The Leader’s Guide to Turning Around a Toxic Workplace

A group of professionals collaborating in a bright, modern office space.

Have you overheard colleagues discussing their job searches in the break room? It’s easy to dismiss these conversations as normal career transitions, but what if they’re symptomatic of a deeper issue? Amidst turnover and whispers of job searches, could there be an underlying toxicity in your workplace?

Toxicity isn’t always apparent. It can manifest as high turnover rates or a sense of discontent among employees. Recognizing a toxic work environment isn’t always easy, but it’s essential. We’ll help you identify, address, and transform toxicity into a positive, thriving workplace where employees feel valued and motivated.

 

What Causes a Call Center Workplace Negativity?

Pervasive negativity, constant complaints, and grievances that go unaddressed. This can create a draining, pessimistic atmosphere where employees feel demoralized. However, you can’t solve a problem you don’t understand. Toxic work environments include:

  • Fear-driven leadership. This kind of leader pushes people by scaring them, not rewarding them. They might have strict rules but don’t always follow them themselves.
  • Neglecting excellence. When leaders rely on fear to motivate, they forget to reward or acknowledge great work. When achievements go unnoticed, employees lose motivation to excel.
  • Gossip and speculation. This occurs when managers don’t share all the information, and they’re not clear about what they expect from employees.
  • Unfair or harmful competition. Competition can drive motivation, but if managers use it negatively by pitting employees against each other, it breeds workplace conflict, drama, and anger.
  • Favoritism. Unfair scheduling, compensation, and treatment practices breed feelings of discrimination and resentment, corroding team cohesion.

 

Recognizing Signs of a Toxic Work Environment

Negativity is rampant. You notice employees regularly venting frustrations, making cynical remarks, or exhibiting hostility toward colleagues and leadership. Here’s a simple three-point checklist to figure out if you have a toxic workplace culture:

 

Employees’ physical and mental well-being are declining.

Studies reveal that a toxic workplace stresses employees out and can make them feel burnt out.¹ You might notice employees feeling down, anxious, or having problems at home and work.

When employees’ physical and mental well-being declines, it often shows a toxic work culture.

Their personal relationships might also suffer because work is making them feel stressed and negative. These signs mean the workplace is negatively impacting their personal and work life.

 

Job performance is declining.

Recognizing signs of declining performance is crucial in call center environments. Look out for:

  • Missed Call Handling Targets: Consistently falling short of call resolution quotas or exceeding call durations.
  • Lack of Proactive Engagement: Employees showing reluctance to upsell or cross-sell products/services during calls.
  • Script Adherence Issues: Deviating from approved call scripts or failing to follow call protocols consistently.

 

These indicators suggest a misalignment between employee performance and call center objectives, warranting attention and intervention.

 

You’re starting to act differently.

If you notice that you’re behaving or talking in ways you don’t usually do, and you don’t like it, it could be because of the negative environment at your company. Your employees might have tried to talk to you or the previous leader about feeling the same way. Usually, they’re most open about it when they’re about to leave.

If these concerns are brushed off or not taken seriously, it suggests deeper issues with the company’s culture. If you and your leadership team often feel defensive, it’s a sign that you need to examine the culture more closely.

 

From Toxic to Thriving: Steps to Transform Your Organizational Culture

Proactively manage negativity. You can’t just ignore a toxic workplace and hope it gets better. It needs to be fixed intentionally. Just as toxic situations don’t happen overnight, improving things will also take time and effort. Here are some tips on how to do it:

Read More: Empowering Workforce Well-being: 5 Strategies to Align Company Culture with Employee Mental Health

 

Communicate meaningfully.

Many say communication is important, but not everyone does it effectively. Poor communication can be a real stumbling block in various aspects of life. It’s often underestimated just how important clear and effective communication is until problems start to arise.

Quality communication is key, not just talking a lot. It means ensuring your employees have the information they need to:

  • Perform their job competently and efficiently.
  • Understand circumstances impacting their work.
  • Be aware of the expectations they must fulfill.
  • Address concerns and stop rumors.

 

You can share this information through meetings, handbooks, or training sessions. You can also have individual meetings to help employees who are struggling or doing well. Using tools to make communication easier and timely is also a good idea.

If you notice a particular employee struggling with their tasks, you could schedule a one-on-one meeting to offer support and guidance. On the other hand, if an employee is excelling, you could also have a one-on-one meeting to recognize their efforts and discuss potential opportunities for growth within the company.

 

Understand and stick to your main principles.

Do you have core values? That’s the first thing to figure out. They should be positive traits that a group identifies with.

  • “We are a team that prioritizes customer satisfaction through our staffing efforts.”
  • “We ensure our customer service team comprises top experts in the field.”
  • “We value positive experiences in all our customer service interactions.”

 

Core values should lead to positive outcomes, not create internal negativity or cynicism. This means they must be more than just words; there should be a concrete plan and action behind them.

For example, you can’t claim to be an expert if your employees aren’t trained or engaged in ongoing learning. You can’t ensure client or candidate satisfaction if employees aren’t empowered by management to solve problems independently instead of being restricted by strict policies.

If you don’t have core principles, make them. Then, make sure your managers actually follow and lead by them.

 

Address employee absenteeism.

Toxic workplaces lead to absenteeism, which then contributes to burnout among employees who have to cover for those absent, further fueling the toxic environment, and the cycle continues.² But absenteeism is both a problem and a sign of underlying issues.

To address this, managers should lead by example and be punctual themselves. They need to monitor absenteeism patterns and have conversations with employees if necessary. Approach these discussions with empathy, not anger, and seek to understand the reasons behind absenteeism. Work together to find solutions and end on a positive note with actionable steps for improvement.

 

Manage employee turnover.

Employee attrition, like absenteeism, can indicate underlying problems within the workplace. Addressing turnover starts with understanding why employees are leaving. Are you conducting exit interviews to gather feedback? Are you proactively addressing pay, benefits, scheduling, or management concerns before they leave?

Almost every issue on that list can be resolved. Instead of dismissing employees who leave as “bad apples,” recognize that high turnover is costly and disruptive. Address turnover immediately when you notice a pattern to save time and money and maintain team morale.

 

Revisit workplace policies.

Fixing the work culture and rebuilding trust with employees requires an honest assessment of how the company’s actions contribute to the problem. For example, turning a blind eye to policy violations, workplace bullying, or unfair treatment of employees signals that toxic behaviors are acceptable.

Leaders can improve workplace culture and conditions for all employees by following these essential steps:

  • Make sure company policies are updated to support a healthy workplace.
  • Revisit the code of conduct to address issues like workplace harassment or discrimination explicitly.
  • Create a safe work atmosphere where employees can raise concerns without fear of retaliation.
  • Follow through by enforcing the policy equally across the company.

 

Listen to what others are saying.

To understand your workplace better, try using anonymous surveys. These surveys let employees share their thoughts without fear. Even if the feedback is hard to hear, it can help you see what needs fixing. Look for common themes to make your workplace better for everyone.

 

Additionally, combining internal survey data with insights from exit interviews of departing employees can provide a more comprehensive understanding of cultural issues that need addressing.

 

DON’T LET A TOXIC CULTURE HOLD YOUR ORGANIZATION BACK

At Salem Solutions, we understand the challenges of dealing with toxic behavior and culture, and we’re here to help. Our staffing firm offers comprehensive solutions to address staffing needs, streamline processes, and foster a positive work environment.

Contact us today to learn how we can partner with you to turn around your toxic culture and create a successful, productive organization.

 

References

  1. Rasool, Samma Faiz, et al. “How Toxic Workplace Environment Effects the Employee Engagement: The Mediating Role of Organizational Support and Employee Wellbeing.” International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, vol. 18, no. 5, 1 Mar. 2021, pp. 1–17. NCBI, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7956351/, https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph18052294.
  2. Sleek, Scott. “Toxic Workplaces Leave Employees Sick, Scared, and Looking for an Exit. How to Combat Unhealthy Conditions.” Apa.org, American Psychological Association, 13 July 2023, www.apa.org/topics/healthy-workplaces/toxic-workplace.

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