Hardly a month goes by these days, without headlines alleging toxic behaviours by leaders in the workplace.
Whether it’s staffers saying there was a toxic work environment on The Ellen Show, or allegations that James Corden is not as cordial as he comes across on TV, people are speaking out about their experiences at work.
The latest reports come from New York, with staffers on the smash hit late night talk show, The Tonight Show, alleging that Jimmy Fallon, the popular host, is prone to outbursts of anger and everyone is constantly on tenterhooks around him.
Too late to say sorry?
It’s reported that Fallon apologised during a Zoom call. But apologies mean nothing when employees are fearful of speaking up for fear of reprisal, or many suffer from burnout and other stress-related health conditions.
In situations such as this, corporate leaders tend to turn to HR. They give us little to no budget (or support) and expect us to apply band-aids to bullet wounds and, by some miracle, save the company from losing staff, losing face and losing money.
When it comes to workplace culture, employee engagement and employee experience (EX), I am a firm believer that prevention is better than cure.
If we create the structures, systems and mechanisms that both create and support our desired culture, it is a lot easier to scale, sustain and improve.
Here are some practical things to implement in your organisation right now:
Apologies mean nothing when employees are fearful of speaking up for fear of reprisal, or many suffer from burnout and other stress-related health conditions
1. Create a culture of 360 degree feedback with a clear definition of what ‘good’ looks like
Relying on some version of ‘productivity’ or ‘profits’ as the sole measure of success or the definition of ‘good’, is the single biggest critical error that organisations are making in the culture space.
Sure, shareholders and executive leadership teams focus on the quantitative aspects of business, but it’s the qualitative aspects that shape employee experience (EX) and workplace culture.
Therefore, our definition of ‘good’ has to include not only what employees are delivering in terms of productivity, work quality and profits, but also how they are treating their colleagues in the process of achieving these goals.
In the new world of work, our approach to performance management has to include objective measures across four distinct categories:
The traditional goals or key performance areas (KPAs) or outcomes and key results (OKRs) where we measure actual performance and delivery against that which was expected of the employee for a specific period.
Innovation and growth
We have to include goals that encourage innovation, lifelong learning and helping the organisation to grow and improve.
This could translate to company hackathons, intrapreneurship or the development of new products and services, or individual commitment to learn new skills at work or positive social media engagement or employees referring new talent to their employer.
Our definition of ‘good’ has to include not only what employees are delivering in terms of productivity, work quality and profits, but also how they are treating their colleagues in the process of achieving these goals
Relationships with colleagues and customers
Positive relationships should be cultivated inside and outside of the company.
There are various HR tech solutions available, that – in addition to 360 degree feedback at work – allow for customer or client feedback to be incorporated into employee evaluations and appraisals.
Culture or ‘corporate citizenship’
A measure obtained from colleagues, direct reports and managers about the extent to which an individual is living the company values and contributing to positive employee experience.
By regularly assessing all four of these categories, a more holistic view of employee performance and development areas is created.
2. Clearly define the feelings and actions that support your desired culture and EX
Workplace culture is often portrayed as some big mystery and something entirely abstract and impossible to quantify.
This is absolutely untrue, of course! In its simplest form, culture can be distilled into how people treat each other at work and how they feel after workplace interactions with their colleagues and managers.
A really simple 30-60 minute workshop within teams can help the team identify and agree on how they wish to engage – even if there are no company values to reference.
Once a team has clearly articulated how they would like everyone to feel, it’s easy to identify the actions and behaviours that support the desired outcomes and those that do not.
Combining a team workshop such as this with daily anonymous employee mood tracking, will quickly highlight if there is an issue potentially bubbling up within a team or division.
If there’s a consistent downturn in reported moods, it’s time to step in and get more information on what the underlying causes might be.
Once a team has clearly articulated how they would like everyone to feel, it’s easy to identify the actions and behaviours that support the desired outcomes and those that do not
3. Track the culture metrics that matter
With real-time people data and analytics at our fingertips, it’s impossible to miss the warning signs that there is a problem in a team or department.
The key culture metrics that are early warning signs that a manager might be the problem, include:
We’ve all heard the saying ‘employees don’t leave companies, they leave managers’. Like it or not, managers create culture and are responsible for employee experience.
Turnover should be monitored very carefully and an increase in the number of employees resigning from within a team or department, is usually a big red flag.
High employee turnover cannot always be attributed to salary disputes or lack of career growth opportunities.
More often than not, people will prioritise job satisfaction and a positive work environment over cosmetic gestures like a 2% pay rise.
We’ve all heard the saying ‘employees don’t leave companies, they leave managers’. Like it or not, managers create culture and are responsible for employee experience
Absenteeism and sick days
Absenteeism should always be monitored in order to detect chronic conditions, burnout or personal challenges and offer support to employees.
In the case of toxic managers though, absenteeism on their teams is often a warning sign that employees are avoiding attending work and interacting with their manager or that the stress levels they’re being exposed to at work are detrimental to their physical and mental health.
If employees are happy at work, they will become enthusiastic evangelists for their employer and refer friends and acquaintances to join the company.
In toxic or negative work environments, employees are either not referring friends or they are giving very low scores on the employee satisfaction survey questions that ask how likely they are to recommend their employer to others as a good place to work.
If employees are happy at work, they will become enthusiastic evangelists for their employer and refer friends and acquaintances to join the company
Employee engagement survey results
Low scores and poor results on categories relating to engagement, communication, advancement opportunities, trust, collaboration or diversity, equity and inclusion speak to the lived experience of employees on the ground.
If these scores are low, it’s a sign that the manager needs help and that changes need to be made to avoid any resignations or quiet quitting.
It may seem difficult or downright impossible to convince senior leadership that a toxic manager who just so happens to be perceived as a superstar, needs to improve or be removed.
That is why it is better to avoid getting to that point in the first place. If this is not possible, we have to ask ourselves what are we willing to tolerate or sacrifice to accommodate one person over many?
We also have to ask whether we truly care about employee wellbeing and workplace culture, or whether we just want to be seen to care.
If we genuinely do care, we will implement comprehensive plans and tools such as those discussed above and we definitely would not tolerate toxic behaviour in any form.
If you enjoyed this, read: Raab’s resignation highlights the prevalence of toxic workplaces