have questions, you should always feel free to reach out to one of our experienced employment lawyers.
What Is a Toxic Work Environment?
A “toxic work environment” is one where the people and culture are so disruptively negative that the business of the company cannot properly function. This is a broad definition. However, if you have ever felt like you could not work effectively in your job or your company could not fully function because of the people or culture, you may have been in a toxic work environment.
Examples of Common Toxic Behaviors in the Workplace
Employers need to watch out for common toxic behaviors when attempting to identify and prevent a toxic workplace. Unfortunately, the following behaviors are not exclusive to in-office environments as many toxic workplace behaviors carry over into hybrid or work-from-home environments just as easily. Some examples of toxic workplace behaviors include:
- Interpersonal aggressiveness;
- Narcissistic behavior by those in leadership positions;
- Workplace gossip or rumor-mongering;
- Bullying behavior on an individual or group basis;
- Theft of others’ ideas or intellectual property;
- Passivity and disorganization in leadership; or
- Refusal to engage or outright ignoring others.
This is a non-exhaustive list of toxic behaviors an employee may encounter in a toxic work environment. Employers need to have an ear to the ground when it comes to their work environment to quickly identify issues like toxic workplace behaviors.
Identifying a Toxic Work Environment
In identifying a toxic work environment, employers have a few options. First, they can screen for toxic workplace behaviors when they interview and hire employees. Second, they can fully investigate employee complaints.
During the hiring process, employers need to ask questions about work styles and attitudes. A good way to do this is to pose hypotheticals. Ask prospects how they would handle this or that situation. Attempt to understand a potential employee’s mindset. A potential employee can seem terrific on paper and answer all your questions like a champ. However, when asked about a hypothetical employee disciplinary situation, your prospective hire may reveal toxic attitudes about certain groups or coworkers in general.
During the ordinary course of employment, workers may bring complaints to your senior leadership. Take all complaints seriously. Set up ways for employees to report toxic behaviors without fear of reprisal. As an employer, this information gives you a great resource to correct toxic workplace behaviors and discriminatory attitudes quickly.
If you have questions about how you can best set up your hiring process or your employee complaints process to screen for a toxic work environment, contact an experienced employment lawyer.
How Is a Toxic Work Environment Created and Repaired?
Lack of Core Values
When a company espouses one core value but lives by another, employees can quickly become disillusioned. If a firm boasts about its work-life balance on its website but asks employees to work double shifts for weeks on end, something has gone wrong with its core values.
To help repair this breakdown of trust when core values and actions aren’t consistent, employers need to reevaluate both. What do your company’s actions say about you? Are your core values still valid in today’s work environment? If you observe toxicity in your culture, take it as an opportunity to dig into what makes your business unique. Decide what values are important to you, and what you can do to live those values out daily.
Lack of Company Culture
Your company culture is its personality and character. When a company lacks a positive and encouraging culture, employees may plow through work all day but want nothing else to do with their workplace. Toxic workplace behaviors can seep in quickly where there’s no sense of camaraderie, no shared interests, and little or no human connections. Of course, you don’t need to go out and buy a foosball table and a kegerator to create culture. But you do want your employees to know each other’s last names!
Creating a culture of warmth, connection, and compliance can help prevent and eliminate toxic behaviors in the workplace and workplace discrimination. Where people know each other and consider themselves trusted colleagues, toxic behavior is much less likely. They’re also more likely to provide feedback, so you’re more likely to know about problems sooner. A great company culture is a win for everyone.
What’s the Connection Between Toxic Workplace Behaviors and Workplace Discrimination?
Often, toxic workplace behaviors and workplace discrimination go hand in hand. An employee who demonstrates toxic behaviors at work is likely a toxic employee who engages in discriminatory practices in one form or another. As an employer, protecting yourself and your employees requires you to act quickly. If you have concerns about discrimination in your workplace, speak with an experienced employment discrimination lawyer right away.
How Smithey Law Group Can Help
At Smithey Law Group, we only work on employment law matters. We’re serious about helping you address and prevent toxic workplace behaviors and employment discrimination in your workplace. Our experienced team has extensive experience in advocating for our clients. We take a specialized approach to each client’s case, and work to get you the results you deserve. Contact us today to schedule your consultation with us.