A Brief History
On August 22, 2017, CNN reported on two recent studies that showed how a “bad work environment could be bad for your health.” Although common sense should tell anyone that it is uncomfortable and unhealthy to work anywhere where you have to put up with obnoxious, petty, bickering, and back stabbing employees, scientific studies are making that observation an academic fact. Does your boss pick on you? Are you constantly being threatened with being fired, demoted, or disciplined? Are you sexually harassed? Does there seem to be an atmosphere/culture of bias against your race/creed/national origin/gender/lifestyle? Are your co-workers unfriendly? Do they lie to the boss to make you look bad and make them look better? Is there workplace gossip that is hurtful or incorrect? Do you dread going to work and look for excuses to call in sick? Do your workers seem like they hate working for you?
The above descriptions of a toxic workplace can make you or any other person unfortunate enough to work there unhappy, depressed, resentful, and perhaps perform less than optimally. The 2017 CNN article cited above by Daniella Emanuel discusses the fact that surveyed workers reported that 2 of 3 workers in the United States are not working the job they want and under the conditions they want to work in. The article also cites a United Kingdom survey in which unemployed people suffer less anxiety than employed people that work in a toxic workplace. Low productivity and high turnover are costly and preventable conditions, according to research, if the correct steps are taken to improve hiring and the workplace.
History is replete with tales of woe from workers that hate their jobs and hate their workplaces. Today the subject is not merely brushed aside as mere griping, but is more often and better addressed somewhat scientifically.
Common complaints by American workers include being sexually harassed and feeling as if they do not have adequate time to complete their assigned tasks. Workers often report working during breaks to catch up or keep pace with expectations (about half of surveyed workers!). Women especially, but also men, complain of difficulty in getting time off work to address important personal business (legal, medical, family, etc). Workers in physical labor conditions often cite perceived dangerous conditions and repetitive movements as job stress inducers. White collar and blue-collar workers both often complain that opportunity for advancement is limited or non-existent. Perceived inadequate training, supervisors that “don’t listen,” arbitrary rules that are not consistently applied, poor ventilation, broken down equipment, and poor leadership all create stress for employees. For that matter, other “toxic” employees create stress for the rest of the workforce. Complaining, lazy, often late or absent, malingering, lawsuit happy, crude, misogynistic, racist, insensitive and bullying fellow employees poison a workplace as much as the company itself.
Studies show that job related stress can lead to lower productivity as well as mental and physical deleterious conditions for the employee. Health problems such as high blood pressure, headaches, and depression can result. So what should employers do to alleviate those negative conditions that ruin the work experience for supervisors and lower employees both? For starters, consulting companies that work in HR Risk Management could be of major assistance. Improving hiring practices to filter out possible toxic hires right from the start is an excellent way to address future problems. Background checks that are more in depth than the usual resume screening using modern techniques is needed in the 21st Century to hire 21st Century capable employees. Training supervisors and executives on techniques of handling problem employees is also a good approach to dealing with current and future problems. Establishing comprehensive and consistent workplace rules and operating procedures gives employees a sense of confidence and comfort in knowing what is expected of them without having to guess. Training of supervisors and employees in the prevention and response to allegations of sexual harassment (or other forms of workplace harassment, bullying, etc.) is also critical. Enormous attention has been lately applied to studying and trying to remedy the toxic workplace and workplace bullying, especially in today’s atmosphere of “Me too.” Cartoons, graffiti, jokes, and comments that were once grudgingly accepted and tolerated are now likely to draw complaints and even lawsuits. The entire workplace culture needs to be addressed, a huge job most companies are not equipped to handle on their own.
Giving supervisors and workers the proper training and equipment (in good condition) needed to complete their tasks and selling them on the fact that they are in fact getting good training and equipment is vital. Establishing clear pathways to make suggestions and file complaints and then following up with consistent responses is also important. Lastly, getting rid of workers or supervisors that do not “get on board” with a positive company culture is also mandatory, as long as firing people is not made a constant threat.
In October of 2016, CNBC reported on the modern use of artificial intelligence as a high technology approach to controlling workplace relations, including the monitoring of posts, blogs, photos and videos available when screening potential employees. CNBC goes on to state that employers are in violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 if they perform such “vetting” of prospective hires on their own without outsourcing the research. The third party company would be checking social media and other sources against algorithms that indicate potential problem employees without the hiring company violating the applicant’s privacy.
Question for students (and subscribers): Have you experienced a toxic workplace? If so, please describe the conditions you experienced. Have you ever been sexually harassed on the job? Do your fellow workers make others feel uncomfortable with their insensitive behavior? Have you been bullied on the job? Do you have solutions to offer for some of these negative conditions? Are you familiar with “HR Risk Management?” Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
Your readership is much appreciated!
For more information, please see…
Chapman, Gary and Paul White. Rising Above a Toxic Workplace. Northfield Publishing, 2014.
Crowley, Katherine and Kathi Elster. Working With You is Killing Me: Freeing Yourself from Emotional Traps at Work. Business Plus, 2007.
The featured image in this article, which shows how due to increased health benefits, workplace wellness programs create a positive externality, by Tierratiffany from 5 March 2018, is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license. You are free:
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