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Preventing a Toxic Workplace
Published Friday, November 17, 2017

NH’s GDP is increasing at the highest rate of any New England state. Job growth is rising, and the unemployment rate is the fourth lowest nationwide, per NH Employment Security (NHES). And while these are all good signs, it also creates a limited labor force.

Sure, we can hire out-of-state workers except that our neighbors are in the same boat. And, about 15 percent of NH residents already work out of state, according to NH Employment Security, mostly in Massachusetts. Exacerbating this worker shortage is the mass retirement of baby boomers. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects the workforce will grow at a slower pace in the next 10 years than it has in decades .

Retaining high performers is paramount, because getting caught in a never-ending recruiting cycle, you lose productivity, continuity, knowledge and profits as you spend more time, money and effort sourcing, screening, hiring and training. The icing on the cake may be that a well-performing employee is hired by a competitor.

If you have a toxic environment that is causing your employees to leave, your customers, potential customers, suppliers and visitors will see it, your reputation and brand will suffer and your growth will be stunted. Social media and websites such as Glassdoor.com, which encourage employee reviews of companies, make it too easy to be labeled as a bad employer, turning off customers and employee prospects.

A toxic environment can be created by just one employee’s hostile, controlling or bullying behavior; by a few employees who feel immune from accountability; a rude manager whose negativity spreads; or a disconnect between management and employees that has morphed into a lack of respect by both parties. Whatever the source, the poor result is the same.

Prevention starts with hiring the right employees with the capability and work ethic you need for your organization’s success, and continues by properly motivating and engaging them, providing timely performance feedback, opportunities for growth, and creating a fair, consistent culture of respect and leadership.  

So how do you do that?

• Define essential duties and competencies for success for each job. While certain knowledge and skills are needed upon hire, others can be developed over time or are transferrable from unrelated occupations. Hiring for ability and teaching knowledge and skills can increase your applicant pool and make a better quality hire in the end. There are online job analysis resources that can help, such as O*Net Online.

• Research market pay and benefits. In order to be competitive and attract the most talented employees, salaries need to be competitive. Some companies go above, and some companies do not have the budget to match the market. This is when being creative with indirect compensation benefits, such as time off and flexible work schedules, and a collaborative, respectful culture are your biggest assets.

Market pay can be found by purchasing a salary survey or doing your own research through the NH Occupational Employment and Wage Report, available at no cost on the NHES website, and through other sites, such as Salary.com, Payscale.com, Glassdoor.com, BLS.gov, and O*Net Online.

• Interview with purpose and caution. Creating a structured interview format with the same questions and rating format creates consistency, greater accuracy and protects you from a legal standpoint. Be sure to involve others for multiple perspectives on your candidates. Make sure that everyone involved knows what you can and cannot ask legally. Search for individuals that exhibit values that are important to your organization, such as a strong customer service focus, work ethic, problem-solving and/or creative ability. It is easier to teach skills than to try to integrate someone’s personality or values that do not align with your culture and workforce. Keep diversity front and center in the process, because new perspectives can generate new ideas and help promote a respectful atmosphere.

• Proactively onboard. Impressions are made on the first day, so involve co-workers by announcing new hires and providing information about them before they start.

Appreciate the new employee on day one with a personal greeting, office-wide introductions, a tour, and a review of the basics from breaks to supplies. Arrange for prompt training, new hire paperwork and policy review on the first day. Some companies even give a welcome gift, such as gear with the company logo or lunch. During the first week, sit down with your new employee to discuss expectations and encourage questions and concerns. Consider assigning a mentor to help them navigate the new environment.  

• Be proactive with daily management. Continue regular check-ins and positive feedback to promote better performance. It shows you are present and value your staff. Encourage communication, questions, and be approachable. Consider weekly or monthly emails, newsletters or conference calls to keep all employees up to date. Address issues before they develop into problems.

Consider more formal quarterly reviews. Provide opportunities for growth, such as cross-functional teams, team leader opportunities, community involvement, training and development, and internal promotions when possible. Develop a succession plan for all roles, and prepare people for future opportunities. Make them want to stay and help your organization succeed.

• Leadership by example. Leading by example is the most meaningful behavior. Always treat everyone with respect. If you have a bad day, be humble and apologize. Encouraging employees to share new and different ideas shows you value them.

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