Managers that possess a level of Emotional Intelligence can quickly read and be aware of their employee’s emotions and potential issues within their team that need immediate mediation. A toxic workplace is a workplace that is marked by significant drama and infighting, where personal battles often harm productivity. Toxic workplaces are often considered the result of toxic employees, or workers who are motivated by personal gain (power, money, or special status), use unethical, mean-spirited and sometimes illegal means to manipulate and annoy those around them; and whose motives are to maintain or increase power, money or special status or divert attention away from their performance shortfalls and misdeeds. It is managements responsibility to recognise these environments, toxic employees and use correct techniques to indirectly attempt to mediate the situation.
Toxic employees do not recognise a duty to the organisation for which they work or their co-workers in terms of ethics or professional conduct toward others. Toxic employees define relationships with co-workers, not by organisational structure but by co-workers they favour and those they do not like or trust. This phenomenon harms both the company and the other employees, including those who are not direct targets. Co-workers are distracted by drama, gossip and by choosing sides in the ongoing animosity. This can translate into lost productivity. Positively motivated and ethical employees may try to speak up to a toxic employee but this can make them a target. Over time, positively motivated employees drift away from the workplace and only employees comfortable in the negatively charged atmosphere remain on staff. Fellow employees may begin to experience physical symptoms from the stress and worry over whether they or someone they care about in the workplace may be targeted. This can even develop into a clinical depression requiring treatment.
A toxic workplace is a direct result of failure by the leader to use emotional intelligence.
This is a very sweeping statement, so it is necessary to look at some symptoms of a toxic workplace and consider them in the light of the actions the leader should take (or should be taking):
- Work is not distributed evenly.
- Some are overworked while others sit and gossip.
- Credit for ideas is not given where it is due.
- Often others take the credit.
- The “rules” vary depending upon the person.
- Some people get away with more than others.
- Blame for failure is deflected on to others
- Sexual or racial abuse and harassment are suffered.
- Cliques are formed and individuals are targeted or shunned
- Fear and intimidation are ignored
- Gossip and personal innuendo is the norm
These are only some of the symptoms of a toxic workplace, but it is clear that in all cases the failure is the result of a disconnect between the leader and the team and a lack of awareness of the team environment.
A leader with emotional intelligence will:
- notice the problem
- take responsibility for resolving it
- do so promptly
- be absolutely fair and even-handed · never be the cause of the problem
We should also remember that a leader, by definition, is a role model. Team members will subconsciously model their own behaviour on that of the team leader. It follows that the team leader is often the direct cause of a toxic workplace. A toxic environment should not be blamed on the employees directly involved but more on the lack of awareness from management.