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Toxic Workplace Culture: Are You In It?

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Even the world’s most empathetic and wisest leaders can foster an “unintentional toxic culture.”

As a leader, I want to take a drastic self-examination to make sure I’m not promoting a difficult culture in my work environment.

So when you think about work culture, don’t just think about the mutual liking your employees have for each other, but also about the actual characteristics and qualities you need to do business.

Alisa Cohn: You can be the most empathetic person in the world, the wisest leader in the world, and have what I call an “unintentional toxic culture.” There are cliques, or other kinds of things that are really preventing people from feeling safe and comfortable, and are also preventing them from getting their work done. You want to do a self-examination and make sure you’re not promoting a difficult culture in your work environment.

Listen, no one wants to create a toxic culture. No one wants to make it difficult. Still, there are problems within the organization. For example, no one directly deals with difficulties and conflicts. Instead, they gossip behind people’s backs. Or maybe you’re a leader who really wants to get people on board, but perhaps you’ve hired not-so-good employees and aren’t tackling tough problems at work. There are low performers who don’t, and everyone’s performance suffers.

These are just a few examples of unintentionally toxic cultures. Therefore, as a leader, you need to start developing your own self-awareness to understand what your natural concerns and blind spots are. It’s also very important to have a few people available to check in so that you can look very closely at your culture and assess whether you have a toxic culture. People talk about culture and I feel like the way we talk about it means we like each other.

Now I think it’s really important to like each other in the environment. It’s part of the culture. But other elements of the culture should be considered important to getting work done in your environment. Identify it for yourself and your organization and hire proactive people. Maybe you are in a particular environment where mistakes are not allowed. So you need someone who is analytical and methodical, measures twice and he cuts once. You want to hire people like that, and of course you want to reward them for that kind of behavior.

Another thing you can do is be the leader you need, communicate with your team, convey difficult messages diplomatically, and deal with your team in a way that encourages them instead of beating them down or slowing them down. These elements are useful when thinking about culture. One thing I want you to know is that when you think about culture, don’t just think about liking each other, think about the actual traits and qualities you need to do business and encourage people to do so. It means that we want you to Use those traits to work together. That way, we can steer you in the right direction for the culture.

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