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Tips on How to Prevent or Stop Toxic Work Cultures

Updated: May 6

Tips on How to Prevent or Stop Toxic Work Cultures

The United States Surgeon General recently issued a pioneering study that identified hazardous environments as harmful to employees' overall well-being. The data backs up the assumption that working might be harmful to your health. And this is especially important for colleges and universities these days: according to a 2022 Gallup poll, professionals in higher education had the second highest reported rate of burnout (35%) behind K-12 staff.

Faculty and staff employees are clearly overworked, with few resources and no apparent ways to improve their conditions. A nasty workplace may only exacerbate an unhealthy work life. To put a stop to toxic college and university workplaces, we must first grasp what such an atmosphere entails.

Failure to encourage diversity, equity, and inclusion; workers feeling mistreated; and unethical behavior are among the primary characteristics contributing to toxic environments, according to an article in the MIT Sloan Management Review. Bullying, not appreciating hard work, not respecting employee boundaries, and consistently discriminating against employees are all examples of disrespect. Toxic work environments have a detrimental influence on employee retention and long-term satisfaction, in addition to harming people's health. As a result, higher education institutions should prioritize the elimination of hazardous environments, and the 10-point strategy outlined below provides a framework for doing so.

No. 1: Make diversity, equity, and inclusion a strategic priority for the institution. Many individuals thought that after George Floyd's murder and the 2020 racial reckoning, higher education institutions would make revolutionary progress in openly committing to racial diversity and completely embracing and investing in diversity, equality, and inclusion efforts. Yet, three years later, many of those public pledges appear to be hollow, and the expenditures have not produced the intended results. Moreover, there has been a pushback against DEI and antiracist policies, with certain state governments attempting to severely curtail any concentration on this issue.

Yet, failing to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion is a key component of toxic workplaces, and higher education leaders must not be intimidated by government authorities. Our society, and thus our students, faculty, and staff, will continue to diversify, and the colleges and universities that are genuinely committed to meeting the needs of all employees will be the most successful in the long run.

DEI should be thoroughly integrated into higher education institutions' strategic plans to steer progress over a defined time period, such as five years. They should see DEI work as an integral part of their purpose, not as an afterthought.

No. 2: Ensure that managers and senior leaders receive consistent, high-quality mentoring and training. Managers have a critical role in determining whether a workplace is poisonous or healthy. Sadly, many managers do not receive appropriate coaching and training to fulfill their obligation to grow and assist people. This frequently leads to toxic workplace practices such as micromanaging, microaggressions, bullying, and favoritism.

To help managers and senior administrators become better leaders, higher education institutions should engage in competent coaching and rigorous training on many facets of DEI, as well as themes such as inclusive leadership, imposter syndrome, compassionate communications, and burnout avoidance. They should also provide training programs for boards of trustees, an essential but frequently disregarded group when discussing the necessity of cultural competency.

No. 3: Show zero tolerance for any sort of bias, discrimination, bullying, sexual harassment, or coercion, and emphasize psychological safety. Apart from incorporating DEI into overall strategy, leaders must exhibit zero tolerance for any sort of bias or coercion. They should provide a psychologically secure workplace in which employees may be certain that they will not be penalised for speaking out or criticizing the business. Psychological safety is such an important aspect of building a healthy workplace, but most firms merely pay lip service to it, if at all.

No. 4: Put an end to the concept of "doing more with less." As we enter a period of economic stress, with many institutions eliminating personnel and lowering resources, college and university administrators may be inclined to put additional pressure on their remaining staff members. Top administrators will advise staff to "do more with less," implying that no more resources (money, personnel count, etc.) would be forthcoming, despite increased task requirements. To avoid burnout and overwork, we should urge people to "do less with less," so that their expected work output reflects their real capacity to achieve it.

No. 5: Make self-care a habit, such as taking breaks during the workplace and taking uninterrupted vacations. The epidemic has underlined the significance of self-care and energy conservation in the face of demanding work conditions. Yet, when layoffs occur and employers fail to replace headcount, workers have been forced to work longer hours with no breaks or time off. When they do take time off, they may still feel the need to be connected—for example, accepting calls on vacation since they may not have backup in their administrative unit.

As a result, managers must mainstream self-care by encouraging individuals they oversee to take breaks during the day and to take use of paid time off freely. When employees on vacation, supervisors should not expect them to be available and disrupt them.

No. 6: Put an end to the "we are a family" mentality. So many leaders and institutions use the phrase "We are a family" to express togetherness. But, they may sometimes abuse employees by making them feel guilty for setting reasonable limits, not enabling them to learn and grow, and forcing them to overwork for the welfare of the "family."

Without that paradigm, you may display care and closeness while allowing workers to maintain an appropriate distance from work while increasing their devotion to the institution. Instead, saying something like "we are a team" might assist inspire staff to accomplish both without having an exploitative connotation.

No. 7: Provide a clear professional growth route for all workers and give continuous performance feedback. Far too many employees are unsure how to improve and flourish in their professions since they are not provided with feedback on their success or direction and development along a defined career path. Higher education institutions may boost employee loyalty, dedication, and retention by offering continuous feedback regarding both strengths and problems, including bias-free performance reviews, as well as establishing a career growth path.

No. 8: Establish healthy boundaries. It implies employees should not feel obligated to be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with minimal separation between work and home. Institutional leaders should also encourage more discussions among themselves about mental wellness and how to prevent or recover from employee burnout, with the understanding that these are organizational imperatives that must be addressed on a systemic level and are not solely the responsibility of individual employees.

No. 9: Really cooperate with workers to establish a fresh, creative workplace vision. The epidemic presented a chance for employees to exert additional influence, such as by requesting remote work, and the Great Resignation reflected employee unhappiness and a desire to explore new possibilities. Yet, many higher education institutions have failed to adapt to the new normal of collaborative management, instead sticking to the archaic command-and-control system in which they harass staff into obeying all of their demands.

Leaders may boost employee happiness, retention, and actually impact the work environment by changing their attitude. The future of work will necessitate innovation—not only in technology, but also in reimagining office design in a holistic manner. It will also necessitate a truly collaborative approach from senior officials and staff.

No. 10: Make pleasure and compassion the norm in the workplace. At work, there is frequently insufficient joy and kindness, including real laughing, thoughtful and caring deeds, and general positive feelings. The epidemic has taken such qualities away from us, and we must fight hard to reclaim them. Work must be normalized as a place where you may be both productive and pleasurable.

Some may dismiss that idea, claiming that labor is work and is designed to be a grind. Yet, in my experience, the people that feel the most connected to their organization are those who feel seen, heard, respected, and totally appreciated, and who have a wonderful time. Managers should provide a good example of compassion and positive engagement, and expand informal channels of communication for staff.

Colleges and universities have had a hard, painful, and demanding three years. Notwithstanding the challenges, we have a chance to put a stop to toxic environments in higher education. We can convert the workplace into one that delivers psychological safety and joy—and is a healthy environment for everyone if we follow this 10-point strategy.

Source: Tips on How to Prevent or Stop Toxic Work Cultures

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