Toxic. That is a rather harsh sounding word to use to define a place that a person might work. Just to clarify, I am not speaking about work that is done in a nuclear plant or at a garbage dump site. Those places can actually be physically toxic. When I speak of a toxic work environment, I define it to mean…“an extremely unpleasant or malicious” place. The toxic work environments that exist out there today have characteristics such as retaliatory, condemning, harsh, unfriendly, disrespectful and even poisonous in nature. These places exist because there is no cohesion, culture, leadership, and most noticeable, no expectation of respect.

The work environment is what we make of it. If we don’t support the value and contributions our employees make then we tend to condemn it. Even the most good intentioned management team can create a toxic environment when they become disinterested in the success and welfare of their employees. This environment of disinterest consists of managers and supervisors who do not listen, nor have compassion or can even communicate well or relate to their workforce, regardless of the age, demographic, gender or ethnicity.

Toxic attitudes and behaviors:

Focus on the negative, laying blame, jealousy

Lack of teamwork and dissension in the ranks

Lack of teamwork and dissension in the ranks

Assuming fault, looking for problems, anger

Lack of cohesion, compassion and communication

Preferred cultural and leadership attributes:

Focus on the positive, ask questions, seek resolution

Team goals, efforts and ideas are shared freely and openly

Identify root causes/problems, then seek a better outcome

Work together towards solutions, problem-solving, ideas

Emphasize information and communication between all

Human Resources (HR) can have a significant impact on your culture, the environment and the overall cohesion of the organization, if, and only if, they have the support of management and the proper mindset of caring, team, and approachability, as well as a clear understanding of their role—which is to serve. When or if an HR function becomes too lofty, unapproachable or disconnected from the needs of their constituents, they fail to be effective in leading that company toward the end goal of superior customer service, respect for all and a sound business and people culture.

HR Question of the month: Please send your HR questions and concerns, or share your thoughts on your human resources challenges via email to the following address. Send input to Your comments, questions or concerns will help determine the direction for my next month’s column and earn you a copy of my book. Include your mailing address when sending your responses.