Toxic work environment don’t just “happen”. It happened because leaders failed to notice the early signs that something was wrong and they failed to put a stop to it.
Leaders have the authority to and are responsible for setting limitations. When an employee misses the mark, it’s often because the limits have not been clearly defined or the consequences are not properly enforced.
Studies have shown that when organizations tolerate toxic behavior, problems like sexual harassment become more prevalent. When the perpetrators feel like they can easily “get away with it”, toxic behaviors will only escalate.
This is why there is no denying the importance of a leader’s involvement in developing and maintaining a positive and safe work environment. Leaders need to actively and quickly identify problems and find solutions before it becomes a part of the company’s culture.
Here are 5 things you can do as a leader to fix a toxic work environment and toxic work culture.
1. Take responsibility
Culture starts with the leader; this includes a toxic culture. This is why it’s important for leaders to reflect back and explore how their own behavior may contribute to the toxic culture by asking these questions:
- Do I treat all of my employees with respect?
- Do I favor several people over others?
- Do I keep a steady temper despite the pressure and problems I’m confronted with?
- Do I take out my frustrations on my team?
- Do I assume that I am the most important or powerful person in the company?
Remember that your actions might not be deliberate or conscious. Stress, work demands, workplace politics, or desire to avoid conflict may lead you to unintentionally allow bad behavior to continue. However, now that you are aware, it’s important to take action and drive change.
Humility is one of the most important leadership qualities. Being able to recognize your personal shortcomings and mistakes, own them, and take action to correct them will send a powerful message to the whole team.
2. Get everyone involved
Not only do you have to check yourself, but you also have to ask for the help of others, because we all have blind spots about our own behavior. This is why stakeholder involvement is crucial, and why leaders should ask for feedback (or feedforward) from their employees regularly and apply that feedback to improve themselves. Be sure to make the necessary effort to make all team members feel valued and respected, as it will boost morale, unite the team, and will help create a healthier work culture.
3. Be more transparent
It’s important to include employees in the decision-making process and be as transparent as possible. Doing this will help them understand the reasoning behind the company’s decisions, which is crucial in times of crisis.
Not only will you get more heads working on resolving the problem at hand, you will also build a sense of trust and a sense of belonging within the team. This shows that you trust them enough to be truthful and ask for their help in resolving the issues within the company.
4. Bottom-up leadership
It’s common knowledge that an employee’s main source of stress is usually their boss. This usually happens because their bosses are usually the ones who put constant pressure on them — enforcing deadlines, KPIs, rules, and so on.
So why don’t we transform the top-down leadership style into a bottom-up approach that will redistribute the power within the team? This will make the team feel empowered to manage their own work, set their own KPIs, and be accountable for their work.
5. Observe, communicate, take action
You can learn a lot by observing your team members in the workplace. Try to identify the source of tension or dysfunction within your team. Does one person dominate discussions and exclude teammates from contributing? Is someone harassing others? Have a one-on-one conversation with your team and ask how they are honestly feeling. Actively listen to what they have to say, listen with compassion, and never downplay any of their concerns.
When a leader takes the time to actively listen and communicate with the team, it helps re-establish a sense of security and helps rebuild trust. The sooner you identify the source of the problem, the sooner you can take action to avoid negative consequences.
Leading by example
It’s true that culture starts with the leader, but it’s something that the entire company sustains and contributes to. That’s why as a leader, you should recognize your role in encouraging and deterring certain behaviors to ensure that everyone respects each other, the company’s core values, and feels comfortable working in the organization.
Lead by example, set the right culture, and always follow your words with real action.