Any size workplace runs the risk of acquiring a toxic culture. When such an atmosphere permeates a small business, however, the effects can be particularly dangerous. You probably depend on your close-knit team functioning as a harmonious unit. Discord or discontent can spread quickly and have a serious impact on operations. An effective small business owner needs to be alert to infiltration. Unfortunately, clues are not always obvious, and busy leaders are often so tied up with other things they fail to recognise subtleties. Knowing what to look for can be helpful, so take heed of these possible signs of a toxic work culture at your small business before they kill morale and damage your bottom line.
Feel an uncomfortable silence descend when you enter a room? Notice certain employees whispering to one another when a colleague isn’t around? Unless it's someone’s birthday next week, secretive discussions tend to spell trouble.
Speaking of conversations, has your kitchen turned into simply a place to grab a coffee? Do employees dash out the door each evening and barely utter “hello” in the morning? Is it getting harder to find staff willing to do overtime? Toxic environments discourage camaraderie and promote clock-watching.
If your staff seem prone to catching every bug going around, perhaps employees have lowered immune systems due to chronic stress. Likewise, an increase in absenteeism may mean staff find it hard to drag themselves to an unpleasant workplace – or need some time off to look for another job.
Lack of effort
Small businesses thrive when the whole workforce contributes equally. Whilst a decrease in productivity or an increase in error-filled work certainly merits investigation, watch out for these less obvious signs of disengagement:
- Meetings have become monologues; nobody besides you wants to say anything.
- New projects bring more sighs than excitement.
- People seem reluctant to jump in to help a colleague in need.
- The phrase “That’s not my job” enters the workplace vocabulary.
Smart bosses take action when they discover the possibility of a toxic work culture. Getting problems out in the open can be a valuable first step. Small businesses have the advantage of being a manageable-sized group that can be bought together in one place to clear the air. Present what you’ve noticed in a thoughtful, yet factual, manner - being accusatory will lead to defensiveness or silence. Encourage people to raise their concerns and work together to come up with possible solutions.
Another strategy is to conduct regular (annual or half-yearly) employee satisfaction surveys to get honest feedback from employees. If you keep the surveys anonymous, to make employees feel more comfortable being open, you will get a more accurate picture of their level of motivation. Try to get as specific answers as possible so you know how to proceed and address any areas of concern.
Finally, consider conducting one-to-one “stay” interviews. This measure of employee satisfaction resembles an “exit” interview – but you get valuable information in enough time to actually do something with it. Ask individuals what they like best and least about the company, how the workplace might be improved, and what might tempt them to leave. You’ll gain insight, and employees will feel they have a voice.
Happy employees will recommend their employers
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