Should your workplace have a bio-hazard symbol on the front door ? Coping with toxic workplace aurae.

What are “aurae”?  What is workplace aurae?

Aurae is plural for aura. An aura is a distinctive atmosphere or quality that seems to surround and be generated by a person, place or thing (  Simply, the aura is the “vibe” that someone gets when in the vicinity of someone else.

Do you know someone who has that contagious laugh, someone that can always put you in a good mood ?  Or maybe you know someone who does the opposite, has the ability to turn everyone around them sour and bitter without even making eye contact?

Aurae can be positive or negative, and they can be influenced by other aurae very easily.

All workplaces have aurae too.  This is influenced by the employees as well as the physical work environment.  Once a single person becomes disgruntled, negativity can quickly spread across a company to every level, creating an aurae that is so noxious that a company’s OHS manual should include Hazmat suits.

Is there a way to de-contaminate a workplace that has become toxic ?

Yes, and it doesn’t involve re-building from the ground up.  Just as an aurae can become poisoned, it can be influenced to become positive.  It just feels a lot more difficult.

Step 1 – Stop allowing it.  Enforceable respectful workplace policies, conflict resolution skills and mediation, code of conducts, do whatever you need to do to disable the negative behaviour from continuing.  This is the hardest and messiest part.  As with any disease, it will worse before it gets better.  Change is difficult at the best of times!  Some people will feel they are responsible for letting the workplace get so negative and feel immense shame and guilt.  Others may be offended that their behaviour (which was acceptable the day before) is now being called unacceptable.  Then you will have the people who will actively try to sabotage the efforts because they thrive on the negativity.

Step 2 – Develop your own positive aura.  This doesn’t mean hang peace signs and happy faces from the rafters. Being positive is a mindset, and it takes time.  Compliment people when they deserve it.  Give someone a break now and then.  Show everyone respect.  Be kind. Understanding human behaviour is unbelievably important.  Empathy does not come easily to everyone, but respect will exist even without empathy.

“Being positive in a negative situation is not naive.  It’s leadership.” (Ralph Marston)

Step 3 – Stress management.  Learn how to relax.  Learn how to breathe.  Everyone experiences stress for different reasons, and not all stress management techniques work for everyone. Become educated about what stress does to the body, how to recognize when you are experiencing a stress response and how to cope in a way that works for you.

Positive corporate culture, respectful workplaces, workplace wellness, these are not buzzwords.  Every day in Canada, 500,000 employees miss work because of mental health issues. Almost 1/3 of all disability claims are mental health related. (Case Study Research Project: Early Findings Interim Report. Mental Health Commission of Canada – 2015)

Our workplaces should not be contributing to this problem.  Improving the aurae of a work environment is the responsibility of employers – psychological safety is just as important as physical safety.

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