Did you know the Productivity Commission Mental Health Inquiry of 2020 found workplace mental unwellness costs Australian workplaces up to $39 billion each year in lost participation and productivity?

What this means is there are significant consequences when the workplace you manage isn’t set up to be supportive.

According to the Black Dog Institute’s 2021 report Modern work: how changes to the way we work are impacting Australians’ mental health, there are recurring risk factors for toxic and mentally injurious workplaces. These can include:

  • Not feeling part of a team – even a virtual team.
  • Role conflict or lack of role clarity (stress around the employee not understanding the importance of their role).
  • Effort/reward imbalance (when one’s team doesn’t recognise the value of the person’s contributions).
  • Role overload (high workloads or job demands).
  • Low job control.
  • Negative stigma about the role.
  • Lack of being consulted when something is changing at the organisation.
  • Poor procedural justice (fairness, transparency).
  • Workplace conflict and relationships.
  • Bullying/harassment.
  • Poor support from supervisors/co-workers.
  • Low resources and support.

Correcting these problems begins with you, as manager.

Four signs of toxic workplace culture witnessed by an HR expert

Esther Williams, Head of HR at FCB (enableHR’s sister company) – who currently enjoys a role with great maternity and health leave options, warm company values, supportive perks and collegiality – has been inside several companies in which harmful workplace behaviour has hindered successful culture.

1. Lack of psychological safety

“People need to feel comfortable raising ideas, questions or concerns regardless of the outcome,” Williams says. “They need to feel ‘safe’ speaking up at all levels of the organisation so we can ensure each person is heard and feels valued. If someone seems quiet we need to work out why this is and ensure they are comfortable to speak up and feel a part of the team.

2. When team members don’t show up to extracurricular activities

“When people don’t attend meetings they consider to be out of their scope, including learning and development opportunities, company briefings, social events, even the morning coffee run, it shows a lack of caring for anything outside of the employee’s direct sphere/role. This will mean they don’t know what’s going on around them in the wider company community. They won’t feel a part of the organisation, it will impact negatively on the team, and the overall company culture can suffer because they won’t be engaged.”

3. Nit-picking and unhelpful complaints

“I have seen sometimes when an employee and manager aren’t ‘vibing,’ they may come to HR or other leaders with insignificant gripes, complaints or snippy emails that are extremely childish and not aligned to the company culture at all,” Williams says. “It wastes the time of all involved and will never have a positive outcome as the topics are really trivial.”

4. When feedback indicates failure

“It’s a sign of a toxic team culture when no matter what you do, your engagement scores remain stagnant or low. It may be that people don’t provide feedback at the first instance, or they do but then aren’t interested in being a part of the change process when you identify areas for improvement in relation to their feedback. This leaves managers at a standstill. You can’t improve if employees aren’t telling you what needs to be fixed, and you can’t fix those things if the employees aren’t willing to help do so.”

Toxic language managers should watch out for

New research from MIT Sloan School of Management has found toxic workplace culture can be spotted through certain worrying words being used too often in the office:

  • Unethical behaviour – identifiable when people too-often talk about “false promises,” “smoke and mirrors” and “sugar-coating.”
  • When the words “regulatory compliance” are mocked or unheeded – leading to unsafe staff.
  • Non-inclusivity, leading to staff and managers having “cliques,” being “clubby,” or an “in-crowd.”
  • Cut-throat competitiveness – evident when employees are using language such as “dog-eat-dog,” “Darwinian” or accusing a co-worker of “throwing another under the bus,” “stabbing each other in the back,” or sabotage.

Reasons to stop toxic rot in your workplace

As cited in research used by the Australian Human Rights Commission, every dollar spent on identifying, case-managing and supporting workers with mental health issues and/or vulnerable to toxic treatment yields close to a 500 per cent return in improved productivity. On the other hand, failing to support sensitive workers and protect them from upsetting workplace conditions can harm a company, as discussed in enableHR’s recently-published Disability Industry Report.

One of the best tools to provide support is enableHR. Its wraparound outsourced software service offers an intuitive ‘bouncing ball’ experience, guiding and prompting the user towards ensuring legally-sound and safe work environments are maintained.

As enableHR Business Development Manager Andrew Feehan puts it: “The platform creates confidence that any workplace issue will have a fair process in place to help address and resolve as needed – particularly matters relating to bullying and harassment. Staff have the ability to report incidents through the Workplace Health and Safety tab in employee Self-Service (eSS) which promotes a reporting culture around safety. In addition, the Health & Safety (H&S) module inside the software helps a business identify where its health and safety risks are and how to resolve them.”

enableHR can help you as a manager by:

  • enableHR can be set up to notify new and existing staff they must read and acknowledge (with a digital signature) any company policies you have in place, such as a Bullying and Harassment Policy, ensuring your company is meeting its record-keeping obligations.
  • Making it easy to record employees’ concerns about toxic culture using efficient document-sharing and record-keeping tools.
  • enableHR offers information storage and sharing tools to minimise the chance that your workplace inadvertently discriminates against or harasses workers with mental illness and helps you makes sure reasonable adjustments to meet the needs of workers with mental illness are set up – while handing their information privately and securely.
  • There can be no disputes over employees taking too many sick days and approval for leave because enableHR can integrate with other best-in-class leave management tools.
  • enableHR is set up to manage all aspects of the employment lifecycle including employee management. People managers and HR personnel can handle anything which could become contentious (records of toxic workplace grievances, policies, notetaking) inside the software.
  • The Workplace Health & Safety (WHS) module is a standard feature inside of enableHR and can help you manage policies for WHS topics you never even imagined you have to take care of, which means your staff have a higher likelihood of being taken care of, and minimising the risk there will be problems later.
  • A special system within enableHR handles volunteers, their records, awards and rights.

Backed up with real human legal support available through FCB Workplace Law, enableHR guides any business towards creating the most positive workplace culture imaginable.

enableHR reduces the time you spend on HR admin so you can focus on more meaningful HR activities like creating a good workplace culture.

Get a demo of enableHR today, and start keeping toxic culture away.