What is toxic workplace culture
The way I put it is this, think of a tree in a toxic environment; the tree will fail to thrive, become wilted, and will ultimately die. That’s basically the metaphor for a toxic corporate culture. It prevents employees from thriving and while it (probably) won’t kill them literally, it won’t bring out their best and will eventually drive them to look for a job elsewhere. Toxic workplace culture on one level is institutional-centric; policies and procedures are designed with the company, not its workforce, in mind.
It means outdated work policies, for example a requirement to work from the office, that are mistakenly thought to squeeze the most productivity from an employee. It means benefits and perks that are easy on the company budget, but tough on employees’ lives. We see this in the pandemic, where real wages and hours are falling for employees, yet company proficts continue to increase, and high wealth company owners are worth more than ever before. It means regarding employees as objects that fulfill the company’s needs, not as people who have their own lives and families.
A toxic work culture results in workplace “illnesses,” such as lack of cohesion among teams, increased absences and tardiness, lower productivity and high turnover. The illness once it establishes itself with the company is extraordinarily difficult to eradicate
Employees fall into four groups who allow themselves to be subjected to this behaviour, because if you examine the list below you would think why in earth would anybody continue to work for organizations that have and engage in this type of behaviour, it makes no sense.
First group are employees who feel / think they have no choice, I have bills, kids to put through school, pressure from the family, friends to stay for career purposes etc. That “things” somehow will get better
Second group, though the demeaning processes as described, the employee feels worthless, that they are not capable of getting another job. (how convenient is that for the current employer). They have been that appressed they cannot and will not pick themselves up.
Third group are employees who do not realize what’s happening to them, the culture they find themselves in, is the way companies conduct themselves. They do not realize its not normal, its not how best practice companies conduct themselves. That there is a better way. Examples of this, you joined the company after leaving school, university and that’s the way I just thought things were. The company makes a profit, so it must be ok. Some women who are subjected to domestic violence, unfortunately think that this behaviour is not that bad compared to their after work life.
Fourth group are the employees who like this behaviour, who appear to thrive on it. They are part of it, but once again usually think its normal, or suits their lifestyle away from a myriad of issues with their home life. They just want to get ahead and will “do what it takes”, and have an element of sociopathic behaviour in them. Surprisingly the percentage is higher than you think.
Signs of a toxic workplace and what the toxic culture looks like.
- Fear-based management, feel constantly securitized, micro managed
- Non producing and demoralized employees
- An atmosphere of gossip and rumors, back stabbing, dramas
- A lack of transparency from the management, don’t know what’s going on
- Stress and uncertainty about the future, an unstable work environment
- A sense of “it’s us against them” or “it’s everyone for themselves”
- Significant instances of absenteeism or employees calling in sick at the last moment
- Workaholic behavior, a fear of not working hard enough. and a lack of healthy work/life balance
- Unclear employer expectations across all levels of management
- Favoritism, wage gaps, or discriminatory policies. “your not part of the click”, or the gang
- You don’t have a list of core values, no mission or vision statement, lacking a sense of purpose.
- There’s the obsession gossip in the office, social media, groups on Facebook, etc being critical.
- Unfriendly employee competition, management play one employee against another.
- Employees are often tardy or absent, simply don’t care if they are on time, take long lunch breaks
- Employees often work late or don’t take lunches. However when you go home or have a lunch made to feel guilty
- Still hiring for culture fit, no diversity or new ideas or skills. (boss doesn’t want employees smarter than they are)
- No workplace giving initiatives, no visual reward, no appreciation
- Little or no promoting from within, no increased opportunity for additional training
- Public criticism of employees, verbally within meetings or when your not there.
- Obvious favoritism towards specific employees, boss’s favorites are obvious.
- A mindset that regards employees as the company’s property, rather than as contributors to the business
- An underlying belief that employees are inherently under-motivated or easily dispensed with
- A lack of accountability at the highest levels of the organization, management have “they are born to rule syndrome”
The list is not extensive but I think you get the idea.
I get many calls from employees, telling me me their story and particular situation, some events that’s occur in the workplace are horrific. I don’t mind hearing their stories, troubles, about the bullying the harassment, I add to the conversation and suggestions, etc. However I stop them there and say “are you going to do anything about this”, and the response in many instances is “oh no, I just need to tell someone”. I’ll respond somewhat harshly, “if you need a friend, buy a dog, if you need psychological assistance, that’s what your doctors for”. Nobody has to continue to suffer, be that tree in the nature strip starved of water, oxygen, fertilizer. Every night when you come home and see that tree, if looks sad, this doesn’t not have to be you. I tell anybody who listens you have three choices.
What Are They?
One; Leave, resign, this companies “BS”, its effecting me, you organize another job, and your out of there.
Two: You put up with it, as mentioned you might have financial commitments, career goals (finishing a apprenticeship, traineeship, gaining valuable experience.
Three: You do something about it, start pushing back, making suggestions, going to human resources, putting your concerns, your complaints in writing. Try and put a positive bias towards your comments, your actions. Lets be honest, no one likes a perceived whinger. Particularly organisations who have the culture mindset outlined above. If you have time research “Maslow’s hierarchy of needs“. How to change people, it can be done.
But what do I do if this doesn’t work?, or the organisations behaviour gets worst? Or what is more common, because you have excised your right to complain to the company, it has commenced adverse action again you, i.e. the employer wants to get rid of you, demote you, cut your pay. You do have the ability to lodge a claim with the Fair work Commission, referred to as a general protections application (F8C) or a anti bullying complaint (F72). Our general protections page has allot of details click here.
We have a great page up on how to cope with Toxic workplaces, it will improve your coping skills click here
I hope the blog toxic workplace was helpful to you, do not suffer in silence, allot of employees have the sense of “don’t make me go back to work there”. We we don’t have slavery in this country, you do not have to suffer this behaviour. I do understand people have bills, mortgages to pay, the key is to have a plan, were you want to be in 3 months, 6 months whatever, and work to that plan. We are A Whole New Approach P/L, for all Fair work Australia and Fair work Commission matters, bullying, harassment, being forced to resign, dismissals, probation, redundancy. Your welcome to give us a call, its free, confidential, prompt.
Looking to work out how much compensation your particular situation is worth,
Unfair dismissal click here,
General protections click here
Another article on toxic workplaces,. click here
Dismissal and the harmful effects, click here
Workplace whistleblowing, click here
One of the nations leading workplace advisors, representatives and commentators. Gary has represented some 12,000 clients over some 20 plus years, published some 300 plus articles. He is passionate about employees rights and the test of fairness in the workplace. Have a problem, concern, wants to contribute to the debate or research, call him directly.