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Is your workplace toxic? If you’re reading this article, you already have your suspicions. Toxic work environments give off a general feeling of unease. In addition, toxic behavior spreads quickly and can cost you financially. According to an article published by the Washington State Veterinary Medical Association: “…avoiding a toxic worker [is] worth about $12,500 in turnover costs.” 

An unhealthy work environment can be a result of the people, the workplace culture, or both. Let’s briefly go over what qualifies as a toxic work environment and then discuss ways to remedy it.

Take the Toxic Workplace Quiz

This quiz can help you identify a toxic work environment. Answer the following questions as objectively as possible with yes/no. Tally the total number of questions you answered “yes” to:

  1. There is good communication in my clinic.
  2. There is low turnover among staff.
  3. Employees rarely call out sick or are injured on the job.
  4. Employees feel comfortable taking time off and requesting time off.
  5. Employees are motivated and interested in their work.
  6. Employees are inclusive of their team members.
  7. My clinic has a human resources representative or department that they feel is accessible and approachable at any time.
  8. Employees have vertical mobility and are inspired and challenged daily.
  9. Employees treat their managers with respect and are comfortable communicating their needs.
  10. My clinic has regular open performance reviews and 1:1s.

Answer Key:

  • Answered yes to 1–3 questions: Your clinic is likely toxic. It’s time to take immediate action to repair your workplace.
  • Answered yes to 4–6 questions: Your workplace is not healthy and is in need of major improvements. 
  • Answered yes to 7–10 questions: Congratulations! Your workplace environment is fairly healthy but could benefit from further improvements.

How to Repair a Toxic Workplace

So your workplace is toxic, now what? Addressing it head-on is the only option. Take initiative by communicating to your team or upper management that your clinic is in need of a major overhaul. Here are some ideas to get you started:

1. Hire a Human Resources Manager

For legal reasons, it is critical that you have a human resources manager. Employees are often too afraid to raise important issues like bullying in the workplace, infighting, harassment, and clique-like behavior that can lead to turnover, workplace dysfunction, and even lawsuits. Additionally, all employees must undergo training on what constitutes illegal behavior by law.

2. Document Everything

If workplace issues arise, protect yourself legally and keep a digital record of everything. Document the time, date, place, circumstance, and all parties involved in the conflict. Do your research and speak to each team member in private without passing judgment. Stagger employee schedules until the issue is resolved.

3. Lead by Example

If you’re a practice manager or a manager on any level, lead by example. Make it clear to your team that bullying or negativity will not be tolerated. Encourage an emphatic workplace. Remind your team that everyone has feelings and we all are doing our best to get by in difficult times. Help out when it’s needed, treat everyone fairly, stay positive even when times are tough, and be the kind of leader you respect. 

4. Encourage Communication

Be there for your team and encourage open communication. Provide an option for anonymous grievances about the clinic, team members, and management. Ask for regular feedback and host staff meetings at least once a month. Invite staff to share ideas and constructive feedback.

5. Involve Staff in Hiring and Onboarding

Let your team members participate in the hiring process. They will be working with and/or training potential hires, so their feedback is paramount. Once a candidate is offered a position on the team, make sure that you onboard them according to your clinic’s employee handbook.

6. Teach Conflict Resolution

Problems are unavoidable, so make sure your team is trained on how to deal with conflict. Offer a step-by-step conflict resolution protocol to follow. For example, have a neutral party moderate a dispute, and encourage a positive outcome. Managers and team members should also be able to take identify and take action around illegal behaviors like harassment and discrimination. 

7. Promote Work-Life Balance

Everyone needs time off. Lack of work-life balance leads to employees calling out sick, physical manifestations of stress, burnout, poor attitude, and low productivity. Offer days off and schedule your employees thoughtfully by giving them enough rest in between shifts.

8. Show Recognition

Give thanks to your employees and consider offering regular raises, retention bonuses, and promotions. Make sure that there is vertical mobility in your clinic and that your employees can grow with the company. Promote people based on merit and likeability, not one or the other. Good leaders are motivating, empathetic, have high emotional intelligence, and are adaptable. 

Need additional ideas on how to remedy a toxic work environment? Check out Alyssa Mages and Phil Richmond’s podcast set to launch November 4th, 2022.