“I believe that working with good people matters because then the work environment is good. If there is a sense of respect and belief among the people you work with, that is when good work is done.”—Ranbir Kapoor
A toxic work culture happens because of bad leadership. There’s no way around it. It happens when we fail to see the early warning signs, do something about it, clearly communicate and enforce discipline, and set an example of what a healthy work attitude should look like.
It is up to us leaders to set expectations, not just with our people’s roles but with how we expect them to show up and work together to fulfill their roles and the organization’s goals. When they miss the mark, it could mean we have failed to set clear expectations or we’ve responded tolerantly when they behave differently from what was expected, and people think they can get away with it.
And as leaders, it is our job to own up to the responsibility and take action to fix it.
What does a toxic workplace look like? When there is rampant and evident mistrust, a lack of transparency, toxic competition instead of collaboration, and personal agendas being prioritized over forwarding the organization’s shared goals—when that is integrated into the everyday practices, exchanges, and interactions at work, it becomes toxic for everyone.
For now, things might still be getting done, but the team members are already exhausted, unmotivated, and disengaged.
If the toxic culture is not addressed and more people dread going to work because of it, it will eventually lead to lower productivity, job dissatisfaction, and higher turnover rates. Customer service suffers, and it becomes as evident outside as it is inside that something has gone wrong with your business.
So, how can we fix it?
From a top-down perspective, it is on the leadership team to take responsibility and fix it. First aid will be necessary—your people probably no longer feel safe psychologically when coming into work, and you need to fix that problem first.
Communicate with them. Listen to their concerns and observe what’s been happening. Let them know that you hear them and that you are taking this issue seriously. Never downplay or minimize their concerns or issues. The worst thing you can do when mistrust is the leading emotion in your workplace is to brush your people’s concerns off as trivial.
You must determine what is causing the issues that make the workplace challenging to be in. And you need to work on rebuilding the trust that was lost by letting things become toxic before fixing them.
It will take some time to reinforce policies and establish transparency and accountability, but you need to do it anyway. And you need to do it collectively. Encourage everyone to give their feedback, and make sure you report back on the progress that’s been made and the actions that you’ve taken.
Lastly, reassure them that you believe in their potential to cooperate in the changes that need to be made to create a healthier work culture. As the leader, when you lead by example and model the behavior expected of them, i.e., trusting their cooperation, your people will follow. And as trust gets rebuilt and people start becoming more aware of how they act at work and interact with their colleagues and make the necessary changes, you will start to see your culture come back to life.
Humans are capable of changing their behaviors. It takes a little faith—and a lot of clearly defined and communicated expectations—for everyone in the team to work together and create a better, healthier work environment.
However, it must begin with you. You can start a supportive culture where people respect one another by setting an example of kindness.
Thanks for reading A Brilliant Tribe.