Repair a Toxic Work Culture These 5 Ways

Joe Weinlick
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When problems are ingrained in your company culture, there's no easy fix to repair broken infrastructure and regain employee trust. A toxic workplace is the product of negative behavior and values at many levels of an organization. If you're committed to a fresh start, follow these tips to evaluate a toxic workplace and re-engage the workforce from the top down.

1. Diagnose the Problems

Nail down the key factors and people behind chronic problems. While every toxic workplace has its own combination of problems, common issues include:

-Lack of communication
-Bullying and gossiping
-Favoritism or discrimination
-Hostile or unsafe working conditions
-Unrealistic expectations and workloads
-Lack of recognition and accountability

Expect reluctance from employees, who may fear retaliation for speaking up. For a thorough evaluation, consider asking for anonymous feedback and consulting workers one on one.

2. Identify Sources of Conflict

Deep-seated problems don't grow overnight, and it takes consistent patterns of behavior to poison the environment. Based on the information you gather, work backwards to find the sources feeding a toxic workplace.

Do company leaders treat workers like replaceable cogs? Do bullies get free reign to harass others? Do employees feel informed about company policies and decisions? Are there a handful of toxic employees in influential positions? Do employees understand their roles and feel empowered to get their jobs done? Starting from the top, ask employees how their personal work values align with the company culture. The answers to these questions may reveal big differences in perceptions and priorities.

3. Recruit Employee Ambassadors

Every diplomatic plan requires allies. Recruiting influential workers to champion changes in the company can help improve the transition. Otherwise, employees are more likely to be cautious and distrustful based on past experiences. Ambassadors should come from multiple levels of the organization, making it easier to get company-wide support and feedback as you move forward.

4. Plan a Multistage Strategy

Develop a strategy to repair a toxic workplace in stages. Distinguish high- and low-impact factors, so you can manage the biggest problems first and show positive gains early on. In most cases, smaller issues are easier to resolve as the underlying problems improve. If you don't want to lose great employees, keep the workforce informed of these goals and apply new policies fairly across the entire organization.

5. Reward Positive Behavior

Social acceptance is a key motivating factor for many people, so rewarding positive behavior can encourage other workers to change how they interact. To remotivate employees, it's wise to holds evaluations and discuss how each worker brings value to the organization. Clearly define employee roles, and show recognition to workers who make valuable suggestions and contributions throughout the restructuring process.

Treat cultural change as an ongoing process of assessment, reflection and implementation. A toxic workplace isn't a lost cause if company leaders are open to growth and willing to acknowledge cultural values that spread negativity.

Photo courtesy of ScratchEd Team at


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