Are Your Employees in a Toxic Work Environment?

March 7, 2014 § 2 Comments

How is your work environment? Are your employees happy?
Healthy? Motivated? Productive?

Do you spend more time worrying about the regulations at your workplace than actually doing the important work at hand?
How’s your turnover rate?

There are ways to ensure that your work environment stays productive with satisfied employees and it can start with just a few simple steps…


medium_2473053902Very few people start a company with the intent of creating a toxic work environment for their employees, but many people don’t realize how their actions as an administration can very quickly create this effect.

A friend was telling me about some recent changes in her workplace, and sadly, this is a story that could be from many workplaces around the country –

Her administration changed. The new team came in and made a LOT of changes before they even learned about what was really happening at the company. They fired all of the managers – including ones that would have been extremely helpful to them. They hired new people that were not really qualified or experienced enough for their new roles. They changed almost every office procedure. They “re-organized” the departments. New rules and regulations began popping up daily. They started watching computers, blocking access to many sites, monitoring emails, phone calls, etc. Micromanaging was an understated term. Laughing or anything that even remotely resembled socializing quickly became taboo. Communication was basically nonexistent. The employees had to learn about the changes either by word of mouth or when they were handed one of the written discipline slips that were suddenly becoming a regular occurrence.

Some companies do indeed need big changes. This particular one did not need many of the changes that were implemented. In fact, the changes have caused much higher inefficiency. Clients are not being properly served and client satisfaction is going down. Employee morale and motivation is at an unprecedented low. Innovation has stopped. A place that once had a building full of pleasant, smiling, productive employees who enjoyed their jobs is now a quiet and stress-filled mausoleum. Use of sick days have gone up and several employees have unfortunately seen the inside of the emergency room in the last couple of years since this change went into effect. You can feel the tension the moment you walk in the door. Everyone thought it would get better as the new administration settled in, but it just keeps getting worse…


Every workplace has its stressors, and change of any kind – even good change – can be very stressful. As an employer, sometimes you have no control over the inevitable stress in your workplace. However, you should always be aware of how things are affecting your employees.

This particular example is an extreme case (and I’ve only listed a few of the things going on there), but it is a perfect demonstration of how these things can affect your environment. You have a team of adults – over-regulating, monitoring, and stifling natural human behaviors is NOT going to go over well. Not communicating with them and only handing out confusing discipline notices without ever acknowledging the good work they do is going to only serve as motivation to NOT do their jobs. If they’re afraid that anything they do is going to get them in trouble, then they’ll just stop doing anything.

So how do you keep your workplace non-toxic?

Clear communication is key. And lighten up whenever you can! Google is consistently listed as one of Fortune’s top places to work and it is because they do NOT have a lot of crazy regulations on their employees. Their buildings look like adult playgrounds and their employees are allowed to come and go whenever they please. In addition to their everyday stress relief benefits (like nap pods, game rooms, dogs at work, free food, free massages, slides from floor to floor, bowling, etc.) they also offer many wellness and continuing ed benefits. Some are work related, but some are not. And guess what? Google is also one of the highest ranked, innovative, and productive companies around.

Granted, most workplaces can not even come close to the extent that Google goes to for their employees, and that’s ok. At the very least, take advantage of all the research Google has already completed about creating a productive work atmosphere. Every one of their employee “benefits” are based on data that they first researched, and it has all paid off.

Be sure your work environment isn’t toxic. Show your employees that you care. Even if you can’t control anything else, at the very least you can begin some form of a workplace wellness program. Give your employees the tools they need to release stress, increase their health, and boost energy and mood. Show appreciation and respect any way you can. Allow them to be adults, and you will see motivation and productivity rise, while sick days and turnover will drop.

Check in with your work environment as much as possible to keep it fresh and “clean.” The world is toxic enough, work shouldn’t be too!

“Imagine a world where most organizations were the best place to work. Imagine what we could be getting done on the planet if it were true.”
-Karen May, VP of people development, Google

Photo Credit: woodleywonderworks via photopin cc


Warming Up to Workplace Wellness

February 12, 2013 § 1 Comment

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At least 68% of adults and 17% of children in the US are obese or overweight.* Physical inactivity and poor diet cause more than 400,000 deaths each year.** Health care costs are reaching peak numbers in US history, and employers are the ones shouldering the burden.

Are poor diet and not enough gym time causing these high numbers? They both certainly play a big factor, but studies are showing that a large part of this country’s weight gain may in fact have more to do with our jobs. We went from a nation of farmers and manufacturers – people who worked with their hands – to a nation that is often found sitting behind a computer for the majority of the day. Even desk jobs have become more sedentary with the increased use of internet, email, and online chat tools. You never really need to leave your desk at all anymore.

Besides the obesity issue, sitting alone can harm your body and well-being in several different ways. “Sitting is the worst thing you can do for your body,” says Nuhar Jaleel, owner of The Pilates Principle in Latham, NY. “Our bodies are not made to sit. They are made to move.” And sitting hunched up in front of a computer, on the phone, or at the steering wheel can cause aches, pains, and chronic disorders you might not even think about.

This puts even more added pressure on businesses. Employers are realizing that it’s time to pay more attention to the health of their workers and step up their efforts for health initiatives among their employees. Ross C. Brownson, an epidemiologist at Washington University in St. Louis says that as a society, “We need to think about physical activity as a more robust concept than just recreational physical activity. In many ways we’ve engineered physical activity out of our lives, so we’ve got to find ways to put it back into our lives, like taking walks during breaks or having opportunities for activity that are more routine to our daily lives, not just going to the health club.”

Employers are slowly starting to listen and are looking for ways to cut their employee health care costs. One study from the Omaha, NE-based Wellness Council of America reported that a company that contributed about $100-$150 per employee on wellness initiatives can actually generate about $300-$450 in return in reduced medical care costs. In other words, it’s worth it.

The simple measure of setting up the structure of the office differently is one easy way to encourage some movement:

  • Move printers and copiers as far away from people’s desks as possible
  • Make the designated smoking areas not so convenient by placing them a ways away from the building
  • Keep the food area separate so employees have to walk a little to get their lunch
  • Offer healthier choices in vending machines

These are simple tools to add a few extra steps and some healthy messages, but still are not enough for today’s sedentary lifestyles.

Many workplaces are adopting full wellness programs, offering incentives for their employees to participate and add some extra health back into their lives. Some companies offer competitions, no smoking incentives, and health screens. Others offer fitness programs right at the office, nutrition coaches, stress relief programs, ergonomic training, and instructional workshops on many topics.

The key to finding a lasting and successful program for your work is to not fall in the trap of modeling a program after another company. Each business, and each employee population is different. Employers need to consider the set up of their building and the health needs of theirĀ employees, before deciding what kind of program will work for them. It’s also important to show that management is behind this, supporting them, and willing to participate themselves. Initially, it may seem like a lot of work to set up a program, but in the long run, a successful program has proven to lower health care costs and make for happier, less stressed, and more productive employees.

The New York State Public Employees Federation is one local business that decided to run a trial to see how implementing a wellness program in their office might work. They started with an after work exercise class right in the office building. The response was tremendous and they even had to start a waiting list due to space issues. “We were pleasantly surprised and overwhelmed by the number of people interested in this first session,” says Nancy Holford, one of the coordinators. “It was an exciting beginning to the program.” The participants were also excited by this new opportunity and are hoping that management will agree to continue the program. They were amazed not only at how much better they felt even after just the first class, but also by the great night’s sleep each participant had that night, and by those that were pain-free from chronic conditions for the first time in years.

Most of us cannot change what we do for jobs, or what we need our employees to do, but with a few simple life or organizational changes, we can change how these jobs affect us. A workplace wellness program is one simple measure that can benefit everyone involved!

*According to one Department of Health and Human Services Study
**Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statistic

-“Getting Well: Addressing worker health with wellness programs”, Thomas J. Bukowski, National Safety Council Safety + Health, April 2012
“Less Active at Work, Americans Have Packed on Pounds”, Tara Parker-Pope

Photo Credit: lululemon athletica via photopin cc

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