It’s easy to blame workplace toxicity on a bad apple or two. But, the reality is, toxic workplace behaviors are often a symptom of deeper dysfunction in an organization– one that leadership should be aware of. But, what if they’re not? Or what if leadership is ignoring the toxicity– or, worse, what if leadership is contributing to the harm?
Featuring answers from Global Workforce Expert, Dr. Shirley Davis, we highlighted some of the top questions around leadership and workplace toxicity from her webinar, “Strategies for Addressing Toxic Workplace Behavior.” Here are five of Dr. Davis’s responses to navigating toxic behaviors with business leaders.
1. What do you do if management refuses to be the solution to a toxic workplace problem?
As a review, when you’re meeting with management about a toxic workplace issue, you need to explain the problem, why it’s important, and why the problem won’t go away unless the management is actively involved in the solution. If management still refuses to get involved, keep track of the toxic workplace behavior– are incidents of bad behavior increasing and/or getting more severe? Provide this evidence to management, and try to get them involved again. The longer they refuse to help, the worse the repercussions will be– they’ll start to lose employees and money, and there will be a potential for lawsuit. As things get worse, leaders will eventually understand that they need to be involved. In the meantime, do the best you can do discipline toxic behavior and provide training that avoids additional examples– this will help, but it won’t be as effective without your management’s involvement. Remember, leaders are ‘agents of the company’ and have a responsibility to be in the know about these issues.
2. How do you get leadership to pay attention to toxic behavior if they aren’t around to see it?
People always act on their best behavior when their bosses (or their bosses’ bosses) are around. Your leadership team is quite unlikely to directly witness toxic behavior. If they do see it, you’re facing a serious toxic workplace problem. HR’s role is to be the spokesperson for their employees, and reporting toxic workplace behavior shouldn’t be an exception. It’s your job to have a pulse on your workplace culture, and good leadership teams should listen to your insights. A good way to make sure that your leadership team pays attention is for you to have clear examples of the toxic behavior, as well as examples of the negative impacts of that behavior. Remind leaders that they are ‘agents of the company’ and are expected to be in the know about these issues.
3. What do I do if the CEO’s inability to lead is causing the toxic milieu?
A CEO can both cause and solve toxic behavior. So, if the CEO isn’t a good leader, then it’s going to be difficult, but not impossible, to solve the cultural issue. If you have a toxic workplace, the first step is to make sure that the CEO clearly sees it as a problem, both in terms of employee satisfaction and the bottom line. Then, you should explain that the CEO’s lack of action and leadership is enabling the toxic behavior. Remind the CEO that every time someone acts inappropriately, and they get away with it, the company effectively says that the behavior is okay, and that behavior will escalate. If the CEO is unable to crack down on the behavior, then it becomes up to the HR team. Clearly track the toxic behavior, and then investigate and discipline it accordingly.
4. What should I do if upper-level management would rather be like an ostrich than deal with toxic behavior?
Odds are your leadership team doesn’t want to address the problem because the problem has gotten out of hand, or they don’t feel equipped. One or two incidents of toxic behavior are easier to address and can be done in a meeting.. But if the toxic behaviors have turned into a full-blown toxic culture, it’s much more difficult to address, which makes it tempting to “be like an ostrich” and just hope it’ll get better on its own. I’m here to tell you, it won’t. Explain to your leaders that the best time to address toxic workplace behavior is right now. If they don’t address it, the problem will only get worse and more difficult to solve. If they feel ill-equipped they should get the appropriate training and partner with HR.
5. Can you discuss an approach to addressing bullying by low-level managers towards employees? Detail steps…
Low-level managers are tricky because they’re often duration-based, and they rarely get the proper training they need to be leaders. So, incidents of bullying and toxic behavior among low-level managers are fairly common. But, you should address this behavior the same way you would with any employee; be prepared with clear examples of the bullying, explain why it’s inappropriate, talk about its impact to achieving top performance or maintain employee engagement, and make it clear that it won’t be tolerated. Also state that further inappropriate behavior, including retaliation, will be disciplined accordingly.
If multiple low-level managers are bullying their employees, you have a problem with how you appoint managers. HR must be involved in bringing a solution to this issue. Refer to the question above for how to effectively hire managers.
For more insight on addressing and mitigating workplace toxicity, visit our resource center with more tips and tools from Global Workforce Expert, Dr. Shirley Davis. FirstVoice is the complete solution for HR and employees to help prevent, anonymously report, and confidently resolve inappropriate behavior in today’s workplace