Workplace remediation is the process of stopping or reversing damage to the workplace environment, culture, and morale. There are several reasons why an organization may require workplace remediation. They include:
- a problem employee(s) or supervisor;
- pervasive workplace bullying or harassment;
- sexual harassment or assault;
- serious misconduct; or,
- layoffs and economic uncertainty
All of them result in a poisoned or toxic work environment.
What is a toxic work environment?
A toxic environment has been described as “a cancer that damages all the stakeholders of an organization as it creates toxic culture, toxic leaders, and toxic employees, which ultimately create a toxic organization.” Another study examined how “toxic behaviors in the workplace can increase the organizational cost due to the loss of a positive company image, low self-esteem, loss of employee morale, high turnover, work life conflict, high absenteeism, poor employee health, and lowered employee productivity.”
It is a serious problem affecting workplaces across every industry, and resulting in an increase in employee absenteeism, disability claims, wrongful dismissal lawsuits, and human rights/discrimination complaints. Through our employment law experience, we witnessed this phenomenon first-hand as employers struggled to manage the consequences of a toxic environment that, in many cases, went unchecked for decades.
Your organization can take steps to prevent a toxic work environment from taking root; however, this can be challenging for most organizations given the time and resources necessary to properly tackle the problem. There is an additional obstacle when the decision-makers may be part of the problem themselves and, not surprisingly, are resistant to any meaningful change.
Signs that your organization has a toxic work environment
The term ‘toxic workplace environment’ has multiple facets that include workplace ostracism, workplace narcissism, workplace bullying, workplace incivility, aggressiveness, workplace harassment, workplace passivity, and others.
The most obvious sign that your workplace has a toxicity problem is a noticeable increase in personality conflicts and quarreling amongst employees, typically with an associated uptick in complaints of bullying and harassment. You may also notice an increase in employees requesting time off for undisclosed or mental health reasons. In many instances, these concerns represent only the ‘tip of the iceberg’ and an investigation should be undertaken to identify the underlying cause(s).
Your Workplace is Toxic. Now What?
If you are lucky, your team has identified this reality early enough to intervene and prevent further and more severe repercussions. Now is your opportunity to take a step back and assess or ‘audit’ your work culture and environment. That said, workplace remediation is most common after the organization has been forced to confront an incident or issue, and typically after an investigation has been concluded.
Ideally, your team is in the position to retain an outside professional who is trained in workplace remediation, even if its just for some advice and direction, as opposed to full-scale involvement. This process is every bit as much an art as it is a science, and must be approached promptly, carefully, discretely, and methodically.
The process typically involves the following:
- Communicating the results and recommendations of an investigation and how the organization managed the issue(s). This is a critical step to preserve employee, public and investor confidence in the organization’s capability to solve disputes and maintain a safe work environment.
- Assessing the impact of whatever workplace issue(s) facing the organization. Ideally, a proper investigation into the matter has generated the facts necessary to make this assessment.
- Evaluating and assessing the impact of any investigation that may have been conducted. Investigations can be a stressor for the organization, particularly when done wrong, and therefore it is important to consider how it may have affected certain employees.
- Reintegration of employees who have been involved in workplace incidents or an investigation into workplace incidents. Employees who are involved in workplace issues may suffer a host of problems both inside and outside of the workplace, such as anxiety, alienation, or an inability to work with certain employees, managers, or in certain environments. These may be very valuable employees for an organization, and efforts must be made to successfully reintegrate them into the organization.
- A review of workplace policy and procedures. Workplace issues shine a light on various policy and procedural shortcomings. This is an opportunity to address them and mitigate any future risk or liability. This should be done by a law firm with specific training and experience in workplace law.
- Training & Team-building. Often, it will not be sufficient to just identify the impact of a toxic work environment or draft new policies; organizations are now being called upon to invest in various training programs ranging from healthy & safety to sensitivity, equity, and inclusivity. In addition, many organizations choose to be proactive in reversing or remediating their workplace culture by investing in team-building endeavors such as retreats, or other activities designed to restore a sense of positivity and comradery.
This is not an exhaustive list as to what workplace remediation may entail. Every workplace is different and has its own unique problems and solutions to those problems. It is worthwhile to engage the right professional expertise to design an approach that suits your organization.