Navigating out of a toxic workplace culture as a manager

Stress, Anxiety and Multitasking Business Woman with Headache from Workload and Laptop Deadline in Office. Burnout, Frustration and Overwhelmed Lady Exhausted, Procrastination in Toxic Workplace culture.

Navigating out of a toxic workplace culture as a manager.

  • How are toxic workplaces created?
  • Disadvantages of a Toxic Workplace Culture.
  • Identifying Signs of a Toxic Workplace Culture.
  • Steps to Navigate Out of a Toxic Workplace Culture as a Manager.
  • Examples of toxic workplace culture.

Every organisation dreams of a workplace where synergy flows, collaboration reigns, and success is a team effort. Yet, the stark reality many encounters is far from this ideal: a toxic workplace culture. This detrimental environment, marked by negativity, distrust, and high stress, is harmful not just to employees but to the overall success of the business.  

Recognising and addressing the issue is crucial to ensuring the longevity of the business.

From losing top talent, impacting brand reputation, and leading to legal implications businesses need to navigate out of a toxic workplace culture.

We have seen a lot about working in a toxic workplace culture across social media and media channels, in recent years changes have led to employees wanting a better work-life balance. Working in a toxic workplace may result in poor work-life balance leading to employees opting to look at a new company.

How are toxic workplaces created?

Toxic workplace cultures are presumed to be created by managers with weak leadership skills and lacking credibility, potentially due to a lack of training and/or experience. A manager/employee deemed as negative or toxic may spread this throughout the workforce, impacting the overall team. Potentially causing other employees to take more sick leave with increased stress levels.

Furthermore, these types of managers thrive with power and wanting to keep their seniority, they may use others to deflect from their failures in work performance.

Disadvantages of a Toxic Workplace Culture

A toxic workplace culture is more than just a challenging environment; it’s a breeding ground for multiple business pitfalls.  

Low Employee Morale

When working in a toxic workplace for a prolonged period, may harm an individual’s mental health. This may present itself as symptoms of anxiety, depression, and some employees’ burnout.

Employers will see as enthusiasm wanes so do employees’ drive to excel and provide results for the business. This is due to employees often doing the bare minimum, employers may feel this is out of laziness but within a toxic work environment, this will be out of diminished morale.

A toxic workplace culture drains employees emotionally leading to emotional exhaustion for employees. Employees will be physically there, however mentally and emotionally they are disengaged from the workplace.

Decreased Productivity:

In a toxic environment, employees are less likely to be creative and innovative, as employees are afraid to share opinions for fear of backlash or being ridiculed by others in the business. This may stem from senior management.

Inefficiencies within a business including if it’s lacking in trust and communication is limited, may lead and inefficiencies as employees might not share resources, information, or collaborate effectively. You may also see employees being distracted by gossiping and/or conflict with other employees, taking them away from their main responsibilities as they deal with other matters.

Increased Employee Turnover

Recruitment is expensive for businesses, constantly needing to hire and train new employees leads to high costs. Reducing available revenue for training and development of existing employees. Recruitment campaigns may be expensive due to advertising roles, interviewing, onboarding, and training. These costs aren’t just financial, but time resources adding more pressure on other employees to fit in shortlisting and interviewing.

Loss of business and client knowledge as when long-standing employees leave, they take with them years of knowledge and expertise, leaving a gap that’s hard to fill. Furthermore, the employee may have created strong working relationships with clients, leading to a breakdown in client relationships.

High turnover rates can create an environment of instability. New employees may feel insecure or uncertain about their future in the company, perpetuating the cycle.

Poor brand reputation

It may be difficult in attracting top talent, especially in niche industries or within smaller locations such as Northern Ireland or Glasgow City due to word of mouth. If a business has a reputation for a toxic workplace culture, this impacts gaining business partnerships.

Word of mouth can have extreme impacts on brand reputation, especially in specific industries where information can spread fast and impact the brand’s reputation. A reputation for a toxic culture can deter high-calibre candidates from even applying.

Clients and business partners may become concerned with high employee turnover especially if internal issues are publicised. Clients and partners may begin to ask questions regarding the management of their accounts and query the stability/values of the company.

Business partners may opt out of the partnership, due to concerns it will impact their brand reputation also.

In the age of online reviews and platforms like Glassdoor, disgruntled employees can share their experiences, impacting how the public perceives the company.

Legal implications

Incidents of discrimination, workplace harassment, or unfair treatment may result in legal implications against the business. If an employee feels mistreated by the business, may lead to a grievance and a tribunal claim. Tribunal claims may be expensive and time-consuming for businesses, as well as having a negative impact on reputation. As outcomes are frequently available online and only take a quick Google search.

Regulatory scrutiny with constant legal issues can put the company on the radar of regulatory bodies, leading to investigations or additional oversight. Furthermore, the business may lose their licenses. This will be depending on the industry, a toxic culture that leads to legal issues can risk the company’s operational licenses.

A toxic workplace culture, thus, isn’t merely an internal problem. Its ripple effects can spread far and wide, impacting almost every facet of the organisation. Addressing it isn’t just a matter of employee well-being (as crucial as that is) but also a critical business strategy.

Identifying Signs of a Toxic Workplace Culture

Awareness is the first step. Look out for:

1. Frequent Conflicts and Arguments: Persistent disagreements signal deeper cultural issues.

2. Lack of Communication: When there’s more whispering than open conversation, there’s a problem.

3. High-Stress Levels: Burnt-out employees and high absenteeism can indicate a toxic environment.

4. No Work-Life Balance: Expecting employees to be “always-on” can lead to rapid burnout.

5. Discrimination or Harassment: Any form of prejudice is a definite red flag.

Steps to Navigate Out of a Toxic Workplace Culture as a Manager

Addressing the issue head-on

Prior to taking action, you must identify the real issues by recognising the symptoms. You may think about carrying out confidential surveys, one-to-one conversations, and studying team dynamics.

Businesses need to admit the problem, acceptance of a toxic workplace culture is crucial to navigating out of the culture. You should not downplay or ignore issues as this will further alienate employees impacting trust.

For you to have a clear understanding of the root issues and causes, gather feedback from employees. This can be in the form of suggestion boxes, meetings, or feedback sessions.

Open communication

Check in with employees individually or within teams, gather an understanding of their workloads, and concerns, and discuss any problems they are facing. Create an environment with an open-door policy, ensuring employees are aware they can come to you with issues or concerns without repercussions. 

Keep employees in the loop after gathering feedback, showing the steps the business is taking to address concerns raised. Employees will feel more valuable, as their voice is being heard and actions happening.

Employee well-being initiatives

Your business will see the benefits of offering mental health support, this may be counselling services, stress management, or mindfulness training. Furthermore, bringing in experts to conduct mental health workshops.

Understanding and recognizing that a one-size-fits-all approach may not work within your business. Consider having flexible working options such as remote work, or flexibility in hours may be helpful employee well-being initiatives.

Training and development

Conflict resolution training is essential in equipping both managers and teams with the necessary skills to address and resolve disputes in a manner that is both amicable and constructive. Similarly, diversity and inclusion training is paramount in ensuring that every member of the organisation comprehends the significance of fostering a diverse workplace.

This training not only highlights the benefits of varied perspectives but also teaches individuals how to maintain an atmosphere of respect and inclusivity. In tandem with these trainings, leadership development plays a pivotal role.

By focusing on aspects such as empathy, active listening, and effective management strategies, this program aims to mold potential leaders in the organization, ensuring they are well-prepared to guide their teams to success.

Seeking external help

Hiring an HR consultant can be an invaluable step for many organisations. An external HR consultant brings to the table a fresh perspective on deep-seated problems, offering tailored solutions and even conducting workshops to tackle specific challenges.

 For instances where conflicts escalate to severe levels, mediation becomes a practical approach. By introducing a neutral third-party mediator, disputes can be resolved and frayed relationships can be restored. We have a mediation service, get in contact for how we can support this.

Additionally, to maintain the pulse of an organisation’s health and trajectory, it’s beneficial to engage in regular audits. By employing third-party firms for these audits, companies can unearth persistent issues and garner reassurance that they are navigating the right path.

Examples of toxic workplace culture

A toxic workplace culture can manifest in various ways, depending on the organisation and the people involved. Here are some examples to help illustrate the concept:

1. Power and control dynamics:

Micromanagement: Managers or supervisors constantly scrutinize and control even the minutest aspects of an employee’s work, causing feelings of distrust and suffocation.

Dictatorial leadership: Decisions are always top-down with no room for input from subordinates. Employees feel they have no voice or input to decisions within their work.

2. Poor communication:

Silos: Departments or teams hoard information and don’t collaborate with each other, leading to inefficiencies.

Ambiguous expectations: Employees are unclear about what’s expected of them, leading to confusion and mistakes.

3. Discrimination and favouritism:

Cliques and favouritism: Some employees receive preferential treatment based on personal relationships rather than merit, causing resentment among others.

Racial, gender, or age-based discrimination: Certain groups are treated unfairly or denied opportunities based on their race, gender, age, or other discriminatory factors.

4. Blame culture:

Avoiding responsibility: Mistakes are always someone else’s fault. Employees are quick to point fingers rather than collaborate on solutions.

Public shaming: When errors occur, they’re highlighted publicly, causing humiliation and fear.

5. Inadequate recognition and reward:

Unacknowledged efforts: Employees’ hard work and overtime go unnoticed, leading to feelings of being undervalued. Feel overtime is just expected to look good.

Wage inequality: Similar roles in the company have large pay disparities without clear reasons.

6. Unhealthy competition:

Sabotage: Employees undermine each other’s work or spread rumours to get ahead on the corporate ladder.

Stealing credit: Individuals take credit for team efforts or another colleague’s work.

7. Excessive workloads and burnout:

Always-on Culture: Employees are expected to be available round-the-clock, leading to burnout. Working late nights and “needing to” keep in touch when on holiday.

Unrealistic Expectations: Workloads keep increasing without corresponding increases in resources or time.

8. Harassment and bullying:

Sexual harassment: Unwanted advances, comments, or behaviours of a sexual nature.

Workplace bullying: Constant belittling, threats, or other forms of intimidation that create a hostile work environment.

9. Lack of growth opportunities:

Stagnation: Employees feel they’re stuck in their roles with no room for advancement or professional development.

Biased Promotions: Promotions aren’t based on merit but on favouritism or other non-work-related criteria.

10. Ignoring employee feedback:

Dismissive attitudes: Employee concerns and feedback are brushed off or outright ignored.

Retaliation: Employees who speak out about problems face negative consequences, discouraging others from voicing concerns.

There can be many more manifestations of a toxic work environment and the key is to recognise these signs early on and take steps to address and rectify them.

In essence, a toxic workplace culture is not just a HR concern; it’s a business one.

As a manager, the onus lies with you to steer your ship away from this storm. It might take time and effort, but the rewards of a happy, motivated team and a thriving organization are worth it. Embrace change, lead with empathy, and champion a culture where everyone thrives. We are here to help you through this challenging and often complex area.

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