5 Examples of Toxic Workplace Practices that Kill Employee Engagement

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 our book MAGIC, we site an example of an automobile manufacturing plant where an employee was assaulted in the parking lot on the 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.
  4. Burnout: 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, 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. Still, ethics report may help you identify some problems existing in the employee’s environment.

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% to the equation.


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Does Paying to Freeze Eggs Increase Employee Engagement?

Last year, I wrote a blog post regarding the “perks arms race” happening in Silicon Valley. The latest weapon in this race was announced last month by Apple and Facebook – egg freezing for female employees. This move just took perks to a whole new level of personal. Not only can you take care of all your grooming needs at work via onsite hairstyling and dental care, but now you can include family planning in that ever-increasing list of benefits.


This is a prime example of the Adaptation Principle at work.


Employees of these types of companies now expect certain perks, like free food in the cafeteria, bringing their dogs to work, and impressive stock grants. It’s no longer a bonus, but rather the cost of employment. In order to offer what feels like a perk these days, companies have to be increasingly creative.


The question now is the effectiveness of offering such creative perks. Will egg freezing attract and retain top female (and male) talent? And, more importantly, will egg freezing actually increase employee engagement, or will it simply be yet another form of golden handcuffs? Based on the effectiveness of perks in the past, my suspicion lies heavily in the handcuffs option. If an employee isn’t truly engaged in her work (offering heart, hands, mind, and spirit), she may still choose to stay at the company because it’s paying for her potential future children to be put on hold. And that’s not the reason you want an employee to stay. You want an employee to stay because she is enthusiastic about the work she does, willing to go above and beyond to find creative solutions and provide value. No perk, however creative, can inspire those feelings in an employee.


Want to find creative ways to attract, retain, and engage employees? Consider the meaning in their daily work. How are they changing lives? What opportunities are available for growth and learning? Who are the people they can connect with? A company that can provide meaningful work with opportunities for growth and people with whom I can connect – now THAT’S a company I want to work for, regardless of the perks they do or don’t offer.


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