Moving to a Healthy Workplace Environment

Article / Human Resources

Moving to a Healthy Workplace Environment
Harriet van Staveren , Business Consultant, Canada

So, What’s your Hard Hat For?

€"Have you ever been in a workplace environment in which within days you realize you have entered a “hard hat zone” – except nobody warned you! If you have ever spent too long in a workplace environment in the hopeless optimism that things might get better or that you can change it, perhaps it is better to avoid putting yourself into such a situation in the first place. One sure way to beat a stressful environment is to develop a “zero tolerance policy” - say “no” firmly.” Says Christina in her recent article, “How to Avoid a Toxic Workplace: Ten Warning Signs of a Toxic Boss”.

“You make me want to be a better man.” Spoken by Jack Nicholson in the movie As Good As It Gets resonates in my mind as I search companies and organizations for people who are as good as it gets at every level, in fact, who are so good at improving their own performance that they end up elevating those around them. It shouldn’t take words like Nicholson’s however, to make me want to shout, PEOPLE! A WORKPLACE SHOULD MAKE AN EMPLOYEE…AS GOOD AS IT GETS! And if that aint’ happenin’, YOU’ve got a problem!

A recent report tells how a Court of Appeals recently sheltered an employer from tort liability after he knowingly subjected his employees to hazardous levels of toxic gases and other hazardous materials. While employees repeatedly complained to their employer about the dangerous conditions of their workplace, explaining they were suffering from headaches, respiratory problems, memory loss, etc., the employer, (the company owner) continued to actively conceal safety violations, and run his business.

Not long ago, I received an email from someone who described her situation as feeling like she were like a gerbil in a cage, going around and around on the wheel, knowing that she had no control over the speed of the wheel; it just kept going faster and faster. She went on to give details of how her employer’s ongoing quiet messages were making her feel smaller than what or who she was, and how he was using his position of power to make her life miserable. As it turned out, she wasn’t alone. Other co-workers had come forward with similar stories. All had tried to discuss it with the employer, each of the concerns falling on deaf ears!

Clearly, workplace hazards come in different shapes and many sizes.

Each of us (whether employee or employer) come into the workplace determined to make a difference, to be special, to contribute our skills and talents and be recognized for them. When those grand aspirations get worn away by dangerous (mentally and physical) conditions, we lose momentum; consequently, creating a lackluster to work hard…and fit in. This, my friends, is the telltale sign of a dysfunctional, toxic workplace!

In a recent meeting with other Human Capital executives, we discussed the matter of toxic workplaces or hazardous work environments. It was surprising at how many of us identified that while in some cases, a toxic environment can be traced to one individual within a company or organization, oftentimes systemic factors come into play as well. Increased economic stresses, poor management practices, consistent and unresolved conflict can serve to mask, foster or strongly reinforce toxic behaviour or practices. Indifference to the quandaries of employees faced with bullying or other abuses of power are common examples. Identifying the sources of the problem however, is the starting point in developing a good resolution.

So here’s the good news: Fixing the toxic work environment is hopeful! Strategies will include preventative measures like comprehensive hiring and orientation procedures, implementing performance measures, training, and peer and employee performance appraisal systems to address the issues, and of course, developing policies and procedures to build better accountability.

Support for management or business owners is equally important in working towards a positive resolution to addressing toxicity problems. Unfortunately, employers or company owners often find themselves feeling alone, believing they have no one to confer with. This feeling of despondency propels them to do what they’ve learned to do best…IGNORE, hoping the problems go away. Sadly most of them are aware that there are definite bottom line costs of not addressing toxic situations, including lost productivity, high employee turnover, and legal liability if issues remain unchecked.

Being aware of the signs and open to the possibility that a toxic work environment may be developing within your company is only the first step in restoring your business back to health however.

Many companies and organizations are turning to companies like ours: a third-party examiner, to investigate the facts of the situation without any internal bias toward the individuals involved in the situation. We present our findings to management, and while we are not directly involved in the resolution, we provide coaching in helping managers/leaders achieve positive results, AND help implement better business practices, policies, and performance improvement strategies.

We believe that excellent human capital management can ONLY happen within the context of a healthy company culture. If you’ve entered the “hard hat zone” without warning, you might want to contact us! After all, don’t you think it’s time for SOMEONE to listen and understand the ins and outs of your company culture?

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