If you’re in one, you’ll probably know. But just to put some definition on it, you will see some or all of the following
· Poor management
· Lack of autonomy – micro managers, lots of rules and regulations
· Blame culture – people afraid to make a mistake or own up to it, because of repercussions
· Bullying and harassment
· Bad working practices
· Work overload
· No recognition of effort
· Lack of trust
No-one enjoys coming to work. Morale and motivation are low, so productivity is low. More people are off sick because of work related stress. Or they come in to work when they are sick (presenteeism) so they’re not performing well, and maybe passing their germs onto the rest of you. Staff turnover is high, increasing costs of recruitment, leaving you to manage vacancies until you hire replacements. Which also increases stress on those remaining, and reduces your productivity again.
Good news if you’re the boss. You can do something about it, because a workplace culture usually comes from the top. General Eisenhower said ‘Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.’ This is just as relevant (maybe even more so) in the corporate, business or public services worlds than in the military. Your role is to create the conditions for your team to want to do the work. Not be doing it begrudgingly or half hearted, afraid of the repercussions if they don’t, but to do it because they want to.
As an employee in a toxic workplace you probably just get the fallout of the toxicity like everyone else. You’re having to work under the conditions outlined above, overworked, deal with poor management, getting little or no recognition or appreciation for your effort. You hate the job – or you might like the work, but hate the conditions you’re having to work in. A friend of mine works in a primary school with children who have special needs. She loves helping the children, but hates the management structure of the school and how she is treated by them.
In toxic workplaces there are often cases of bullying, harassment, someone being picked on or getting an unfair workload, or getting all the worst jobs. Everyone else lets this go on, because they don’t want to be the next in line to be picked on. The type of manager who operates through autocratic behaviour creates fear by intimidating her employees, bullying anyone who dares to questions her actions.
You’ve got three basic choices
· Confront the problematic behaviour
· Ignore it and hope to stay under the radar
These all have pros and cons, and likely outcomes. If you’re in a small organisation, how you take this forward will differ from a large, bureaucratic organisation that has policies, procedures, an HR department, but you still have essentially the three main options
If you want to confront a bully or poor manager, your strategy will depend on many factors, like your work relationship, how bad it is, what support you have, how strong you feel and what outcomes you’re willing to accept.
Likewise, if you’re planning to ignore it and stay under the radar, you need to consider all these factors, and the effect it will have on your stress levels, your emotional response and the effects on your home and personal life.
And of course quitting will depend on your financial and personal circumstances as well as your potential for finding something else
If you are a leader or manager, your role is to create the conditions for your team to want to do the work of the organisation. If you have poor working relationships with your team, there are steps you can take to improve matters, like being clearer on expectations, avoid overloading with work, recognise achievements and create an atmosphere of trust.
For more detail on these strategies, download my ebook, ‘A guide to toxic workplaces’.
Lindsay is the owner of Silvern Training. Before that she had a very varied working life, doing everything from admin, volunteering, sales, teaching, training, fundraising, management and chairing a board of charity trustees. Now wants to change the world of work by improving workplace cultures so that people can look forward to Monday mornings. Also likes to support individuals to speak up, be better listeners and to take action.