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4 Ways to Diffuse a Toxic Workplace

Avoid this unfavourable environment by ensuring policies and rules are the same for everyone, and encourage working together on various projects.

Andre Lavoie

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Toxic

Despite the size of your organisation, what department you work in or who you report to, if you are a manager it is up to you to ensure that people are comfortable under your company’s roof. Still, some people walk into work every day stressed and uneasy.

Toxic workplaces, or unhealthy environments that regularly upset employees, are an obvious detriment to a company’s success and can result from a number of things. These include poor recognition, overworked employees and misaligned expectations.

Related: 3 Strategies for Dealing With Toxic People

However, with good workplace leadership and an openness to change, the toxic environment can be easily diffused and eliminated. Here are some ways leadership can diffuse a toxic workplace:

1. Recognise employees for their accomplishments.

Employees who feel they are overlooked on a regular basis for their great work are bound to contribute to a toxic workplace. Employees expect to be recognized when they excel, and rightfully so.

According to a 2012 survey by SHRM and Globoforce, 85 percent of companies see a positive impact on engagement when they spend one percent or more of payroll on recognition.

To ensure everyone is recognized, set up a good performance-management system in which workplace leadership and employees can see updates on plans, goals and objectives for projects they are working on. This way, everyone can see what’s happening and it’s very obvious when employees deserve to be rewarded for a win.

This is also a great way for leaders to identify issues in real time and address them immediately to get the team back on track and stay toxicity-free.

2. Align work performance expectations between management and employees.

Employees should not walk into their performance reviews with heads held high, only to walk out defeated. It happens frequently, however.

If an employee has no reason to think their performance has been anything less than stellar, they can’t take corrective action to improve. Sitting down with workplace leadership and coming to the realisation that expectations weren’t aligned can lead to disengagement, negativity and the feeling that one’s time was wasted.

Providing open leadership and transparent feedback in which employees are always told how they did on a certain project, or where they need to build their competencies, will eliminate any uncertainty.

Define, track and celebrate goals for each employee based on short- and long-term performance. This will help them understand how to improve their performance and have a clear vision of what’s expected of them, ultimately improving the bottom line.

Related: Tips on how to Survive and Thrive in a Toxic Workplace

3. Take a proactive approach to avoid overworked employees.

When workers are overtasked, yet expectations remain the same, it is difficult to maintain a positive work environment. This can be combated, or even avoided, by approaching hiring in a more proactive way.

Forecasting talent requirements for the organisation well in advance of actually needing the talent enables those in charge of hiring the chance to plan accordingly. To do this, consider different variables that will affect the future need for talent, including expansion, new products or an upswing in the industry.

It’s also important to consider variables within the hiring pool, such as number of new graduates each year or specificity of the roles that will be needed and the talent available.

4. Deter unhealthy cliques and favouritism within the company.

It is completely natural within a workplace for individuals to become close with the colleagues with whom they work most closely. However, when it appears certain groups are favored by workplace leadership, this will turn the workplace toxic.

Consider regular happy hours that are hosted by different teams throughout the company. This will allow all employees to get to know each team on a more informal level and is especially useful if certain teams aren’t able to mingle with the rest of the organization as regularly as they’d like.

If it isn’t possible to mix groups for client projects, create projects internally that can benefit the company or mix up groups at company events.

Related: How to Manipulate Your Awful Boss Into Working for You

Andre Lavoie is the CEO of ClearCompany, the first talent-alignment platform that aims to bridge the gap between talent management and business strategy by contextualizing employees’ work around a company’s vision and goals.

Managing Staff

Stop Fooling Yourself. Productivity Tools Like Slack Are Secret Enemies Of Collaboration

Taking off your headphones and talking to the people you work with is the most effective way to foster collaboration.

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Walk into any company these days, especially those deemed “innovative,” and you see rows of desks with people plugged in to their computers – our best and brightest trying to be productive and get lost in their work. And to make sure they get lost in their work, they put on their headphones and hop on Slack.

Co-workers alternate between Spotify, Pandora and YouTube, and jump into a Slack chat room – places that are never distractions themselves, because Slack is all about increasing productivity, right? Yeah, until Slack goes down, like it has recently, and people are forced to actually interact with each other, panicked at the idea that they might have to start and maintain real life conversations.

I’ve come to realise that headphones, Slack and the other productivity tools that are supposed to help us focus are actually a threat to our future workplaces. Genuine collaboration comes from human interaction. We need the ability to clarify something in real time through an actual voice and not a endless email chain that leads to more confusion.

Our increasingly divided employees and workplaces destroy all of that – the heart of the human condition that needs to connect. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Here’s how to unplug and save the future of work.

No cliques allowed

Headphones aren’t just real world hurdles to collaboration, they’re also metaphorical. They represent a desire for employees to stay disconnected from each other, filtering out challenging new voices or ideas. It’s the same reason people seek out comfortable echo chambers.

In any workplace focused on innovation, it’s important to bring different team members together. Don’t be lured into staying siloed by department. Go further. Bring in someone from sales to gain their opinion. Add a software developer who works on the website. Everyone thinks about the company in different ways. Don’t be intimidated by that. Take advantage of it!

Related: The Tools That 5 Highly Productive Entrepreneurs Use

No brainstorming

Use exercises or approaches that allow all voices to be heard. Ideate in small groups of four or even groups of two. This allows people to feel comfortable and not intimidated by the loudest voices in the room. Remember, you’re trying to introduce a new way to collaborate, but you also want to make sure to get genius ideas out of the heads of those who don’t speak as loudly.

Try a change of venue

boardroom-venue

Leave the conference room for once. Movement is a validated promoter of new ideas. Find an unorthodox space somewhere in your building, whether it’s the parking garage, the kitchen or elsewhere, where people can walk around and ideate. This will force employees to spend time with each other and interact in new ways.

Working is more than an action, it’s a communal space we share with others. We need to build our offices into spaces reserved for more than plugging in, with our meaningful conversations packed into the 10 minutes when we drink coffee or unwind at the December holiday party.

Motivate and celebrate

Collaboration should be open but, at the same time, focused. Don’t just diverge – converge. It’s important to go wide, to take advantage of the different voices in the room. But it’s also key to build on a process that makes it easy for collaborators to converge and narrow down ideas.

Help people to understand what the priorities are to evaluate. Be clear about goals so that conversations don’t become personal and demotivating. Most importantly, remember to celebrate the collaboration itself as much as the ideas it produces. If you continue to collaborate and destroy silos, motivating participants along the way, you will unearth new ideas that resonate and a group eager to build on them, because everyone will be invested.

Related: 7 Tools To Increase Productivity And Efficiency

A Slackless future?

At the end of the day, we’re all human. We want community and to be part of something bigger than ourselves. The thing is, this simple truth about humans also extends to work. It’s not like our need to connect goes away the second we walk out of the house in the morning. But for some reason, once we walk into the office, we succumb to a process that demands headphones and Slack. We are fighting our innate desire to connect with others in reality, not only through software and collaboration tools.

The history of innovation is rich with stories of people with different experiences and personalities coming together to sit in rooms or buildings with the intention of working together in a literal, not virtual, sense. I believe that people still want to do that, we’re just missing a work process that truly represents an enjoyable collaborative experience, endorsing human connection and enjoying each other’s time, while also being productive and solving problems.

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

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Managing Staff

What To Include In Your Induction Training

Induction training ensures that new workers adopt good working habits, helps them to feel as though they are part of your company and alerts them to the expectations that your company has for employees.

Amy Galbraith

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Introducing new employees to your company and your processes is a vital part of hiring new talent. You will need to teach them about any administrative processes that will happen during their onboarding period, as well as show them the ropes of their new position.

This is known as induction training, and is of vital importance to any new employee who enters your company. Induction training ensures that new workers adopt good working habits, helps them to feel as though they are part of your company and alerts them to the expectations that your company has for employees.

The description and expectations of the role

This is one of the most important parts of your induction training and should be the first step you take for your new employees. This should start as soon as they have accepted their role, as it will make the onboarding process easier and more efficient.

You will need to send them an offer letter, two copies of the contract (one for them to sign and one for them to keep), details of all benefits and a copy of the employee handbook. On their first day in the office, you should describe their new role to them in detail as well as how they are expected to perform. By taking this simple step, you are preparing your employees for the rest of their time at your company.

Related: As An Entrepreneur, Be A Motivational Leader To Your Staff

Health and safety in the workplace

You are legally required to provide your employees with any health and safety information they need to carry out their roles. You will need to provide them with a copy of the company’s health and safety policy. And ensure that they sign it once they have read over it and understood it.

You must inform all new workers of the fire safety procedures and tell them what to do if the alarm should sound.  Health and safety in the workplace also involves your policies on using the kitchen in your office, so be sure to show them the kitchen and educate them on any rules you might have.

Tour the premises

It is important that your employees know the layout of the inside and outside of your office, especially if an emergency should occur. It is also helpful for them to know where the kitchen and restrooms are.

A tour of the premises will also allow new employees to familiarise themselves with the different departments. If they need to speak to the client services department, they will know exactly where to go rather than having to wander the halls lost. While this might not seem to be a vital part of induction training, it is helpful in making your employee feel welcomed and accepted in the company.

Introduction to their colleagues

Introducing new workers to their colleagues is an important part of induction training. You should start by introducing them to their line managers, the HR department, the health and safety officers and the employee representatives.

Meeting their line manager first will allow your new employee to get a feel for the role and get to know who they will be reporting to. It can make first days less stressful and maintain a friendly office atmosphere. Have a moment during your morning discussions to introduce your new employee to the rest of their colleagues, but be sure that they are okay with you doing this beforehand.

Related: What must I include in an orientation pack for new staff?

Provide ample orientation

The orientation period of the training should not be forgotten, nor should it be lackadaisical. You will need to include an introduction to the processes of logging on to computers, where to find stationery supplies, and the policy on use of phones during working hours.

Show your new employee how to turn on and log into their new computer, including how to access folders, emails and the company’s drive. It might be a good idea to assign a “work buddy” to your employee to help them with any new tasks at first. Providing ample orientation will make the transitioning process easier for your employees, but be sure to have regular catch up meetings during their first three months to see how they are handling the position.

Induction training is important

If you own a fast-paced company, you might not think that induction training is very important. However, nothing could be further from the truth. Induction training is immensely helpful for new employees, just as courses for team leaders are for more established employees.

You will need to provide a thorough description of their role, explain the health and safety procedures of your office and introduce new employees to the rest of the office on the first day. From here, you should have regular checkups during their first three months to ascertain their progress.

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Managing Staff

Employees Underperforming? How To Respond To These 3 Excuses

Sometimes, an employee just needs an extra jolt. Other times, you will need to pull the plug.

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Companies are increasing their focus on employee retention. In fact, PayScale’s 2018 Compensation Best Practices report found that 59 percent of respondents considered employee retention a “major concern” for their companies and organisations. This isn’t surprising given that a revolving staff door can make it almost impossible to preserve recent organisational knowledge and keep up with projects and responsibilities.

So, yes, keeping retention top of mind is smart, but sometimes a staff change is unavoidable. When you’re calling the shots, firing people will almost certainly make you uncomfortable. Whether you are running a small start-up or a Fortune 500, you can’t hide behind other people and say the decision was out of your hands.

Then, the bigger your company gets, the harder it will be to respond in order to change quickly and effectively. While employees can grow into their roles, you shouldn’t let your sense of loyalty to your current employees prevent you from making good business decisions.

It’s just logical that some of your original staff members are going to be unable to keep up with the pace and to cease to bring enough value to the company. In those cases, you should maintain a realistic attitude as to when it is time to part ways. And, when those tough conversations need to happen, your sense of loyalty to your employees can be your worst enemy.

A retention reality check

checking-in

In your personal life, “loyalty” generally means believing in an individual and defending him or her when that person comes under attack. When you become part of a team, however, the definition of loyalty changes.

As a leader, you need to think about your loyalty to all of your employees instead of just one person. When a team member cannot keep up or shows signs of burnout, he or she will likely require co-workers to pick up the slack. When you hold certain people to a lower standard, other employees become resentful, and the poor performer starts to drag the company down.

Related: Dealing With Employee Misconduct

For example, a B2B company we worked with had a marketing employee who had been with the team from the beginning. The company had done well, and its board was pushing for accelerated growth – which required more effective marketing. The employee was a jack-of-all-trades but couldn’t keep up with increased demand. After the difficult decision was made to replace this employee with a more qualified individual, the company quickly hit stretch goals that had previously been elusive.

Often, a leader may be blind to necessary personnel changes, whether willfully or unconsciously. In either case – if this leader is you – the sooner you recognise the problem and take steps to address it, the better off your company will be.

Warning signs that signal a personnel change

It will not always be obvious, but here are three common excuses from employees that might indicate it is time for you to consider a personnel change:

1. “I don’t have enough time” 

Work stress is prevalent across all industries, and a study from Paychex found that roughly 70 percent of those surveyed reported stress levels of at least 3 on a scale of 1 to 5. Certainly, being pressed for time doesn’t help stress, either.

One of your primary roles as a leader is to clearly define your employees’ jobs and responsibilities. If team members struggle to keep up with their workloads, they are probably stretching themselves thin trying to help others, or putting off work to avoid accountability.

When you talk to an employee who claims to be short on time, determine what his or her current projects are and then contain them. Give this employee specific responsibilities that don’t require relying on co-workers, and see how he or she meets these new expectations and goals. If the employee continues to underperform, look for a replacement, although it is not a bad idea to put out feelers for that replacement before you even have the above discussion.

Related: Richard Branson on How to Train Your Employees

2. “I cannot control this”

The ability to find a solution to a work problem is an indicator of someone who “owns” the situation. This is a characteristic you need to see in employees. When I worked at Dell, we had a substantial drop in traffic and couldn’t figure out why. Eventually, we discovered that our laptop batteries were catching fire. Unfortunately, you can’t advertise or email your way out of a drop in traffic due to a problem like that; but you can turn to your partners in crisis communication and social media.

If you give employees all the tools necessary to solve problems and they still can’t succeed, it’s time to reevaluate their fit in the company. By letting them go, you ultimately keep them from stagnating. If you struggle with this concept, look toward Startups.co CEO Wil Schroter, who has said he views his company as a school for employees. When employees get to the point that they would learn better elsewhere, it is time for them to move on.

When you let go one of these employees, make sure that the high performers you do have feel appreciated. Talk to their co-workers to ensure that in the interim, everyone’s roles and responsibilities are firmly established. Also, involve the rest of your employees in the subsequent hiring process so they have some control over who is named as the replacement.

3. “It wasn’t me” 

According to Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace report, worldwide employee engagement sits at a lowly 15 percent. Employees with low engagement often have a decreased sense of responsibility for their work, which wreaks havoc on productivity and accountability.

The most toxic situation is when employees attempt to deflect their own poor performance onto surrounding team members. These individuals rarely admit fault but instead cast broad accusations in an attempt to throw co-workers under the bus. As a last-ditch effort, such employees will even question the data that illuminates their underperformance.

Tough love is the solution here. Like an unfaithful partner who’d rather talk about other people who cheat instead of his own indiscretions, the underperforming employee will try to direct the conversation away from his or her performance. But don’t let that happen: Stay the course and let this employee go.

Related: 7 Signs You Have A Positioning Problem [And Why Familiarity Kills Businesses]

Then, during your subsequent hiring process, be mindful of the departed employee’s character flaw. Ask questions about challenges each candidate faced at previous jobs. Be wary when interviewees shift blame to others or speak poorly about their previous employers.

Most importantly, be realistic about your employees and do your best to fill any gaps with the strongest candidates you can find. And accept the truth: You will never be entirely comfortable about firing people.

If you are, you might not have the empathy required to make a great leader. However, it is part of your job to ensure that your seats are filled with top talent, so be loyal to your whole team and know when to let under-performers go.

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

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