Friday, 18 May 2018

How to reverse toxic workplace cultures

I hear toxic workplace cultures are still the norm?
OK, here are 5 ways to reverse the trend!


Company culture is one of the most important drivers of individual and collective success

(Annie McKee, Fortune 500 Company, 2017)
‌So, what does a toxic work culture look like and why is it still such a common workplace culture?
The following is a blunt, harsh but very real list of traits:




§  people don't communicate, don't smile, don't joke and don't reinforce one another,

§  interactions are more formal than friendly and no one seems happy to be working there

§  people are very concerned about titles, job descriptions and levels in the hierarchy

§  rules and policies are more important than good judgment, experience or context

§  managers and employees make up two completely separate groups that seldom interact, it's a one-way communication in which the manager tells the underling what to do.

§  while it's well known that employees are unhappy, nobody talks about it openly.

§  there is much talk about infractions and demerits but little to no recognition of extraordinary effort or triumphs.

§  people do not speak up even when they are presented with impossible goals, ridiculous plans or patently stupid ideas they are expected to implement.

§  the informal grapevine is many times more effective as a communications network than any type of official company communication.

§  employees have little to no latitude in performing their jobs. Every procedure is spelled out for them.

§  fear is palpable in the environment and there is no community

(Liz Ryan CEO/founder of Human Workplace, 2016)


The opposite to a toxic workplace environment is a positive, engaging, trusting workplace culture with traits such as:





§  A sense of unity around a noble purpose

§  Overt commitment to virtues and values like honesty, forgiveness, gratitude, wisdom and love

§  A clear, inspiring and shared vision of the future

§  Generosity of time, talent and resources

§  Taboos against hurtful treatment of others, dishonesty and cynicism

§  Respect for the individual's right to grow and develop

§  Celebration of differences

§  Compassion and humane treatment of everyone in good times and bad

§  Fairness and justice

§  Integrity

§  Fun

(Zameena Mejia, 11 signs your workplace's culture is toxic (and what you can do to be happier) 2017)


In my experience as a life-long educator I would stress the importance of the following points.
1.   A healthy productive workplace culture takes time and starts from the top. Leadership is knowing your purpose, clearly articulating your vision and explaining your authentic style.
Leadership is about facing adversity with courage and positivity and having the patience to build relational trust across all levels. It is about being humble, honest and openly showing gratitude.
Leadership is about life-long learning, wrestling with the “why” and serving the greater good. Leadership is critical reflection on your own practice, growing experts and leaders in the organisation, and operating a transparent, open door policy.
Leadership is empowering others through trusting delegation, showing care for all employees and role modelling a healthy approach to work and life.
2.   A healthy workplace culture develops cross-team/cross-department functional collaboration. People with different functional expertise come together to share, to problem-solve and build common understandings and solutions toward a common goal. We no longer work in silos performing specific fragmented tasks. Instead we bring our different knowledge and skills to create new knowledge and innovate creative solutions. This develops a cultural respect, relational trust and a sense of community.
Millennials, in particular, will expect and seek out opportunities to interact with people who interest and excite them—exchanges that should, in turn, build innovation energy. To help individuals see where their work fits in the knowledge ecosystem, encourage relationships with colleagues in the internal innovation chain, from manufacturing to marketing and distribution. 
(Ishak, 2018, Creating an innovation culture)

3.   A healthy workplace culture means taking time to undertake a WOO activity, that is a Window of Opportunity whereby you gather data from ALL employees on what is working well (that is, don’t touch!) and what needs addressing or changing. Allowing all staff to have a say is empowering for all but even more empowering when we honour their voice by actually bringing the change they collectively identify.
4.   A healthy workplace culture ensures managers and leaders at all levels are equipped with the interpersonal and leadership skills needed to establish a positive and productive work environment. Why do we think appointing leaders is all we need to do and brilliance and success will follow? Leaders who have a good understanding of how to lead, change management and a keen sense of EQ are the perfect tonic to a toxic workplace. Leaders who do not have a clear understanding of these concepts, even though they may be experienced, will add to the toxicity of the workplace culture.
5.   A healthy workplace culture looks like fun, celebrates diversity and encourages innovation through trial and error. Co-constructing and ‘living’ a mutually agreed code of behaviour develops a culture of respect and responsibility. Including a clear protocol for a breach of this code ensures accountability and an assurance of workplace safety.
Allowing opportunities for staff to innovate, be adventurous and create breeds a cutting-edge mentality and a growth mindset. Fixed mindset employees cling to traditional ways, siloed working and steer clear of challenges and failing. Growth mindset employees continually try to fulfil their own potential and will often develop a benefit mindset where they work to promote not only their own well-being but also the well-being of the collective. This ultimately develops a serving/giving culture.  
And finally, a great workplace culture metaphor from Arianna Huffington:

Treat culture as the company’s immune system

Internally, a healthy company values and celebrates everyone’s contributions — which directly impacts retention and recruitment. Externally, an unhealthy culture can quickly lead to multiple problems and crises that can damage a company’s reputation, especially in the era of social media. In a culture that has run itself down, our resilience becomes compromised much like the resilience of the human body does; we become more susceptible to viruses that are part of every company (because they’re part of human nature). In healthier times, we’re collectively able to identify these toxic elements and quickly reject them.




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