Creating Great Workplace Cultures is Everyone’s Job

“The culture of any organization is shaped by the worst behavior the leader is willing to tolerate.” – Steve Gruenert and Todd Whitaker

We live in an era where civility is on the decline. Examples of bad behavior can be found just about everywhere—in our government, in our schools, at sporting events and during the rush-hour commute. It’s pervasive on social media.

Perhaps the most debilitating incivility is found in our workplaces. To spend an entire workday immersed in a dysfunctional, stressful environment destroys employees’ physical and mental well-being and kills productivity. 

The SHRM Online News article When a Toxic Worker Is Well-Liked by Managers  states that “According to a 2015 study by Fierce, a global leadership development and training company, 78 percent of employees said toxic co-workers are extremely debilitating to team morale, with 17 percent saying such colleagues increased stress and 27 percent declaring they reduced productivity. Yet 78 percent also said their employers were extremely or somewhat tolerant of toxic workers’ negative behaviors—a figure that may reflect the complicated task HR managers and supervisors face in changing behavior or ridding the company of such problematic workers.

Toxic cultures don’t always involve overtly aggressive bullies. Questionable leadership styles, negative communication patterns and poorly implemented policies and procedures can also cause angst. Short-sighted and rigid management directives, such as discouraging flexible work schedules or forcing employees to think or behave in a particular way can also disempower and demotivate staff.

The blame cannot solely be placed on the toxic individuals, as such people will always exist in every organization. It’s more about the cultures that allow bullies and toxic leaders to survive and thrive. It’s about the workplaces that quietly ignore them—or worse, reward and promote them. Employers can’t allow bad behavior to persist in silence, but should encourage People Managers to have honest conversations about workplace culture with individual employees and take the pulse of their experiences at work.

Ultimately, every person in an organization is responsible for their actions. Every person can have an impact by making an intentional decision to treat co-workers with kindness and respect. Senior leaders should be role models for the cultures they wish to create as well.

How are you working to create a healthy culture in your workplace? Tweet to us at @talkworkculture on Twitter and let us know!

Written by Mary Kaylor, SHRM-CP, Lead, SHRM Public Affairs