Are You Contributing to a Toxic Culture Without Realising It?

Marc Dib
April 7, 2021

We have seen many toxic workplace cultures exposed  recently. From  Parliament House to the Collingwood Football Club. Given this, it’s easy to sit back and say,” I’m glad it’s them and not me”. The reality is there are no shortage of toxic workplaces. This is supported by a recent study which highlighted that a massive 76% of bosses are considered toxic.

If we consider the recent attention on toxic cultures and workplaces, can it be that some of us are contributors without realising it? Obvious, overt behaviours are one thing, but it’s the actions that you might do, with good intentions, that may be perceived differently by others.

Contributing to toxic culture can occur with the most hardworking and dedicated team leaders. You can avoid the pitfalls of bad habits that lead to bad workplaces by implementing or keeping in mind the following concepts:

  • Passive enabling
  • Promoting a healthy work-life balance
  • Recognising achievements
  • Being realistic  

Some of the most toxic managers do not show it on the surface. The main reason for that is because it was not about what they did, it was about what they didn’t do. This is called passive enabling.

Passive enabling includes being so of touch that you don’t know where the problems are and what effect those problems are having on the rest of the team. This is not behaviour that is exclusive to toxic people-team leaders who do not address underperformers or choose to ignore the issues are passive enabling. When a leader knowingly lets underperformers carry on, it drags down morale and sends a message that the they don’t care enough to create an environment of accountability and fairness.

Another way you might be contributing to a toxic culture without knowing it, is by having no balance between work and play. Being a dedicated, passionate and committed team leader may seem harmless, but it is important to promote a healthy work-life balance too. Managers need to take the lead on the importance of balance. Staff will fall into the pace you set and not feel guilty if they have to engage in their job differently from the way you do, due to their personal life circumstances. Especially in a post COVID-19 world, organisations simply cannot afford to role model the ancient approach to work-life balance. There is no shortage of studies showing the importance of flexibility and the benefit it brings to both the employer and employee.

From balancing work-life to balancing recognition. Are you recognising achievements evenly and equally or do you find yourself gravitating to a selected few while only briefly mentioning others? It is important to reward stand-out individuals but you also need to recognise the achievements of others. This is not about award ceremonies, big bonus payments or promotions. Recognising achievements is about the little things such as a thank you, acknowledgment in front of peers or a coffee or lunch invite show your gratitude.

These small gestures go a long way and are well documented to improve the overall workplace culture.

Finally, reality versus hope. As a leader, you have to do the right thing by setting a realistic, even if tough, view of what is required but also give employees hope that there’s a way out. The flip of that coin is when you paint a rosy picture about the future without having any of the aspirations grounded in reality.

The first approach contributes to an environment of gloom and doom while the second creates a dynamic where truth and transparency aren’t valued. Avoid these emotional roller coasters and get the balance right so staff feel at ease and confident.

For many people, the workplace is where they spend most of their time and create lifelong friendships. No one wants to be sailing on a sinking ship so we all ought to intentionally create a positive and inclusive culture where toxicity has no home.

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