5 Toxic Workplace Practices That Kill Employee Engagement

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We spend a lot of time discussing how to increase employee engagement, but what about the things that will immediately nix those efforts?

Sure you can create development plans for your employees and share a meaningful company vision, but those efforts will be for naught if any of these toxic elements exist in the workplace:

1. Oppressive Boss

Years ago, I spent a significant amount of time working as a volunteer.

I was thrilled to spend my time doing work that I found personally meaningful, challenging, and impactful in an organization where I felt connected. I thought nothing could bring me down from this engagement high.

About halfway through my time there, I started reporting to an extremely demeaning boss. He questioned every detail of my work, and no matter how much success I demonstrated or effort I exerted, I was never good enough.

I soon found myself going through the motions (using my hands and mind), but I’d lost all of my passion for the work. My heart and spirit weren’t in it anymore.

Luckily after just a few months I received a new boss, and I quickly realized the difference. The new boss helped create an environment of trust, growth, and meaning where I could choose to be engaged again.

2. Toxic co-worker

This is the “one bad apple” idea.

I once worked closely with a man who never had anything positive to say about our company. You know the type — he constantly complained about processes and politics.

Prior to working with him, I hadn’t noticed any of these issues and was fairly engaged in my work; however, as I started thinking more about his perspective, I began to wonder if he was right. I found myself quickly spiraling into a disengaged state, and I no longer felt the same enthusiasm for my work.

3. Unsafe environment

In the book MAGIC: Five Keys to Unlock the Power of Employee Engagement,  there’s an example of an automobile manufacturing plant where an employee was assaulted in the parking lot on their way to work.

Talk about an instant engagement killer! Safety is a basic hygiene factor that certainly doesn’t cause engagement, but the lack thereof makes engagement impossible.

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4. Burnout

This is the perpetual state of too much to do and too little time.

I once worked with a team of brilliant engineers who started out passionate about their work, but after two years of insufficient resources leading to missed deadlines, many of the engineers started burning out and retention on the team suffered.

5. Ethical concerns

This can include everything from reporting tips as a waitress to accounting at Enron.

I once had a job where I was regularly asked to create reports which included numbers that I thought were misleading. I wasn’t the person ultimately responsible for accuracy, but it still didn’t feel right. I found it difficult to fully engage in my work when I was faced with an ethical dilemma on a regular basis.

As a manager, you should watch for signs of any of these toxic elements that will kill employee engagement. Managers need to ensure that employees have an environment in which they can choose to be engaged.

Engagement is still a 50-50 proposition, but a toxic environment won’t allow any employee to bring his or her 50 percent to the equation.

This originally appeared on the Engagement Magic blog.

Michelle Checketts plays an integral role in global employee engagement operations for DecisionWise, a management consulting firm specializing in leadership and organization development using assessments, feedback, coaching, and training. She has deep functional expertise in human resources, allowing her to effectively speak to clients' inherent interests and objectives.

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3 Comments on “5 Toxic Workplace Practices That Kill Employee Engagement

  1. I’m glad you pointed out the toxic co-worker … not even that the person’s toxicity is directed at you, but that kind of negativity for a job or company can’t stay isolated. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Agree with your take on toxic co-workers. In our 4Cs employee engagement surveys we segment employee populations with one of the segments being the “Dissatisfied Compromiser”. They are unlikely to quit their jobs, but they don’t hide their dissatisfaction and they can be a drain on morale for others who work with them, effectively lowering engagement for the organization as a whole. It’s important to proactively recognize them as a group whose attitudes can and should be changed.

  3. Seems like the toxic co-worker is the responsibility of the boss, no? Every single HR problem can be traced back to leadership, good or bad, IMHO.

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