Workplace Toxins: What is your organization spreading?

September 26, 2019 in
By Kara Price

My dad has always been a fanatic about keeping his yard in tip-top shape. I kid you not, as a child, I remember him going to great lengths so that we would have a picture perfect yard – mowing the lawn in perfectly concentric circles and squares (whichever worked best with the shape of the section he was cutting, of course), picking out dandelions (one-by-one, by hand, and ensuring that he carefully pulled out the entire root), and frequently spreading fertilizer and other nutrients over the grass (in perfect coordination with the weather forecast to ensure maximum effect). These were just a few of his tactics for accomplishing perfection and maximizing the possible beauty that a field of grass can offer. Just recently, however, I was talking to my mom on the phone and she shared with me something ‘horrific’ that happened and that my dad was just mortified about. Apparently, in one of his efforts to spread a special blend of fertilizer and nutrients (right before an impending rainfall), he accidentally filled his spreading machine with the wrong chemicals. And, well, you guessed it, turns out he actually spread a toxic substance all over his yard which killed all the grass in the lawn that he had worked at great lengths to groom.

And now, as my dad looks left and right at the neighboring yards, he wholeheartedly disagrees with our truism for this month, ‘the grass isn’t always greener on the other side’. In his case, yes, I’m 100% sure there is no question the grass IS greener to the left and right of his yard! Now, I know you’re wondering, what does this story have to do with organizational management and improvement? Trust me, I’m going somewhere with this…

We’ve talked a lot this month about employee retention and different strategies and perks that companies, including ours, use to attract and retain employees. But, what we haven’t addressed yet is the opposite of employees staying in an organization—I’m referring to the reasons that employees have for leaving their company in search of a ‘greener field’. I’m not necessarily talking about retirement or even involuntary discharge, I’m more referring to employees who decide to pursue a job at another organization, on their own will and terms, because of dissatisfaction with their employer, the work, or in their organization. 

Relating this back to my dad’s situation, it made me curious, what ‘toxic workplace chemicals’ can companies accidentally spread within their workforce that cause employees to look for ‘greener grass’ in other organizations and ultimately leave their company? And so, after a good bit of research, I’ve come up with my ‘Top 5 List of Workplace Toxins’ that can harm an organization’s workforce. Here’s what I’ve come up with (from #5 down to my #1 ‘toxin’):

Workplace Toxin #5: Wasted Skills and Talent

In general, people want to feel like they are being challenged or that they are the “go-to” person to resolve particular problems or complete specific tasks. When this occurs in the workplace, employees feel a sense of pride, accomplishment, and self-confidence, remain stimulated and engaged in the work they are doing, and it makes them feel like they are indispensable and irreplaceable within the organization. On the flip side, if employees are underutilized and/or not tasked with work that challenges them, they may begin to have these thoughts:

  1. Management doesn’t trust my work.
  2. Management doesn’t have confidence in my work.
  3. I’m not maximizing my potential to help the company succeed. 
  4. Anyone can do the work I’m doing.
  5. I’m bored.
  6. I bet there’s another company out there where I could make a bigger impact…

And there it is, the start of the search for ‘greener grass’.

Workplace Toxin #4: Unhealthy Culture

There are six factors that I think can foster the growth and spread of the unhealthy culture toxin in an organization:

  1. Unfriendly Atmosphere– Employees have the perception that their company lives and dies by the phrase “all work, no play” in the office and during ‘business hours’.
  2. Isolation– Lack of teamwork and collaboration between employees and/or groups of employees (i.e., divisions or offices) to accomplish a goal or complete a project.
  3. Micromanagement– Managers are so focused on controlling every facet of their employees work that employees perceive this as the company having little faith and confidence in their skills and abilities to do their job.
  4. Lack of Transparency– Holding back information or details on key management and/or leadership decisions, or reasons that decisions are/were made, from employees. 
  5. Disrespect– Inconsiderate disregard for the work, effort, idea, opinion, decision, and/or thought of any member of the organization (i.e., employee, management, leadership).
  6. One-way Communication– Top-down communication where there is no upward feedback mechanism or attempt from leadership to solicit their employees’ input or opinions. 

All in all, poor organizational culture is like superman’s kryptonite when it comes to trying to keep employees from leaving!

Workplace Toxin #3: Work-Life Imbalance

Life happens—children are born, a spouse gets relocated, a family member becomes ill, people want to be closer to their family in another state, and the list goes on. Employees want to feel confident that their company recognizes and understands the necessities and desires of life outside of the workplace, and that the organization will work with them to accommodate their work-life needs (to the extent that is possible). In several of this month’s blogs, we’ve mentioned the importance of work-life balance and flexibility as selling points for employee retention. So, it really shouldn’t come as a surprise that an organization that does not support work-life balance is transmitting ‘workplace poison’ with every passing day.

Workplace Toxin #2: Underappreciated

Here’s the bottom line about this workplace toxin: No one wants to put in hours of work that results in a quality end product, client satisfaction, positive feedback, and/or any other metric that your organization uses to define ‘success’, only to have their efforts and performance go unnoticed. If companies don’t find some way of recognizing and rewarding their employees for a job well-done, then this toxin can undoubtedly impact not only employee morale and job satisfaction, but the quality of their work can also take a big hit. 

For organizations facing the ‘underappreciation’ epidemic, and where monetary rewards may not be feasible, I’d encourage that you check out a few of our previous blogs from the April blog series, focused on Recognition, for some tips and ideas to help you remove this toxin from your workforce!

Workplace Toxin #1: Stagnancy

When an organization shows that they want to invest in the growth and development of their employees (i.e., creating growth tracks, developing and implementing training programs and development plans and initiatives, etc.), I think it can actually offset some of the effects that a couple of the workplace toxins I’ve already mentioned can have! For example:

Wasted Skills and Talent (Workplace Toxin #5) – Giving employees the chance, and the resources, to grow and develop in the organization can go a long way to showing employees that the company is dedicated to cultivating and enhancing employee’s abilities and teaching them new skills in order to maximize their potential.

Underappreciated (Workplace Toxin #2) – Providing rich and meaningful developmental opportunities, like shadow programs and mentor programs, is an effective way to show a workforce that the organization is invested in them, as an employee of the company, and in their future with the organization.

The bottom line is that when employees see they have a chance grow professionally, develop their skillset, and leverage those skills into new opportunities within the organization, it weakens the impact and negative effects that the ‘workplace toxin’ of stagnancy can have within the workforce!

There you have it, my ‘Top 5 List of Workplace Toxins’ that can cause employees to leave an organization. And so, I’ll wrap up with this word of advice to organizational leaders (and to my dad!) – if you care about something and want to see it flourish and reach its potential (and you don’t want to look to the left and to the right only to find something more appealing, or ‘greener grass’), then make sure you are cultivating and fostering its success with the right blend of nourishment to help it grow!