Turning Around a Bad Work Environment | EAPA-SA



A bad, or toxic, work environment is one in which dysfunctional, highly stressful interactions are the norm; and where supervisors and co-workers routinely mistreat each other and act in self-serving ways without considering the benefit of the whole team or organisation.



The hallmarks of a toxic work environment are: 1

  • Employees dread going to work every day and concentrate primarily on their own self-protection rather than the company’s success.
  • The atmosphere at work is constantly tense and filled with stress, morale is low.
  • Communication between employees and supervisors has broken down:
  • Employees feel they can’t communicate honestly with their supervisors as they fear what might happen;
  • Without clear and accurate information from their employees, supervisors can no longer make well-informed decisions that benefit the organisation.
  • Normally employees would report a single employee or supervisor who starts to engage in corrupt behaviour. However, in a toxic work environment, they may choose to look the other way rather than risk their job by speaking out.
  • Staff turnover is high. People don’t want to work in an organisation where stress levels are extreme, verbal abuse is common, hard work goes unrewarded, communication has broken down and corruption goes unchecked.

Turning around a toxic work environment is not easy.  It takes time and focused effort.  Here are five steps for turning a bad organisation around to being a positive work environment:  2

Identify the organisational culture you want

Take stock and, along with input from all stakeholders, define the organisational culture you desire.  If you change your perspective to see your organisational culture as a product designed to attract and retain great employees, the path forward in terms of what you want to create and how to do so will become much clearer.

Change your hiring to reflect the culture you want

One of the biggest mistakes business owners make is hiring based on skill and expertise alone. Once you’ve clearly defined the values you want your organisational culture to embrace, adjust your hiring practices to attract and employ people who embody these values.

Build a diverse workforce

Encourage diversity in your workforce – not just in terms of ethnicity, but also in life experience, opinions and belief systems.  This is a powerful tool in shifting a company culture in a positive direction.  It is important to ensure that diversity extends across all echelons in the organisation and into the company’s leadership.

Create and maintain a transparent environment 3

Trust provides strength against adversity for a business. Trust-building begins with honest and transparent communication.  Sometimes leaders operate behind closed doors but it may help if your employees know what’s going on in the organisation. It is vital for business leaders to integrate transparent communication into their organisational culture.

Ensure management become expert at communicating 4

Communicating well is a management skill that is vital to succeeding in the area of culture building.

Good leaders must set the example and the standard for great communication.  Employees who receive regular feedback have been shown to work harder, be more engaged and offer greater loyalty to their employers.  And the most successful companies have built a strong culture of feedback by making it a normal, everyday part of company life.

Be willing to invest time

In the same way that a negative work culture done not surface overnight, a new positive culture does not either.  As a leader, you need to put in the effort, allow time and monitor the ongoing change – and be willing to step in and facilitate change when needed. With the investment of consistent action over time, a new culture will be born and thrive.