Thursday, February 22, 2024

7 Signs of a Toxic Workplace (with Trauma-Informed Solutions)

A safe and healthy workplace is the goal, but there are a concerning number of toxic workplaces out there. Is yours one of them?

1.     High Turnover Rates

Usually, when an employee leaves a job, it’s not because they hated the job they were assigned to do—it’s because they couldn’t stand the people they worked with or the management they worked under.

The Best Tool to Combat High Turnover: Healthy Communication

Keeping employees around doesn’t need to be difficult. If a job pays a living wage and the people working that job feel safe at work, they’re likely to stick around for a while.

If your workplace can’t seem to keep employees around, ask yourself why. There are likely some unaddressed problems causing major dissatisfaction at work.

Opening lines of communication can go a long way toward increasing employee satisfaction and lowering turnover rates.

2.     Fear of Retribution

If you’ve ever wanted to leave a job because it was toxic, then you know that not every manager will be receptive to feedback—and this is another red flag of a toxic workplace.

Many employees keep their thoughts and feedback to themselves because they fear retribution. If they’re honest about how they feel at work, they fear that they may lose their job, tarnish their reputation, or face other fallouts at work.

The Best Tool to Combat Fear of Retaliation: Structural Change

If you’re on a management team, the obvious solution is to not fire or punish employees who are honest about their dissatisfaction with certain aspects of your management style.

As a trauma-informed coach, I always encourage organizations to take it a step further by moving their organizational structure from a hierarchal system to a flat system.

Most organizational structures operate with the immense power imbalances of a hierarchal system. A flat system removes some or all of these power structures to create a safer, more equitable environment where employees feel safe and seen.

3.     Gossip

When workers feel unsafe communicating their dissatisfaction to management, they often bring their complaints to coworkers with equitable power dynamics.

Since no one in the discussion feels as though they have the power to create lasting change regarding the issues at hand, what could be an environment of constructive feedback is seen instead as useless complaining or workplace gossip.

The Best Tool to Combat Unaddressed Complaints: Ritualizing Discussions of Change

Communication is essential in any relationship—especially professional ones.But in any relationship, communicating about conflict and negative experiences can be especially difficult.

That’s why I encourage and coach organizations on ritualizing discussions of change. By creating a habit of opening up a safe space to address complaints, we can transform gossip into constructive change.

By doing this, we prove to our team members that we value their needs, ideas, and feedback.

4.     Lack of Diversity

As social justice moves to the forefront of our collective social consciousness, many organizations are scrambling to establish DEI practices. However, many of these same agencies are still promoting toxic workplaces that fail to create diversity, equity, or inclusion.

Why? We exist in a society that operates on oppression. And our definition of DEI is often limited.

The Best Tools to Combat Uniformity: Curiosity, Intention, and Awareness

Curiosity, intention, and awareness are your friends when it comes to DEI. Ask yourself questions. Be intentional with your words. And be aware that you, like everyone else, have blind spots.

We all have certain privileges that make us ignorant of certain issues. Regardless of whether your privilege lies in your racial identity, physical ability, gender identity, or something else, there are certain things that you’re likely to miss.

This is why diversity and representation in the workplace are important. From your end, you can be mindful, hold yourself and others accountable, and approach others with kindness and respect.

5.     Lack of Mutual Trust

When there is no trust in the workplace, a myriad of other issues follow. Without trust, a workplace is wrought with disrespect and dysfunction. Employees may notice a lack of commitment or unwillingness to assist others or ask for help themselves.

A lack of trust also leads to a lack of vulnerability. Employees feel the need to conceal weaknesses and struggles rather than be honest about them, and there is an overall resistance to receiving or providing constructive feedback.

And all this translates to a lack of growth—for both the company and the individuals who work there.

The Best Tool to Combat Distrust: Establishing & Practicing Trauma-Informed Values

If you want to promote trust, then implementing a trauma-informed approach is a great idea.

One of the major trauma-informed values is trustworthiness & transparency, and a trauma-informed environment encourages open and honest communication and collaboration.

6.     Unclear or Unhealthy Boundaries & Responsibilities

Not knowing who’s in charge of what is more common than you might think in organizations. It’s more common for people to say, “I don’t have the power to do that,” than to ask, “Who does have the power to make that decision?”

It’s also painfully common for boundaries to be crossed and responsibilities to be piled on in professional settings. However, all of these aspects of a workplace can turn toxic.

The Best Tool to Set & Respect Healthy Boundaries: Creating a Culture of Healthy Relationships

Clarifying responsibilities and boundaries can create healthy change in your organization, and it can lay the foundation for establishing healthy relationships at work.

In healthy relationships, we set and respect boundaries. We know where we stand with other, and we know that we are safe.

7.     Lack of Safety

Finally, a toxic workplace lacks safety. And safety is perhaps the single most important aspect of a healthy workplace.

When we are safe at work, we can do our best. And when we talk about safety, we must include various facets of safety, including racial, social, psychological, and financial safety.

The Best Tool to Combat an Unsafe Workplace: An Organizational Safety Plan

An organizational safety plan is the best tool for creating safety at work. It addresses many of the issues discussed in this article and lays out an action plan for employees whenever an unsafe situation arises. Learn about how to create one here.

These safety plans can help your organization navigate instances of racial injustice, workplace harassment, and anything else your organization may struggle with.

If you want to learn more about some of the solutions to a toxic workplace presented in this article, consider reading about thekey aspects of trauma sensitivity training.