“The culture of any organization is shaped by the worst behavior the leader is willing to tolerate.” ~ Steve Gruenert and Todd Whitaker
We live in an era where civility is on the decline. Examples of bad behavior can be found just about everywhere—in our government, in our schools, at sporting events and during the rush-hour commute. It’s pervasive on social media.
Perhaps the most debilitating incivility is that which is found in our workplaces. To spend an entire workday immersed in a dysfunctional, stressful environment destroys employees’ physical and mental well-being and kills productivity.
According to the SHRM Online article Countering Stress that’s Making Employees Sick and Distraught, “research shows that abusive leadership affects approximately 13.6 percent of U.S. workers and inflicts high emotional and medical costs because it is a driver of stress-related illnesses,” and that “Findings reported in the Academy of Management Journal show that “psychological distress contributes to high turnover rates and a decrease in productivity, costing U.S. organizations annually an estimated $50 billion for medical treatment and $44 billion in absence and performance declines.”
Toxic cultures don’t always involve overtly aggressive bullies. Questionable leadership styles, negative communication patterns and poorly implemented policies and procedures can also cause angst. In the article Exclusive: Former Yahoo Head of Talent blames Marissa Mayer's 'harmful autocratic approach' for company's decline, former European Talent Head for Yahoo Jim Brook says it was “disheartening to witness Marissa Mayer’s harmful autocratic approach to talent management, which has played a role in exacerbating the company’s rapid decline. Through short-sighted and rigid management strategies, such as banning flexible work practices and constantly imposing ideas of how people should think and behave, Mayer has disempowered and demotivated staff.”
The blame cannot be placed so much on the problematic individuals causing the toxicity, as such people will always exist in every organization. It’s more about the cultures that allow bullies and toxic leaders to survive and thrive. It’s about the workplaces that quietly ignore them—or worse, reward and promote them.
In her post If You Don’t Like the Culture, It’s Probably Your Fault, talent strategist Mary Faulkner says that you have to decide what reality you’re willing to confront, and that “Because culture is made up of the people in the company, each of us has a responsibility to create the culture we want to work in. As employees, we can choose what behaviors we exhibit, being mindful of the impact we’re making. As leaders, we have an obligation to model the behaviors of the culture we want to build.”
Creating a healthy culture starts with strong leadership. It requires a committed partnership between HR and senior leaders on owning and solving the problem, from recruiting and performance reviews, to counseling and disciplinary action. Employees can help, too, as HR and other leadership can only help if they know that a problem exists.
How are you preventing or curing a harmful culture in your organization? What advice do you have for other HR professionals and senior leaders attempting to tame the toxicity?
Please join @shrmnextchat at 3 p.m. ET on February 3 for #Nextchat with special guest talent strategist Mary Faulkner (@MFaulkner43). We’ll chat about toxic cultures and how HR can work with senior leaders and employees to create healthier and happier working environments.
Q1. What are the signs of a toxic workplace culture?
Q2. Why is it necessary for HR to partner with senior leadership to fix a toxic workplace culture?
Q3. How does a toxic workplace culture negatively impact all aspects of talent management?
Q4. How can HR fix a toxic culture in an organization where the CEO and other senior leaders either exhibit toxicity or embrace it?
Q5. What legal issues are most common in a toxic workplace?
Q6. How can organizations improve talent management practices to prevent hiring toxic employees?
Q7. How can organizations utilize surveys to identify the sources of toxicity? What questions should be asked?
Q8. How can organizations utilize performance management and counseling to rehabilitate toxic employees?
Q9. What advice do you have for other HR pros trying to spread awareness and fix toxic cultures in their organizations?