Strategy: How can you combat toxic company culture?

August 24, 2016

The HR outsourcing and consulting experts at HR180 Ltd are based in Leeds, Yorkshire, and have clients across the region, the UK and internationally. In this article HR Consultant, Sue Westhead, considers what makes a toxic culture and how your business might avoid such pitfalls.

HR Consultant Sue Westhead

HR Consultant Sue Westhead

I was interested to hear undertones of toxicity on a number of recent disciplinary and grievances –  and what came to mind is why? I’m not talking about the very occasional one offs, there will always be times when individuals will get it wrong, but even one is a concern for most employers when there are several we must as leaders and employers take stock and responsibility by looking inwardly at the culture that may be breeding.

Are these actually tell-tale signs of a more toxic culture?

The question is, “How can organizations create a strong company culture and avoid toxicity, born out of lethargy and behavioural errors from creeping in to the workplace”?

It starts at the top, leadership must be proactive and must constantly watch for warning signs to ensure that the good name of the company is both established and protected.

How can we tell if we need to address our culture and what are the warning signs? Let’s look at employees: are they really motivated and switched on about working for you?

Unmotivated employees don’t just lack enthusiasm and energy to deliver what is needed, they can and do drain energy and enthusiasm from those around them. The knock on effect of constant complaints, or negative attitudes and general unhappiness results in disconnect from the company’s mission and goals which can soon become contagious.

When employees are demotivated they can become liabilities, their toxicity can have an adverse effect on even the most dedicated employees, making their co-workers even more likely to leave as the mood and environmental conditions are effected. Toxic employees can lead to rising replacement costs. They can become negligent, complacent or, at worst, devious if the environment allows room for discord to grow.

Why do employees who may have joined you as originally committed and enthusiastic become unmotivated and how in turn does the culture grow toxic?

There are several indicators but I consider in my years of developing culture these are the top two.

The first is communication, or let’s be honest lack of it, and the way it is perceived within the company.

Without open honest dialogue employees are totally unaware of what is really going on throughout the company. This can be from the simple day to day ‘need to’ and ‘nice to’ knows affecting operational issues that impact their daily work to the larger scale development and change initiatives taking place. At either end of the scale, this can lead to confusion, unnecessary stress and, at worst, paranoia.

Despite announcements being made and meetings being held a lack of understanding will exist until employees are given a safe space to regularly communicate. Furthermore management must work to establish an environment where employees feel welcome to discuss issues and improvements with management. Open and frequent dialogue not only makes employees feel appreciated and respected for their opinions, but builds trust and transparency, and employers who will also tell you if or when something has gone wrong, a hall mark of a good company culture.

The second aspect is knowledge share, or the lack of with the hoarding of knowledge like some buried treasure.

Shared knowledge increases efficiency, improves employee performance and fosters innovation. However some people can be inclined to develop a “figure it out for yourself attitude” or at worst “if I hold onto this knowledge then no one can challenge my decisions” or “my way is the right way!” feeding off power and control. Others don’t share knowledge because they believe sharing knowledge with others will make them disposable, as opposed to perhaps being indispensable, in the value of the knowledge they have. They might become territorial and lack the willingness to share their hardearned skills and experience with colleagues.

No matter the reason, lack of knowledge or knowledge hoarding is key and the top contributor to the company culture you develop: without knowledge share, the company at significant risk – cliques develop, trust deteriorates, and the potential for knowledge loss increases giving your competitors eventually a distinct advantage. Instead of working as together to achieve success, everyone looks out for themselves – a situation that undoubtedly makes innovation an impossible goal and secrets and hidden agendas rife in the business.

So how can you combat toxic company culture?

All managers, CEOs included, are responsible for creating a positive culture. So how can you prevent toxicity from spreading in your company? At this point I could provide a long list of do’s and don’ts but managing the change needed to grow your culture into a healthy one is a planned and considered process – let the experts help you! What you really require is the sharing of our ‘Knowledge’ in HR180’s tried and tested partnered approach.

Without embarking on a transformational change HR process to strengthen your business from the top down and roots up, a list of do’s and don’ts is just that – simply a list.

For an exclusive, strategic 360 look at your business, call Sue today on 0113 287 8150.

Leeds based HR180 is a team of superheroes in HR Outsourcing, Projects and Consultancy committed to work in partnership with organisations of all sizes to establish working policies to go above and beyond Employment Law requirements, to protect both employees and employers alike. We love to hear from you, so call us on 0113 287 8150 or hit the Rescue Me button.

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