We’ve all been there in our careers. One day, you look around and realize something just feels wrong. The tension between employees can be cut with a knife. The tone of certain people’s voices seems strikingly insincere. The mood in the office seems joyless.

In my career, I’ve experienced a number of toxic workplaces like this (and trust me, I certainly knew that I had accountability for this as a head of HR). An unhealthy work environment takes a heavy toll on employee morale, which has a domino effect on productivity and employee retention.

What Does a Healthy Corporate Culture Look Like?

As leaders, we want our organizations to thrive, not simply survive. The responsibility is ours to ensure each team is operating smoothly. Ideally, that looks like:

  • A supportive team dynamic. In the average workplace, people treat one another professionally and avoid conflict. However, a truly healthy organization is one in which people feel comfortable disagreeing and listening to conflicting ideas.
  • An efficient “well-oiled machine”. People value healthy workplaces and want to keep them that way. A healthy culture motivates people to give their best work and contribute consistently.
  • An influx of attractive resumes. Great work culture is highly sought after. As your organization develops a positive reputation, you’ll notice more interest from top talent.

We all want to see these things happen in our organizations. However, from time to time, it’s not uncommon for our companies to experience the occasional ‘slump’.

Diagnosing a Toxic Work Culture

Toxicity rarely occurs in a vacuum. In most cases, the source is an issue within the company that is making people feel stagnant, stressed, or useless. In these cases, the signs surface in behaviors like:

  • Low engagement from teams in collaborative projects
  • The formation of silos within departments
  • Team members seem to avoid interactions with leadership
  • People seem reluctant to contribute new ideas

In these cases, there may be an urgent need for a change in leadership tactics, processes, and/or employee development.

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Consider Your Role in the Solution

Ultimately, as leaders, we are responsible for our teams. We can make decisions about external resources or technologies that can help us arrive at solutions, but it’s up to us to demonstrate the culture we want. We can take action against toxic work culture by:

  • Opening ourselves to communication. Asking a middle-manager to report the problems of the department is akin to asking them to play Russian roulette. Open lines of communication with all levels of the team.
  • Foster emotional intelligence. Eliminate language that makes teams feel patronized or replaceable. Reward good work, and reward others who recognize it. Make a genuine effort to empower all teams to feel valued for their contributions and potential.
  • Increase transparency. You should trust your team, so be honest with them. Help them understand the challenges and successes of the business, and invite them to celebrate and contribute.
  • Demonstrate follow-through. Conversely, if you say you’re listening to their ideas, make good on it. Ensure communication from each team member is followed up on, even if you can’t action their ideas. It’s better to hear a ‘no’ with a good reason than radio silence.

No matter why we sense toxicity in the workplace, we have a role to play in curing it. To determine if your leadership style may be playing a part in your corporate culture’s biggest challenges, take East Tenth Group’s Balanced Leadership Assessment today.

Sometimes a new approach to leadership is the right path forward. If this resonates with you, I encourage you to contact my team and I at East Tenth Group.

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