Raise your hand if you want to create a toxic environment for employees! No hands raised.
From executives to newly promoted supervisors, my guess is that not many people set out to intentionally create an environment of toxicity in their company. Yet, many workplaces in America have them. In fact, according to SHRM, one in five Americans have left a job due to bad company culture.
How do you know if your company is a toxic workplace and who is responsible for fixing it?
As you can tell by these questions, this topic is not for the faint of heart. This takes bravery and the willingness to take an honest assessment of a work environment. Practically, it can also be helpful to understand that the impact of a toxic culture is not just how it makes an employee feel, it can also have a direct impact on the bottom line.
DecisionWise reports that “a disengaged employee costs an organization approximately $3,400 for every $10,000 in annual salary.” That’s a lot of money. Now, multiply that by the number of employees at your company and, well, you can probably see where this is going. A toxic work environment can have a HUGE impact on a company’s profitability.
Let’s start by defining a toxic workplace. An unhealthy company culture can include things like:
These are just some of the behaviors indicative of a toxic work environment.
I remember years ago, I was hired as a regional HR Manager for a large company. This company, historically, only had an HR department at their corporate headquarters, with little visibility to what was happening at a regional or local level. My first day on the job, I walked into the breakroom and an employee asked quite bluntly, “Who are you and what are you doing here?” I gulped, then laughed, and responded with, “Well, that’s a great question. I guess we’ll both find out.”
Boy, were the next three years eye opening and painful. I learned very quickly what change management was…and that many managers do not like change. I learned that toxic environments that go unchallenged for many years often have systemic issues that will be very difficult to fix if there isn’t management buy-in.
I also learned the equally valuable lesson that employees want to love what they do. They want to work for an organization where they feel appreciated and celebrated. They also want to know that what they do for the bulk of their week is tied to a greater purpose and not a pointless “job” intended to enlarge the company’s pockets.
Employees who work in unhealthy organizations are constantly weighing the benefits of staying in that environment. Am I getting paid enough for this? How much is the toll of this negativity on my health really worth?
I tried to change a lot of things in that environment over the course of my employment there. From things like product theft and sexual harassment investigations to bizarre manipulative behaviors and nepotism, the environment was fraught with issues.
I advocated for employees and trained managers to try and create a new paradigm for the benefits of a healthy culture. Although “failed” is a strong word, it’s how I felt at the end of my time at that company.
I remember on my last day of employment, the director of the region invited me into his office and said something like, “I know you don’t agree with the way we do things around here but managers don’t always want people to agree with them. I’ve appreciated your push back.”
Over the years after my departure, I stayed in touch with a number of people at the company and was disappointed, but not surprised, to learn that not much had changed.
So what was the problem? Why didn’t that environment change when employees expressed that they really wanted a positive place to work? Why weren’t strides made to improve known issues when change could have positively affected the bottom line?
The short answer is leadership.
There’s an old adage that says, “Everything flows from the top.” This certainly applies to company culture.
Leaders and managers must be willing to take a step back and assess their organization and leadership shortcomings. What are some of the negative behaviors and by-products in the workplace? And, more importantly, how might management be creating, modeling or allowing (whether knowingly or unknowingly) unwanted behaviors?
Remember, this is hard work that requires courage. Creating a healthy workplace culture requires intentionality and sacrifice.
Here are a number of ways that leadership can identify and address issues within their organization:
We at Clarity HR love to work with companies to equip executives, managers, and supervisors with the tools they need to be successful in navigating the complex world of work. Contact us to learn more about how we partner with organizations to create and sustain great workplaces.
Written by: Marla Monk
December 15, 2022
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