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Alex Alvarez

Culture Amp

Lead People Scientist

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Raab’s resignation highlights the prevalence of toxic workplaces

Dominic Raab’s resignation has reignited the conversation around toxic workplaces. Why were so many red flags ignored?

At a time of continuous digital access to information and news, we are seeing more public reports of toxic cultures in different organisations. 

In the space of just a couple of weeks, there have been reports of serious allegations of misconduct at the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) while Dominic Raab resigned as Deputy Prime Minister, over a report investigating bullying allegations against him. 

The visibility that media reports provide helps create accountability that an organisation’s internal processes may have failed to achieve. When things become public knowledge, we see how senior leaders resign or are asked to leave. This can give a temporary sense of relief to employees that may have experienced long periods of stress, anxiety and even burnout. 

The question that usually comes to mind, however, is: “why was this not identified and stopped earlier?”

Ignoring red flags

Often, we hear that there were early warnings for months and even years but those signs were ignored until it was too late.

In healthy and safe cultures, behaving according to the values is paramount and it is a fundamental

Most people would like to think that they can be part of an organisation where they feel respected, connected and enabled to do their best work, where they can contribute and be recognised for it.

Leaders need to recognise that one of their key responsibilities is to provide a healthy and safe work environment which starts with their own behaviours.

The cultural spectrum

The challenge is that health and safety tends to only be associated with the physical side. 

Unfortunately, the cultural and psychological sides often get forgotten but the consequences of ignoring them can be very real.

If we look at the spectrum of possibilities, we have a healthy and safe culture on one side and a toxic one on the other. The former is a culture where people feel respected, valued, safe and able to grow and contribute; where people are not afraid to share their ideas and concerns or to disagree with others, especially those in leadership positions.

Values are of little use on an organisation’s walls – they need to be lived through behaviours and continuous communication

The latter is a hostile environment where employees can feel disrespected, undervalued, unsafe, ignored, and disregarded. Where they are afraid to share their ideas and opinions.

We need to recognise that organisations will have elements of both and everything in between.

In toxic cultures financial success and high performance become the be-all and end-all and the wrong message is sent when people that do not behave according to the company values still get rewarded and even promoted.

In healthy and safe cultures, behaving according to the values is paramount and it is a fundamental and non-negotiable requirement in order to be rewarded or promoted. In short, there are no financial results that can justify mistreating others.

Bring company values to life

One way to mitigate shifting towards the toxic side of the cultural spectrum is by bringing to life the company values. Values can provide a framework to convey the standards of what is expected from all employees.

This should start with senior leaders; by being a role model of such values, employees will see the importance given to it from the top.

Values are of little use on an organisation’s walls – they need to be lived through behaviours and continuous communication about what is expected and what will not be tolerated in the company. 

A clear whistleblowing process

Another way to mitigate toxic cultures is by continuously monitoring and acting on employees’ feedback. Having clear and confidential feedback procedures in place as well as training employees on how to handle feedback can help ensure that things are reviewed and rectified early and not only when it is too late and things are reported on the media.

Employees should have clarity on how to report unethical behaviours and feel safe that there will not be negative consequences when doing so.

Leaders should encourage employees to come forward, ensure that confidentiality is protected and that the processes are robust to hold anyone accountable regardless of their position of power.

Finally, employees should be given an opportunity to express their views on all the factors (i.e., leaders, managers, communication, learning and development, recognition, compensation, strategy etc.) that can help create a work environment where they feel connected to the organisation and enabled to do their best work.

If you enjoyed this, read: 12 possible indicators of a dysfunctional workspace

One Response

  1. I accept that not all KC’s
    I accept that not all KC’s are Chateau Thames Embankment swilling Rumpoles, more’s the pity.

    The report from Adam Tolley to the PM which I have just read falls short for a number of important reaso

    It is clear that justice has not been seen to be done. If all the witnesses are confidential and are not cross examined under oath then the report is basically meaningless and uncorroborated hearsay.

    This investigation would be better carried out under the auspices of the EAT where full disclosure and fairness would have been apparent.

    The investigation into the chairmanship of the BBC is also sadly lacking in fairness and disclosure, and abounds with terms like perceived and potential.

    Hopefully we can get away from investigations which are not full, fair and open

Author Profile Picture
Alex Alvarez

Lead People Scientist

Read more from Alex Alvarez
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