Recognize and Break from Toxicity in the Workplace for Optimum Work Life Balance
By Mary Jacoby Hastings
How many companies are truly interested in employing the whole person when they evaluate prospects? Companies logically want the part of a person that will be a lasting investment, the part that can get results, make a significant contribution to positively affect the company’s bottom line and enthusiastically conform to company standards and policies without fail.
Reality check…the whole person is the one that is reporting to work daily, not just a piece of a person that changes from human to robot as a time card is punched. Like it or not HR, when employers hire employees, they are hiring whole people and all that historically comes with being that person, including excess baggage such as family demands, health concerns, personally held beliefs and life goals.
Insightful employers understand that motivating employees to be dedicated to the company means some give and take is necessary because people are the sum of their individual parts both physically and mentally.
What does “give and take” mean? The cut and dried answer is quite simple. When people are willing to give of themselves to contribute to the success of a company they do so primarily because it is a means to an end—a worker “gives” time and talent to work for an employer and is rewarded with some form of compensation, typically workers “take” in the form of a paycheck.
“Give and take” works in other ways, however. People as humans have wants and needs that reach beyond job parameters. If an employer cannot recognize this, an unhealthy disconnect begins and productivity suffers. Employers and employees must be cognizant of the fact that expectations need to be clear on both sides.
If the culture of a certain organization is not a good fit for an employee, leading to a toxic work environment, “give and take” becomes more “push and pull” and a downward spiral is set in motion resulting in lost productivity. Signs of a toxic work environment include:
- inability to relate to and effectively interact with colleagues;
- an escalating lack of consensus with the boss;
- recognizing a sense of alienation from others with whom an employee must work;
- being excluded from key meetings, activities, memos, functions and decisions;
- forced decrease in responsibilities;
- forced increase in responsibilities without being allocated the tools and additional time to successfully complete new tasks;
- involuntary change in job status (from full-time to part time for instance);
- sudden loss of key benefits affecting a lone employee;
- decision-making moves from employee’s realm to that of another without input;
- lack of interest in interacting with co-workers
- loss of desire to do what was always enjoyable to do at work
- perceived lack of interest by others in original ideas or suggestions
- no longer sought for input or contributions
- lack of regard or lack of interest in what used to be casually-shared conversations referencing something as basic as what plans a colleague might have for the upcoming holiday weekend.
When a toxic environment creates misfits, drastic measures need to be put into motion, which means making sweeping changes for the sake of maintaining personal sanity and workplace cohesiveness. When an employee is no longer interested in continuing the natural give and take that comes with any job, immediate change is both imminent and necessary.
Sometimes, however, something as simple as a rejuvenating vacation at home or away is all it takes to regain perspective and achieve optimum work life balance. Even computers need regular maintenance and refreshing to function at optimum levels, sometimes in parts, sometimes in whole. People are no different when it comes to pushing the “refresh” button.
Most people would agree that the most effective way to accomplish this “refresh” is to take time away from the grind of the workplace. Herein lay a conundrum because unlike their European counterparts, most of whom live in nations where there are laws to protect their jobs, Americans are typically not secure when it comes to the luxury of frequent vacations. This mentality, one might surmise, may stem from the heritage of so many Americans steeped in a tradition and spirit of hard-working pioneers unaccustomed to taking breaks, or it may be a matter of simple economics.
“Americans work like robots,” according to a June 8, 2011 report on CNN.“Most U.S. companies, of course, do provide vacation as a way to attract and retain workers. But the fear of layoffs and the ever-faster pace of work mean many Americans are reluctant to be absent from the office—anxious that they might look like they’re not committed to their job. Or they worry they won’t be able to cope with the backlog of work waiting for them after a vacation.
“Some U.S. companies don’t like employees taking off more than one week at a time. Others expect them to be on call or check their e-mail even when they’re lounging on the beach or taking a hike in the mountains,” reports CNN.
“Employers in the United States are not obligated under federal law to offer any paid vacation, so about a quarter of all American workers don’t have access to it, government figures show. That makes the U.S. the only advanced nation in the world that doesn’t guarantee its workers annual leave,” according to a report titled No-Vacation Nation by the Center for Economic and Policy Research, a liberal policy group.
A Bill introduced in Congress by then-Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Florida, in May of 2009, would have required larger companies to provide at least one week of paid annual leave to employees; however, the legislation stalled when opponents argued government should stay out of workplace matters.
Travel and Leisure International Editor Mark Orwoll cites the Vigilance Test research that proved mental acuity in employees is sharpened by up to 25 percent after coming back from a vacation. Researchers reached this conclusion by testing people before and after they took a vacation.
Orwoll says, “A forward-looking company is going to realize that the benefits of a vacation don’t apply just to the employee but to the company itself.” According to Orwoll, health benefits include getting that extra, productive, restorative sleep that rejuvenates vacationing employees ultimately benefitting a company, in contrast to distracted, burned out and irritable workers punching the proverbial time card day after day with limited time away from the office.
Companies should seek to employ whole people to tap into an individual’s full potential where the right parts can be found, but should also be prepared to hit that refresh button to keep all parts of the human machine fully functional and up-to-speed. Periodically surveying the workforce to assess when flashpoints are more likely to occur helps companies revisit policies that may need to be updated, policies such as those regarding time off.