In 2018, oxford dictionary made his word of the year toxic. Toxic work environment, toxic culture and toxic relationship were in the top ten placed ‘toxic’ in 2018.
Disengaged business executives, managers, and employees create toxicity. But companies don’t monopolize toxicity. It also involves charities and churches. Some charismatic leaders in megachurches set the tone for toxic workplaces by their narcissism and greed.
Spotting a toxic workplace can be simple, not just from the inside, but from the outside. We don’t have to examine turnover statistics, reports, or interview anyone to know that Donald Trump’s White House was a super toxic environment. Here are some signs of a toxic workplace:
Lack of articulated and lived fundamental values
Procedures, practices, decisions taken situationally
Lack of articulated and lived fundamental values
Leadership advances others, it does not promote itself. Leaders set the tone and create safe workplaces. Leaders establish and live core values.
The values are our default position, our pole star. Doing the right thing, period! Values include respect for individuals and families, trust, integrity, transparency, caring, rigor, good administration, and responsibility.
The actions of Donald Trump and Justin Trudeau did not display ethical guiding principles or core values. Trump lobbied his loyal vice president, among others, to revoke the certified election results. Trudeau pressured his attorney general to hide his conflict of interest. They both acted in his best interest. None suffered legal consequences; hence his message to his compatriots: fundamental values are not beacons for decisions, the end justifies the means.
Without consistent application of ethical guiding principles and core values, leaders ignore trust, integrity, caring, good stewardship, and responsibility in favor of a particular outcome, a foundation for a toxic culture.
Procedures Practical Decisions made situationally
Align procedures and practices with core values. Hire people of character, train, develop and empower them. Accept mistakes as they grow and learn. Don’t control or reprimand them for mistakes in the learning curve; use them to teach and learn.
Values should include providing a safe environment. Don’t compromise or “cut costs” associated with core values, like safety, to “save” money when times get tough. Do the right thing and bear the costs!
When leaders and managers create procedures and practices that are contrary to core values, they confuse, frustrate and displease employees. Employees become fearful, accidents happen, rumors abound as toxicity creeps in. Values statements need consistent decisions to affirm them.
Leaders build trust through action. Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines trust, the foundation of good communication, as “confident confidence in the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone or something.” Telling an employee eleven months later about poor performance doesn’t help. Regular feedback shows interest and a willingness to listen, learn, and help the employee succeed. Employees need positive and negative feedback; positive feedback alone is as bad as none.
Practice the TAP principle:
Be transparent: what you see is who I am, what fits with the core values.
Be accessible– Effective managers and leaders listen, ask questions, and encourage.
Be foreseeable: apply core values always. If you see an error that reduced costs by $ 100,000. Fix it because it is correct.
When the workforce sees core values consistently applied, they know who you are and what you believe in practice.
Leaders must respond to legitimate employee problems. Share company performance with the workforce. Give them the opportunity to ask questions about the business and share their challenges. With the best of intentions, it is difficult to eradicate a rotten culture:
According to Gallup, the number one reason people change jobs today is for career growth opportunities. However, most companies do not hire employees.
Worldwide, 85% of employees are offline versus 65% in the US Disconnected employees gossip, spread rumors, leading to toxicity, reducing productivity and increasing churn. It is surprising that the average length of service for US employees is 4.2 years; 2.8 years for millennials, the largest generation in the workforce!
To engage employees and eliminate toxicity, hire people of character, train them, develop and train them. And appoint leaders who live the values of the entity.
How should employees respond to a toxic boss?
One size does not fit all. Dealing with a boss with a toxic attitude (toxic boss) depends on the situation. Is she a micromanager, a bully, an ignorant and arrogant talker? Let’s take a look at micromanagers:
Stay one step ahead – feed them project updates. Don’t wait for requests.
Be proactive – provide solutions to improve processes and effectiveness.
When your projects overwhelm you, ask for priorities. Tell them you can make their requests, but with limited time, you need their priorities.
Ask questions to understand the requests; reproduce what it captured.
Clarify the role and responsibilities of team members. Micromanagers want to meet their direct reports on their own; Be there when they meet your staff.
Understand that your results will never satisfy them; they want their way.
Focus on what you control. Make sure you have a solid red line that will never allow them to cross.
Form alliances with like-minded colleagues. When micromanagers get what they want, they may trust you. Still, some people never change.
Not everyone will micromanage. Do not stay, complain and accept “this is the only way”. Find a channel to present the toxic situation. That’s what the workers in the Canadian Governor General’s office did and were successful.
What about thug bosses? Don’t accept abuse. Seek help; But don’t let them cross your red line
Responding in a toxic workplace: a case study
I interviewed a person for six months to find out about his toxic workplace. Robert (pseudonym), vice president of a midsize corporation with multiple locations, is one of seven who report to the chief operating officer (COO). Robert’s boss, Bill (pseudonym), a micromanager, reports to the chief executive officer (CEO).
Bill holds weekly meetings with fifty people: Robert’s level (10 people) and the lower level (40 people). In these “feedback” sessions, Bill talks 99% of the time, delving into minutiae, often criticizing the second tier for failing to meet unachievable and inexplicable standards. Bill doesn’t see the harm in eluding his direct reports.
He wants everything tomorrow and believes that if you do not have the necessary resources, that is your problem. You must deliver.
Bill’s approach frustrates Robert because Bill goes directly to his team with specific tasks without Robert’s knowledge. Asking Bill to stop has not worked.
“Why are you staying?” I asked Robert.
“I think I can make a difference in the big picture.” Robert replied.
Robert follows the eight points above. He anticipates Bill, anticipates needs and provides quality information. Robert’s team channels Bill’s requests to Robert, who clarifies them with Bill before presenting the results to him. At Monday meetings, Robert answers questions about his division, which delights his staff. To date, it is working.
“Has Bill changed?” I asked Robert.
“No, but we are at peace and we continue to do our best. We do not expect it to change and we do not plan to leave.” Answered.
The culture is still toxic. Turnover is high, tension is high, and productivity is low. Robert will not accept abusive language or behavior and is considering meeting with the CEO due to increased stress and poor morale.
Toxic workplace caused by owner / boss
Robert is an executive with options. What about workers in a small business where the owner / boss creates toxicity? Do you yell, distrust, throw tantrums, demand long hours, and ignore the principles of healthy relationships? These employees do not have a safety exit where they believe that someone will listen and understand them. I interviewed several of those people. Some of them leave a toxic place for a less bad, but still unhealthy one! Others stay because they need the salary to survive. This is a real problem. In addition to the eight points above, the other practical answer is prayer.
What happens to toxicity in a team
This situation should be easier to fix because the foundation for a healthy workplace exists at the leadership level. You need an effective intervention to know the problems:
- Unclear goals: Common goals promote cohesion and reduce conflict. The clear role of team members and team goals help combat toxicity.
- Lack of trust: Trust in the leader and in others is the glue of a team. People work best in a supportive and trusting environment.
- Poor team leadership: Listen, encourage and provide resources to the team. Be authentic, humble, and fair.
- Lack of recognition: Thank team members for daily tasks; interact with team members often. Give credit when things go well; accept blame when they are wrong.
- Bad communications: Make sure everyone is on the same page. Inspire, motivate and reassure team members.
Sometimes a person does not accept the program. Dig deeper to discover the cause. Is something happening at home? Often times, the employee has valid concerns that they won’t discuss because they don’t trust you. Perhaps the team member needs to be reassigned to solve their problems. Provide funds for counseling, if necessary.
A toxic work environment is detrimental to your health. Seek professional help if you feel trapped in your position. But set a red line and don’t let anyone cross it. Beware: the effects of your toxic workplace will spread to your home, marriage, and family.
The “leaders” who promote themselves and take credit for everything are not leaders, but nonconformists. Leaders develop and promote others, incorporate value-driven processes, and establish and maintain the appropriate culture in their companies. Research shows that companies with positive cultures perform better on many metrics. They attract better talent, record higher productivity and profits, have lower turnover and higher employee engagement. Arrogant, rude, and unethical leaders set unrealistic expectations and create chaos that fosters toxicity.
A toxic workplace will cause burns on any level. No organization is immune. Toxicity infects the government, charities, and businesses. Learn the symptoms, identify them early, and work to change the culture. Although some creators of toxicity will not change, help them even if they must leave the organization.