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Joanne Lockwood

SEE Change Happen Ltd

Inclusion and Belonging Specialist

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The dangers of power dynamics in the workplace

You might not realise it, but power dynamics in your office could be slowly destroying your company culture by breeding an environment of fear and mistrust.

You might not realise it, but power dynamics in your office could be slowly destroying your company culture by breeding an environment of fear and mistrust, ultimately stemming from a desire to control others. 

Power Dynamics often manifest themselves through the misuse of privilege in relation to those who are often marginalised or underrepresented in the workplace or society.  We see examples in play, where people in positions of power or influence, and who also hold privileged characteristics promote and propagate a workplace environment where racism, sexism, ableism or homophobic views and beliefs are allowed to take hold and grow, in turn destroying a company’s culture.  

Where organisations do not actively address power and privilege dynamics born out of nepotism, bullying, harassment or exclusion, this will ultimately breed and cause toxicity to fester, which in turn will destroy the psychological safety that staff and colleagues are entitled to feel.  When this happens the working environment will experience a decline in morale and motivation, an increase in absenteeism and staff turnover, a deterioration in customer service and quality, and a drop in productivity levels which then in turn often leads to a loss of revenue  

In order to break down power dynamics, improve your culture and create a healthy workplace environment, it is essential that you, as a leader take steps to actively seek out and break down these toxic power dynamics. 

Here are a few tips on how you can do this: 

Encourage open communication

Create an environment where employees feel comfortable speaking up about their concerns and sharing their opinions, even if they differ from those of their superiors. It also means giving employees the opportunity to share their ideas and suggestions for how things could be improved. This could involve introducing regular anonymous surveys or setting up an employee assistance program. When employees feel like their voices are being heard, they’re more likely to buy into an organisation’s culture and feel invested in its success.

Encourage collaboration

Another way to break down power dynamics in the workplace is to encourage collaboration. This means creating opportunities for employees to work together on projects and tasks. When employees are able to collaborate, they’re more likely to feel like they’re part of a team instead of feeling like they’re pitted against each other. Collaboration also allows employees to share their unique perspectives and skills, which can only benefit an organisation as a whole.

Establish a culture of humility and vulnerability

By ensuring people are allowed to grow, learn and develop without fear of recrimination for making mistakes – no one is perfect. Everyone should feel that they are in a supportive environment where their colleagues have their back, and their supervisor or manager is there to help them.

Create clear information and process channels

By having clearly defined channels through which information flows between managers and their team. It also means ensuring that these channels are open and accessible to all employees and workers are less likely to feel like they’re being left out or excluded from important decision-making processes.

Promote diversity and inclusion

Make sure everyone feels like they belong by valuing different perspectives and experiences. This includes things like implementing flexible working arrangements and offering unconscious bias training. 

Be clear about expectations

Define what is acceptable in the workplace, both in behaviour and language – make sure everyone is aware of the consequences of breaking these policies. This might involve creating a code of conduct, acceptable language guidelines or increasing the amount of supervision for certain employees and providing additional training. 

Lead by example

As the saying goes, “actions speak louder than words.” If you want to change the power dynamic and culture in your organisation, you need to set the tone from the top. Model the behaviour you want to see from your employees and be fair, decisive, and consistent when dealing with issues as they arise.

In summary, power dynamics are relationships between people in positions of power and privilege and those who are their junior or from underrepresented or marginalised communities. They are most harmful when this power and privilege is abused which in turn overly controls, bullies or takes advantage of others, either through intentional abuse or simply by making careless decisions that have a negative impact on those who are subordinate to them. 

The best way to avoid the dangers of power dynamics and misuse of privilege is to be aware of it, call it out, and try to prevent it from forming in the first place. By encouraging open communication, promoting diversity and inclusion, being clear about expectations and leading by example, you can create a healthy workplace culture where everyone feels valued and respected.

Interested in this topic? Read The science of meeting dynamics and how to influence them

Author Profile Picture
Joanne Lockwood

Inclusion and Belonging Specialist

Read more from Joanne Lockwood
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