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Addressing Workplace Toxicity


In his book, Dying for a Paycheck, Stanford Professor of Organizational Behavior Jeffrey Pfeffer doesn't mince words. Workplace stress -- the result of conditions like long hours, a lack of health insurance, little autonomy on the job, high job demands -- don't just hit productivity or damage morale. They're killing us.


This concept of workplace toxicity and abuse of power with the rewards of a paycheck being the carrot, should be an alarming call to action from leaders in organizational culture development all across the globe.


Bringing in thought leaders and mindset experts to attend to the erosion of meaning, belonging and respect for questionable ethics and decisions by leadership is an excellent way to identify needs and shift corporate community to a sustainable resilient and happier place to call a professional home. The best investment an organization can make in its future coping and adaptability skills when facing crisis (global or localized) is in both the internal and external stakeholders.



A few key turnaround ideas for triggering positive workplace change, are:


Leadership must take responsibility for the atmosphere you cultivate

Look in the mirror. Toxic workplaces are nurtured from the C-Suite down to the mailroom. Yep, they are a projection of ineffective leadership. Leaders with unacceptable approaches to managing people can immediately destabilize an excited group or department of employees. From this toxic leadership environment, a vicious cycle of employee traits develops. Some to look for are:

  • Increased intention to quit

  • Increased psychological distress

  • Increased defiant behavior

  • Heightened tension and emotional exhaustion

  • Lowered job satisfaction

  • Lowered self-esteem

  • Lower employee performance

  • Decreased organizational commitment

Show up and take responsibility for the environments cultivated. Where you plant lettuce, lettuce grows. Where you plant malice, malice grows.


Identify Solid Values and understand Competing Values Frameworks before Hiring

Where there is a sustainable and solid workplace culture and common personal and workplace values, there is a foundation.  Define these characteristics and commit to them before any hiring takes place. There are different types of people who excel in different types of positions based on their personal values and characteristics. Note: The competing Values Framework. It connects all the dots looking at behaviors and how they create organizational competency. Each one creating different outcomes. If hiring for a position who will manage others, be certain the prospective employee in this role reflects your outlined values/cultural characteristics through his or her management style to the staff they will lead.  When your employees recognize and believe in the company’s values, effective communication and positive performance are more likely to follow. 


Set standards, be accountable to them

A quick and easy way to prevent a toxic workplace is to have crystal clear and consistent policies and procedures. From the get go, no workplace will not tolerate cruelty, harassment, bullying, or emotional manipulation of any kind to any degree.  Workplace engagement is to be well-mannered and any employee showing any less-than-respectful behavior is not to be ignored.


Displays of this sort of behavior require immediate action because delaying action will no doubt result in multilevel consequences that spiral within (and potentially outside of) the workplace.  As with anything, the longer you let a problem spiral out of control, the harder it is to make change. Prompt attention with full accountability will not only address the issue but will also build respect for and loyalty to management.


Be present and easily approachable

Certainly with the WAH directive now in place with Covid 19, it can be about 10X harder than it even was "before" the pandemic to stay connected to your teams and staff in a meaningful way. Leaders are busy now communicating new information and managing the massive shifts in supply chains, customer behavior, new "everything" and the fact that it changes daily doesn't help. Regardless, there is no time off for good crisis behavior. It is more important now than ever before to keep your virtual "door" open for those looking for guidance and support.  And, to punctuate that, your workplace behavior style MUST adapt to employees with various behavior styles from a distance now. that there are no more golf or drinks to assuage the differences you may have in working style methods. It's imperative to ensure that everyone in your organization knows that they can always set a time to talk to you whenever they have any concerns or issues and mean it.

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