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Leading a Non-Toxic Workplace

Consider the following: 

  • 38% of workers believe the workplace is becoming more disrespectful.
  • 67% of employees believe there is a strong need for civility training in the workplace
  • 35% of workers believe they are bullied at work
  • 71% of workers discouraged others from seeking employment at their previous employer due to incivility and humiliation.

You don’t have to look far to see how our workplace is changing.  But why is it happening and what should we as leaders be doing? 

First, why is it happening?  It could be starting with the 24 hour a day, 7 day a week reach of social media and the internet.  And don’t count out our current political climate, protests and walk-outs that seem to happen each day.  It seems like so many things are spiraling downward causing insecurity in workplace which leads to stress and anxiety which leads to individuals being more focused on themselves instead of the collective goal of their team, department and/or organization.

The key to leading is to not use the current environment as an excuse for what is happening in your area of influence but to instead understand that it is reality that needs to be dealt with.  Understand the reality and make a point of being proactive in your approach to leading. 

There are three common sense actions that leaders can take to lead a non-toxic workplace.

  1. Set and Communicate Expectations: Employees can’t be held accountable for what they don’t understand is an expectation.  And this goes beyond handbook policies.  Handbook policies are too general in nature.  Leaders need to talk about specific behaviors and help employees understand the difference between civility and incivility.  Things such as:



    Going out of your way to help someone

    Failing to return phone calls, voicemails, and emails

    Acknowledging your mistakes and making amends

    “Humorous” put downs, eye rolling, heavy sarcasm, derogatory remarks

    Filling the copier with paper after using the last piece

    Yelling, phone slamming, fist pounding, etc.

    Refusing to participate in gossip

    Speaking ill of another or ignoring others’ opinions

    Showing respect for other people’s feelings and opinions

    Addressing people unprofessionally

  2. Audit Your Environment: Once you have established and clearly communicated expectations a leader must audit their work environment on an ongoing basis.  Look for positive behaviors that promote civility and reinforce them.  Say something to the individual and if appropriate, use it as an example with the rest of your team.  If you see a negative behavior, say something!  Redirect the behavior by sharing what you witnessed and, the impact that it had on your team, department or organization.  Work with the individual to identify how the situation should be handled in the future. 
  3. Deal with Conflict: So much of what employees think are toxic behaviors happen because of conflict.  If you are doing your job as a leader, conflict will be happening because it comes with innovation and changes to help continuously improve.  Start by understanding that people deal with conflict differently because of their personality styles.  Know your people so you can help them deal with conflict.

    Next, help your team understand that there are choices when it comes to conflict.  While we wish that conflict was always dealt with in a collaborative manner, it is situational.  You have choices as this graph outlines:


    Employees can choose how they deal with conflict based on the importance of the outcome and importance of the relationship.  Collaboration takes the maximum effort but it also results in the maximum result where both parties feel like they win.

Bottom line, civility is showing respect and consideration for others while modeling inclusion and professionalism.  As a leader, by modeling the way yourself, setting clear expectations, auditing your environment and helping team members understand and deal with conflict you are on your way to leading a non-toxic workplace.  A workplace with a culture that motivates and inspires team members to do their best, where you have lower turnover, greater internal communication, increased customer satisfaction, reduced stress and healthier employees and excitement among employees to achieve greatness.

Todd McDonald is Founder and President of ATW Training Solutions.  He can be reached at 515-727-0731 or .

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