If you ask different managers about their toxic culture definition, you probably will get different answers. I see the term “toxic culture” used all the time. And I’m sure each of us has some mental picture of what a toxic workplace might look like.
Seeing it discussed so often lately, got me thinking. Does everyone have the same view of the concept? For some managers, could detoxing include wiping out things like diverse thinking and non-traditional (creative) approaches? Seems silly, but what if they threaten the normal flow of their idea of a healthy workplace?
What exactly is the definition of toxic culture?
Could one person’s view of toxic be another person’s idea of a well-oiled machine? Looking at the current White House as an example (politics aside), choices being made to create a loyal, cohesive, effective team might be very different for a different president. The same goes for any organization.
For some managers, toxic culture definition includes “people thinking differently from me.” In other words, employees don’t support my way of thinking and that may be a threat. But for other managers, an office full of people who think alike and never challenge management would be deadly to creativity and to finding real solutions to organizational problems.
So despite the toxic culture definition often thought of as set in stone, toxicity truly resides in the eye of the beholder. Even managers and employees having different pictures.
Picture one, picture two
Think about (picture one) angry, overworked, powerless workers asking for a union. And then think (picture two) employers who think they are fair and reasonable being threatened by out-of-control, “my needs only” workers.
BTW … either way something toxic is going on. And communication is probably a much-needed part of the remedy. But the picture of what a good workplace would be in this case is less obvious.
So it’s not always easy to find a one-size-fits-all definition of a toxic workplace. But perhaps we can at least agree on a few things no one would consider culturally healthy.
6 common elements that are part of a toxic culture definition
- Employees fight all the time and nothing gets done as a result.
- Turnover is high and people are miserable.
- Productivity continues to slump and so do profits (if applicable).
- Bosses feel they have the freedom to abuse staff. Or vice versa, if they can get away with it.
- People have formed “tribes” (sub-groups), each setting their own goals that get in the way of company needs.
- You actually can see the heaviness of the situation in employee faces and body language.
What workplace toxicity looks like from different sets of eyes
As suggested earlier, labeling a workplace as toxic may also depend on who you are. Management? Non-managerial employees? Maybe even clients, customers, and other third-party business contacts.
From management eyes
For management, their toxic culture definition includes a workplace out of control. And perhaps staff who are disloyal and fight them (or each other) at every turn. Or one where employees repeatedly fail to meet their productivity standards.
But, to their eyes, it also can simply be a place that is toxic to their mission. Or seriously lacking the kinds of employee output / participation / attitude they envision as healthy for the organization. And one that would best serve their personal needs.
From employee eyes
As for employees, their toxic workplace culture definition would point to miserable workdays for any number of reasons. Maybe communication stinks. Workload is unbearable. Bully bosses. Coworkers from hell. Frequent changes out of the blue. And no appreciation for their efforts.
What’s toxic to one person may seem just fine to another. Here are some articles that speak to that and even offer some tips to help:
And let’s not forget customers, clients, vendors, etc.
We sometimes get so caught up in the day-to-day drama and in searching for ways to make our work world better for us, that we forget all the people a toxic culture can affect.
We know it affects everyone in the workplace. At least everyone who is conscious of their surroundings. But it also colors our work relationships and the quality of service we deliver.
And possibly the most important thing that a toxic workplace can affect is our family and friends. We don’t leave the toxicity behind us. Not only does our mood and health get tarnished by tension, but we can even wind up passing on feelings about work to our kids.
So how do we fix toxic culture?
It starts with recognizing that there is a problem. Unfortunately, that often takes so long that problems become entrenched. But that’s no reason to let them continue to fester. And then, of course, management needs to commit to examining the issues and addressing them one by one.
Since management created the problems, an outside consultant could be a useful addition to the toxicity solution team. But, if not possible, then a task force of management and staff could be helpful. As long as management sincerely welcomes honest feedback, open discussion, and solutions.
Unfortunately, if the toxicity is working for management, this makes solving organization-wide problems difficult. But if you and maybe a few coworkers are willing to try, perhaps bit by bit you can begin to change things in a meaningful way. Even small changes can have larger ripples.
Some more articles to help