What a toxic work culture looks like Part 2

How a toxic work culture impacts your business and what to do about it 

Second of two parts 

Do you have a toxic work culture in your organisation? Several studies have shown the negative impact of a toxic work culture in any organisation, both in the short-term and the long-term.  

In this second part of this two-part video series, we discussed some of the common signs of a toxic work culture. In this video we will continue discussing how it impacts your business in the short- and long-term, and what you can do about it as a business owner and leader of the organisation.  

An interesting article published in the American Psychological Association analysed some 57 leadership studies that discussed the effects of a destructive leadership. As the name suggests, destructive leadership is a systematic and repeated behaviour of a leader that sabotages the organisation’s goals, tasks, resources, effectiveness, and motivation. This leader is a horrible boss who undermines boundaries, bullies team members, and creates chaos. The analysis found that destructive leaders impact your career and mental health far more significantly and negatively than a good boss.  

And you know what’s alarming about this study? The way team members see leaders, their well-being and individual performance, and unhelpful behaviour can affect the organisation for up to ten years. 

Take General Electric for example. Jack Welch, the head of GE from 1981 to 2001, was widely celebrated for GE’s rise. Welch reportedly lead with fear. He was known for his Vitality Curve, which is a management practice of stack-ranking employees. Managers ranked their employees based on their performance. This was to motivate employees to perform. Unfortunately, those who were ranked in the bottom 10% were removed from the team. This created insecurity in teams. Welch was also known to make aggressive and impulsive decisions, often times to the detriment of GE and its employees. 

GE fell from grace in 2017, which many blame on Welch’s leadership legacy. In 2018, with all of Welch’s bad decisions catching up with the company, GE was removed from the Dow Jones Industrial Average, the bluest of blue chip indexes and a real bellwether of the American economy. 

One rotten apple spoils the whole barrel. If that rotten apple is a leader, it can spoil the entire barrel for years. The moral of the GE story is this: leaders significantly impact an organisation’s culture. A toxic leader brings about a toxic workplace. Leaders are responsible for workplace culture, which means they can do something about it. 

In short, if you as a business leader or owner identified signs of toxic culture in your work place, allowing these to exist and not do anything about it will negatively impact your future business profitability and success. 

What can leaders do today to address workplace toxicity? 

  1. Lead by example.

Google’s recipe for high performing teams is to develop and nurture psychological safety. This means leading with open communication and creating a safe space for team members to engage with honesty and integrity.  

Create a safe space for healthy discussion. In most toxic workplaces, complaints are viewed negatively because they are seen as personal attacks to leaders. However, to nurture a safe space, leaders should learn to view legitimate complaints as opportunities to learn and improve current processes. 

  1. Change harmful mindsets.

In psychology, there is a cognitive bias called the fundamental attribution bias. What this means is that we sometimes attribute a fault or mistake by a person to bad will instead of bad circumstances. In toxic cultures, we blame other people for mistakes. However, mistakes were often caused by circumstances surrounding the person.  

For example, a team member submits a progress report that you find incomplete and lacks the pertinent information. It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that the person failed in their responsibility because they were lazy—this is an example of a fundamental attribution bias. If we didn’t correct this thinking, we set an example of how we respond to team members who make mistakes.  

A good leader will ask the team member why they could not complete the report. Perhaps the real reason for their failure is that they were not provided with complete information on time. Perhaps the communication system for providing project updates requires changes so that the person responsible for creating reports receives the right information in a timely manner. 

In changing how we view situations and mistakes and how we react to failure initially, we create psychologically safe spaces for our teams. 

  1. Express gratitude to team members.

Expressing gratitude to team members is an effective strategy in combating a toxic workplace. It recognises the team member’s efforts and contributions. Gratitude combats blame, which is prevalent in toxic cultures. Gratitude nurtures relationships and creates bonds in groups.  

  1. Focus on solutions, lessons, and strengths.

Instead of laying blame, focus on solutions and lessons. Instead of finding fault and sources of weaknesses, focus on team member strengths and how these strengths can solve problems and improve processes.  

Toxic work cultures and destructive leaders are harmful to businesses. There is never a good reason to nurture them and keep them in your organisation. As leaders, it is we are responsible for keeping them as far away from our teams as possible.  



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