8 Tips to Prevent a Toxic Work Environment

It’s no secret that happy employees are more productive. Yet, creating a work environment that makes this a reality can seem like a tall order. Written by coffee professionals, this guide offers several tips to help you foster a positive, productive work environment in your cafe.

Recommended: Read our full, in-depth How to Start a Coffee Shop Business guides, inspired by coffee professionals, they will help make your coffee dreams real, from sourcing beans to hiring baristas, choosing the best POS system, forming an actual company, and everything in between.


What Makes a Work Environment Toxic?

A workplace plagued by negative behavior, such as infighting and belittling language, inevitably leads to a decrease in productivity. You may have a toxic work environment if you see any of these warning signs:

  • Your employees seem fatigued and frequently call in sick. This may indicate a high-stress workplace because stress can lead to illness.
  • Gossiping, rumors, and negativity play a prominent role in your employees’ conversations or they exhibit clique-like behavior — all of which can reveal the presence of toxicity in coworker relations.
  • You experience high turnover rates or a pattern of staff quitting before completing a full year of employment — both typically imply a degree of unhappiness in the workplace.
  • Your employees show little to no enthusiasm — especially if they previously exhibited greater engagement in their job performance. This can signal an increase in workplace toxicity.

How to Prevent a Toxic Work Environment

Creating and maintaining a positive, productive workplace requires vigilance. Follow these eight tips to prevent negative behaviors from infecting your entire team:

1. Start at the Beginning and Prioritize Training

The first step in building a positive and productive workspace for your employees involves giving them the tools they need to do their best work. Here are a few ways to accomplish this:

  • Map out each employee’s first week or two with shadow shifts and training before scheduling them on regular shifts.
  • Create an employee handbook to which your team members can refer, as needed, for guidance. Review the handbook with each new employee and have them sign a statement that acknowledges they understand your expectations.
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Recommended: Learn the best ways to Hire & Train Baristas.

2. Empower Managers to Deal With Internal Conflicts

If you won’t directly manage your employees, giving your chosen managers the tools to deal with internal conflicts can help prevent workplace toxicity. For example, you could:

  • Provide conflict management training sessions for new managers or send them to a relevant course in your area hosted by a local university or college.
  • Establish regular communication with managers to discuss and troubleshoot potential workplace issues.
  • Ensure your managers understand the difference between conflict and harrassment or discrimination because the last two require immediate attention.
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Recommended: Here are some Tips for Managing a Coffee Shop

3. Promote Consistent Communication

Maintaining open lines of communication with your employees and managers will not only build trust with your staff, but also keep you updated about any potential internal conflicts. To do this, consider:

  • Scheduling regular check-in meetings and reviews with your employees. This will provide a place for employees to express themselves while giving you the opportunity to understand how your staff feels about their workspace.
  • Soliciting manager reviews from lower-level staff, such as baristas or cooks. This feedback can help you better understand overall workplace dynamics and your managers’ job performance.
  • Designating one staff member, such as a human resources representative, to whom employees can directly refer any grievances.
  • Hosting quarterly staff meetings in order to create an opportunity to come together as a community and ensure your entire team stays on the same page. Make these meetings fun, such as by sharing a pizza, starting with an icebreaker, or playing a group game with employees to thank them for participating.

Pro Tip: Encourage staff to share ideas with management. This can help keep employees engaged and make them feel like important contributors to the success of the business.

4. Schedule Employee Shifts Mindfully

Coffee shops represent one of the few workspaces that open early and typically don’t close until the evening. That makes shift scheduling an important part of maintaining high employee positivity. If possible, follow these best practices:

  • Avoid scheduling “clopening” shifts in which an employee opens the shop after closing it the night before. This leaves employees with very little time to rest and rejuvenate between work days.
  • Schedule shifts that overlap to allow time for employee breaks while your cafe remains adequately staffed.
  • Ensure your employees get a suitable number of days off. Giving your team members time to reset is key to bright, happy faces at your counter. If your employees typically work five days every week, for example, try to schedule their days off together rather than spreading them out.

5. Recognize — and Reward — Hard Work

If you hire the right people, you’ll soon notice their dedication and excellent job performance. Recognizing and rewarding this behavior encourages employees to keep working hard. Here are several ways to do this:

  • Say “thank you” to your employees while recognizing their job performance. Expressing gratitude when an employee does their job well is the first step in rewarding hard work and cultivating a positive workspace.
  • Provide incremental raises to show your appreciation. This can encourage hard work while giving staff an incentive to stay with your business as long as possible.
  • Promote top-performing employees as another way to show your appreciation. While you may already have a manager or assistant manager, creating a shift lead or lead barista role can provide a great way to reward employees who go the extra mile.
  • Start from the beginning. Hire and promote employees who not only align with your ideals as a business owner, but also help cultivate a positive workplace for their coworkers.

6. Don't Play Favorites

While it’s a common feature within some workplaces, favoritism usually leads to some people feeling underappreciated. It also can create feelings of negativity among other staff members. Avoid playing favorites by:

  • Noticing and valuing hard work from all of your employees instead of a select few. Every team member contributes something different. While you probably have a few star employees, it’s important to ensure the rest of your team feels valued as well.
  • Promoting employees based on merit, not just likability. While it’s tempting to promote the staff members with which you connect, this should not form the sole criteria for promotion. Make sure you consider the hard work and dedication of other staff members during the promotion process.
  • Making a commitment to never hire your friends. Everyone likes their friends for a reason, but hiring them for your business can lead to favoritism and derail your otherwise sound judgement.

7. Lead By Example

This provides a template of appropriate behavior for your staff. As a leader, you convey the importance of your business’ policies by following them yourself. Here are a few ways to do this effectively:

  • Clean up after yourself and customers. Whether you work behind the bar or around the cafe, keeping your station clean and clearing tables reinforces your expectations for staff to do the same.
  • Smile and say hello to your staff and customers. Positively acknowledging those around you not only improves your relationship with them, but also encourages your staff to be more friendly with customers and each other.
  • Communicate with your staff in a positive and understanding manner — and encourage them to do the same with you and their coworkers. The more you talk about potential issues, the less likely a toxic workplace will form.

8. Have Fun!

The coffee world embraces creativity, lightheartedness, and exploration. Keep a light, yet professional atmosphere in your workspace to build a positive community. Finally, remember that a specialty coffee shop should provide a fun experience for your staff as well as your customers.

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