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3 Tips for Achieving a Healthy Workplace

The right combination of motivation and consequences can help to change your workplace environment from hellish to healthy

Posted by Kenneth McCarthy on May 3rd, 2021

There is hope.

In my 18 years as an executive in the Canadian federal public service, I had the opportunity to see both healthy and unhealthy workplaces. Sadly, unhealthy ones were the most prevalent and the healthy ones may have been just wishful thinking on my part or seen through rose coloured glasses.

In my current pursuit of helping leaders prevent and resolve incidents of workplace harassment, violence, wrongdoing and fraud, I continue to see the same unhealthy workplace scenarios play out time and time again. Admittedly though, I am often brought in to help an organization at a time that they are in crisis.

As I take off my rose coloured glasses, I remain hopeful that we can raise the bar and accomplish something that would be so beneficial to all, from a personal to business profit perspective. Two things come to mind – motivation and consequences.

The Power of Motivation

If an abrasive individual cannot be motivated by care and concern for others, maybe they can be motivated by the simple business benefits of having people show up for work and produce a ton of great results because they are happy to be there and are committed to the success of the organization. Maybe these abrasive individuals could be motivated by risks that they may eventually be “called out” as more people are feeling encouraged and empowered to stand up for themselves and others and voice their concerns.

Related: Here’s What You Need in Your Whistleblower Policy and Why

These abrasive individuals are often the ones who are higher up on the organizational chart, but not always.  Sometimes they are your peers. The really toxic employers will often stand behind their actions and wait until an individual runs out of steam and gets tired of standing up for themselves. On several occasions I have heard the statement – “we’ll just settle the case years down the road if we have to.” This is such a waste.

The Power of Consequences

It is not always the abrasive individuals who are the stars of the unhealthy workplace show. Individuals who sit back and do nothing, out of fear, lack of confidence, complacency or fascination contribute to the environment.

Consequences are often seen as negative things, and they certainly can be. An individual can be disciplined for creating an unhealthy workplace and mistreating people, or by sitting back and letting it happen. Lives can be ruined through the mental and physical health impacts of unhealthy workplaces.

 

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But a consequence can also be a positive thing that helps an individual and an organization heal. Consequences offer an opportunity to learn why the workplace is unhealthy and to take concrete steps to actually fix it. Do we ever try to do this?

With the above in mind, here are three ideas to consider on what constitutes a healthy workplace.

1. Start at the Top

It starts at the top (which is the old cliché) but does not end there. Everybody has to be committed to it, not just through policy but through actions.

It is not possible to fire everyone and hit the re-set button on an organization, but smarter hiring practices, that put great emphasis on values, ethics and integrity, will go a long way to building a healthy workplace. Leaders and employees need to sit down and actually talk about the health of their workplaces, and not just rely on everybody completing their on-line respectful workplace training modules.

2. Commit to Learning

We can learn so much from past failures and successes. As I write this article, I have a dozen workplace investigations that I am currently working on. How many others are my peers working on? Lessons learned through these investigations can go a long way to improving the health of a workplace.

In my government years, I never saw a coordinated effort to really understand what was happening, why it was happening, and how it could be fixed. Sure, people got disciplined, others disappeared on sick leave, and everyone else moved on. But, the same things happened and continued to happen over and over again.

Workplace investigators, at the risk of putting themselves out of business, need to help leaders figure out the causes of the unhealthy situations so that solutions can be put in place to prevent them from recurring.

3. Call Out Bad Behavior

The workplace bullies, mobbers and enablers need to be called out, without reprisal for those who stand up. Calling out does not necessarily mean termination, unless of course the individual is not willing to make things right.

Individuals should not have to endure any form of unhealthy conduct towards them in a workplace. Sadly though, our reality is that there are always going to be people who create or enable unhealthy workplaces. We need to set them on the right path, and we need to ensure that those who speak up for a better, healthier workplace are rewarded for their courage and commitment.

There is hope.  We can get there.


Kenneth McCarthy
Kenneth McCarthy

Ken McCarthy has 18 years of experience in executive management and 8 years of experience in leading more than 500 workplace investigations, including workplace assessments and reviews within the federal public service of Canada. He is formally trained on workplace investigations, including harassment and violence in the workplace.

Ken is a Professional Certified Investigator, certified by the American Society for Industrial Security (ASIS) and a member of ASIS Investigations, Human Threat, and Intellectual Property Protection Advisory Councils. He is also a member of the Canadian Association of Workplace Investigators, and a member of the Editors Association of Canada.

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