Toxic culture – spot one, stop one, change livesNatalie
Toxic culture …
When was the last time you stopped? Just stopped and looked around at your team, your business and the culture you’ve created?
What do you mean by culture, you may ask?
A company’s culture is the look, the feel, the smell, the environment, the energy, the behaviours, the conversations, the way you do things. It’s the intangible stuff that happens all around you.
How would you describe your culture? Honestly? Don’t give me the b*llshit marketing words, really look and immerse yourself into honestly evaluating the culture that you have in your business.
What do your employees say about where they work?
For most employees, the actual work on their desks is the easiest part of their job. Nothing they are responsible for doing at work is especially challenging – yes, really! (Unless you’ve made crazy hiring mistakes like asking someone who specialises in marketing to do your company payroll).
It’s only hard to do their job because of the politics, the stupid rules and the dark, fearful energy that flows throughout the workplace and bogs everyone down.
A toxic culture makes everything else harder.
There’s no reason for the work to be so hard. Your company’s toxic culture is to blame. It is the yucky sludge in your engine that slows down the gears and eventually corrodes them.
The stuff you need to get done in your business would be easy if you had a healthy culture.
Too many smart and capable people end up leaving their jobs not because of the work itself or the money or the lack of rewards but because they were tired of feeling like they’re pushing a rock uphill every working day.
I’ve often heard employees in a toxic culture say that they “can only push so hard for so long without being heard or appreciated”, “this is too hard, I can’t do this any more”.
Before we go any further, let’s look at the all-important signs of a toxic culture;
10 signs of a toxic culture:
- There’s a feeling you pick up when you spend time in a workplace where 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. A visitor or newcomer will feel the dark energy while the employees seem oblivious to it. That makes sense — the fish can’t see how murky the water in their fishbowl has become!
- People seem very concerned about titles, job descriptions and levels in the hierarchy. When you meet someone new in the organisation, they’ll be quick to tell you their title and status. Power is more important to the people than the mission they’re supposedly pursuing. Status, visibility and “perks” are more important than success.
- Rules and policies are very important. It’s more important than the good judgment of your teammates, their combined decades of experience. Everybody is afraid of getting in trouble for breaking the rules, so they keep their heads down and try not to step out of line.
- Managers and employees make up two completely separate groups that rarely interact. When they do interact, it is one-way communication in which the manager tells their subordinate what to do. There’s no other give-and-take conversation or collaboration between management and everybody else. This is the command and control model that most of us have experienced. It is not OK.
- There is much talk about rule breaches and people’s shortcomings but little to no recognition of effort or wins. No mention of coaching people to succeed in their role.
- People don’t speak up even when they are presented with impossible goals, ridiculous plans or stupid ideas they’re expected to implement. They say nothing, but later they complain to their friends about the stupid ideas and crazy goals.
- The informal grapevine is many times more effective as a communications network than official company communication. Rumours are rife and everyone listens to the gossip because the company fails to communicate regularly.
- Employees have little to no freedom in performing their jobs. Every procedure is spelt out for them. If they are rewarded at all, they are rewarded for hitting their goals and following the rules, never for having breakout ideas or pushing for much-needed changes.
- Fear is all around you. Doors slam and whispered conversations take place in corners. No one feels safe and everyone is on edge.
- There is no community. The few people who laugh and joke with one another get suspicious sideways looks from people who are too afraid to let their hair down. Outspoken employees and non-traditional thinkers don’t last long. They leave or they are invited to leave when their style clashes with the status quo.
If your workplace matches the items on this list, your culture is in trouble.
I get it – many leaders have a hard time acknowledging problems with their company cultures. It is hard for them to look in the mirror and see how they personally have contributed to the toxic culture in their workplace.
If you’re one of those leaders – it’s OK to admit that you’ve messed up. I know that many business owners find themselves in the position of leader with having had no formal training in management or leadership. Or if you did, it was some archaic course that was born from the 80s style of management – not fit for the changing society and the workplace demands that we now have to contend with.
It’s not your fault.
Often poor leadership stems from fear.
Fear of missing their financial goals or the business failing. So poor leaders often bluster and threaten to chop heads to save on costs. (Not exactly motivating, right?)
Fear of looking stupid in front of their team, so they sound off about the team not working hard enough etc. when actually they should say “I don’t know what we should do. What do you guys think?”
Fear of not looking or feeling like the top dog so they make assertions and peacock around the office instead of sitting down to brainstorm with their colleagues.
Fear of hearing bad news that might threaten their self-conception, so they create a force field around themselves that keeps bad news out. They hire ‘yes’ people so they can’t be challenged.
I’m sorry to say it, but in most cases, a toxic work culture starts from the top, however, I’m happy to say that it’s often through no fault of the leader.
But guess what? The good news is that with some mentoring and a willing leader, we can turn around toxic work cultures and make them great places to work.
I’m a big believer that employees will be happy, fully engaged and out-perform in their roles when they find purpose, connection and meaning in their work.