Toxic work environment, a real management issue

N°189a – Synopsis (8p.) – Working Atmosphere
Toxic work environment, a real management issue
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The quality of the ambiance at work is largely rooted in the management model, and has major repercussions on performance. How to combat infighting and other types of toxic behavior?

“There’s something funny about the atmosphere at our company; everyone is on tenterhooks”; “You’d better send an e-mail to cover yourself”; “What you are saying is true, but don’t repeat it too much, or you could get yourself into trouble.” Little phrases like these, dropped discreetly around the coffee machine or the lunch table, are certainly not uncommon in business. So long as they remain occasional, they don’t do much harm and may simply be a way for employees to blow off steam when they are stressed or experiencing temporary difficulties. But when such comments become more widespread, they can be the sign of a toxic environment.

The authors of the selected publications emphasize that the impact of a toxic workplace is largely underestimated. It is not unusual that the leaders of a business are not even aware of the situation. And even when they are, they often tend to consider what they observe to be a sign of minor dysfunctions or momentary tensions.

In reality, a negative environment can have a serious impact on business performance, by discouraging employees to take risks of any kind, obstructing the flow of information, sapping motivation, creating interminable political jockeying and rival clans, etc. Seen in this light, a toxic ambiance in the workplace must be treated as a real problem which deserves serious management attention, rather than merely as a tolerable nuisance.

Three steps are essential to address this sensitive issue:

– Periodically assess the quality of the working environment in your organization. Put the situation into perspective to determine whether habitual practices at your company would be considered normal elsewhere.

– When faced with a toxic environment, initiate change by explicitly targeting and addressing specific types of problematic behavior.

– Ensure that management practices foster cohesion and equity.

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