What comes to mind when you hear the phrase “toxic culture?”  Many people think of an abusive boss or co-worker where the abuse is emotional, physical, or worse.  In fact, other types of toxic workplace cultures are just as bad at undermining highly productive and profitable enterprises. 

Here are 4 types of toxic workplace cultures:

  • Abusive – as I mentioned, the abusive boss or co-worker is the prototypical scenario when people think of toxic work cultures.  Employees may be verbally berated which damages their self-esteem.  Or perhaps they are publicly (or privately) ridiculed which reduces their ability to function effectively with teammates.  Not least, physical or sexual harassment, while illegal, still occurs.
  • Micro-management – this type of toxic culture robs people of their innate drive and motivation.  After all, if one person in your organization thinks they know better than everyone else does, you are unlikely to get anything from the rest of the team.  (See this MIT article on listening to employees.) If all decisions funnel through one person, it is an indication that the team is neither valued nor trusted. (More here from Gallup on physiological impacts when trust is absent.)

“Leaders who don’t listen will eventually be surrounded by people who have nothing to say.” – Andy Stanley

  • Bi-polar direction – the inability to “stay the course” is a less virulent form of toxicity but nonetheless hurts employee performance and well-being.  A leader who vacillates from “priority” to “priority” confuses employees, customers, and shareholders alike.  Plus, the constant chaos erodes employee goodwill.
  • Silent treatment (crickets) – you might think, based on what I have written above, that a safe course of action would be to clam up and remain silent.  However, keeping information from employees, whether deliberately or from honest neglect creates a toxic workplace.  Helping employees remain focused on key objectives and the progress towards achieving those objectives is an element of a healthy environment.  Keeping them in the dark is a form of toxicity, which affects worker morale and performance. 

While an abusive workplace definitely meets the criteria of toxic, the pivot point is that many other types of behavior also meet the definition of toxic.  Ignore them at your peril.

In my next post, we’ll examine the relationship between employee retention and toxicity.

4 Types of Toxic Workplace Cultures
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