It comes as no suprise to anyone HR that as we head into Christmas, with continued tiers and many employees working remotely for the foreseeable future, people may understandably be feeling the strain.
It's also a fact that when teams aren't together in person, there's greater potential of instructions and intentions being misconstrued. Communication can blur and tempers may fray. Many line managers are finding that toxicity is more likely to increase without the opportunity for teams to interact calmly in a shared space.
According to the Culture Economy Report 2020, one in five employees has experienced workplace bullying this year. Further to this, less than half (43%) of respondents were satisfied with their manager’s handling of these issues.
So what can HR teams and leaders do to combat toxic behaviour?
Leaders should be clear when communicating with employees and be understanding of the challenges colleagues experience on a human level. Our experience of WFH varies hugely. They need to acknowledge that while working from home can be tough, it should not mean a drop-off in formality, courtesy and respect.
It’s also important to put a conflict resolution plan in place. By signposting how colleagues can get help if they feel uncomfortable, problems can be dealt with quickly and before too much damage to working relationships is caused.
Perhaps most importantly, there should be measures to ensure everyone is given a say. Working remotely is challenging as people can quickly recede into the background and feel forgotten. These measures will help to give each person on the team a chance to express their views.
Hosting 1-2-1 sessions or small group sessions virtually is a great way to engage people more intimately. It also gives leaders and HR teams the tools to understand how individuals are feeling. Whether these sessions are hosted by someone in-house or facilitated by an external company, they are essential for working out what to do when tensions rise.
The set-up of these sessions is vital, and employees need to be encouraged to be open and honest to allow for problems to be identified. Malicious behaviour which spirals into a ‘blame and complain’ atmosphere won't help anyone.
Appreciation is key
I have run workshops like this many times, and have found the most successful sessions are those that start on a positive note. People want to feel appreciated at work, and when they do, they're more likely to be open to change.
Ask each employee to first state something positive about the others in the session, such as what they like about them or what they think they handle well. Then move on to what they would like their colleagues to do less or improve on, whether it’s delivering constructive feedback or sharing a new project brief more clearly.
Unifying different teams
Another great tip is to pair people up in the session by using virtual breakout rooms, and switch the pairs to ensure that everyone gets to speak to everyone else present in the session. If team toxins are creating a bad atmosphere between different teams, this will help them to understand other departments’ challenges by putting them in one another’s shoes and raising their empathy levels.
In sum, inviting each party to share their concerns should generate compassion and help to clear tension.
Managing conflicting toxins
Lastly, find antidotes to each toxin. Each person is unique and will therefore handle toxic behaviour differently.
For example, a stone-waller will need some time to respond as they prefer to be left alone, and this can be difficult handle when multiple people act in this manner. Other people may be deceitful, or even defensive, automatically placing the blame on colleagues. Acting impulsively can be hard to mediate, which is again why an external moderator can be useful.
As leaders, providing visible, accessible and frequent communication is vital, whether it be via regular virtual after-work drinks or weekly newsletters reminding everyone best practice and the ways they can seek support.
Promoting an open feedback culture and allowing people to vent without letting things fester will only ever be beneficial in reducing toxicity. By implementing some or all of the aforementioned tools, I guarantee morale will be boosted and working relationships will be improved, resulting in a happier, healthier company culture.