How to Manage a Toxic Hybrid Work Environment

Toxicity can be difficult to define because it exists on a spectrum. While every company culture is unique, here are six common areas of toxicity.

Training Magazine

During the pandemic, remote work and hybrid environments became common. Now that many employees are working on distributed teams, one might think toxic work environments are a thing of the past. But in reality, the toxicity transcends physical space and still exists in a virtual environment.

Dealing with a toxic workplace is paramount for a company to succeed. According to the Society for Human Resources Management’s (SHRM) 2019 literature review on the costs of toxic workplace cultures, the benefits of positive cultures and the cost of turnover due to workplace culture were $223 billion during the last five years.

But what exactly constitutes a toxic workplace? Toxicity can be difficult to define because it exists on a spectrum. On one end, a toxic workplace is any work environment that doesn’t provide the proper resources, experiences, and support for an employee to advance and thrive. On the other end, it can be as overt and nasty as bullying, discrimination, and lack of inclusion.

While every company culture is unique, there are six most common areas of toxicity at work. These include:

  1. Diversity/Inclusion

Companies hire for diversity but often struggle to have a strategy of inclusion. Training for managers and leaders, auditing all people-related processes and programs for bias, as well as incorporating inclusion practices throughout the employee life-cycle from hire to retire can be positive first steps to creating more inclusion and less toxicity.

  1. Leadership Behaviors

In a hybrid work environment, it’s important that leaders treat all workers, remote and in office, the same. Often employees at an office obtain more opportunities simply because the manager sees them in person.

Any negative behavior by a manager can profoundly contribute to the toxicity of the workplace. It’s said that people quit managers, they don’t quit companies, and the SHRM study backs it up. It found that 58 percent of those who left a job due to culture claimed their manager was the main reason they left.

  1. Work/Life Balance Issues

Even before the pandemic, work/life balance was one of the most coveted employee perks. Theoretically, working remotely should give people more balance, but many employees found that working from home made it even harder to separate their work and personal lives. HR and managers should partner together to create explicit employee policies and practices that address this issue.

  1. Lack of Growth and Development Opportunities

For decades, pay was the #1 employee motivator, but in the last few years, that has changed to having a job with meaning, purpose, and growth possibilities. Today’s workforce views companies that don’t offer a clear upward path and ongoing educational opportunities as toxic.

  1. Negative Communication

The way managers talk to their subordinates and the way colleagues engage with each other is important. Leaders should always praise in public and correct in private. Publicly shaming an employee in front of their peers contributes to a toxic work environment. The way employees talk to each other also matters. Communication should be rooted in respect. If it’s not, the workplace quickly becomes toxic.

  1. Being Overlooked

Engaged employees believe their opinions matter. On the flip side, individuals working in a toxic environment are overlooked, not seen, and not heard.

Creating an Engaging Environment

The opposite of a toxic work environment is an engaging environment. Employee engagement is the emotional commitment the employee has to the organization and its goals. According to Gallup 12, companies with high engagement are 21 percent more profitable, enjoy 10 percent higher customer metrics, and saw 41 percent less employee absenteeism.

The Gallup 12 is the industry gold standard companies can use to measure their workforce on 12 metrics that have been found to show how engaged employees are. On the surface, the measurements seem simple like, “At work, my opinions matter.” And, “In the last week, should I have received praise for a job well done?” They’ve been designed after years of research to determine the components that make for an engaged workplace.

The first step toward fixing a toxic work environment is to find out if you have one. Use the Gallup 12, or another engagement measurement tool to take the pulse on how your team views the company and its culture. With this data in hand, you can assess where the company’s strengths and weaknesses are and create a strategy to begin to tackle the top three areas where there are opportunities for change.

Since people inherently support what they helped create, it behooves organizations to let employees be involved in the change strategy. With the HR department leading the efforts, create a task force to come up with new ideas that create a more engaged workplace. Invite remote and traditional employees from all departments and all levels to join the task force. The more diverse your task force, the more opportunity for brainstorming creative solutions to eliminate toxicity and increase engagement in the company.

As the world of work morphs from 100 percent in-office to more of a hybrid working model, leaders need to make an even greater effort to instill the company’s values, policies, and procedures in everyone on the team. Rooting out workplace toxicity starts at the top—with leaders modeling correct behaviors and HR and managers ensuring that all employees have the tools to do their jobs, have access to development and advancement opportunities, are treated fairly and equitably, and are positively engaged when they’re at work.

Alicia Reece
Alicia Reece is the founder and CEO of the Reece Group, a certified executive coach, talent strategist, and author of "Driven to Thrive."