Transforming a Toxic Workplace Culture

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Transforming a Toxic Workplace Culture

We’ve discussed the tell-tale signs of a toxic workplace culture before here at Shine. From low morale and poor communication, to office politics and a lack of trust – toxic workplace cultures are pretty bad for our mental and physical health. After all, where we work is basically our second home. We have to spend a lot of our waking hours there, so the stress linked to toxic cultures is likely to send us into burnout.

Transforming a toxic culture can seem like an impossible task, especially when this is something that’s been going on for a long time. But the longer it occurs, the more detrimental effects it has on business and its employees.

From simple day-to-day changes in attitude and behaviour, to larger strategies to help boost morale, there’s a lot we can do to turn toxic cultures in the opposite direction. There’s no single strategy that will work for every organisation, but there are so many things to try, it won’t be difficult to figure out what works for you.

  1. Acknowledgement

The first step in solving any problem (not even just toxic cultures), is acknowledging that there is a problem that needs to be fixing. A lot of leaders have issues accepting that their behaviour and leadership is creating a toxic culture, and until we do this, we can’t even start to think about moving forward.


  1. Communication

Simple, but probably one of the most important factors we’ll mention here. Without effective communication, it’s likely that none of your workplace issues will get resolved. Once leaders have acknowledged the issues, they need to listen to employees. Effective communication can help to solve issues like disputes and hostilities between staff – one simple conversation can help put strategies into place to reduce conflict.

Communicating with employees lets you understand their stresses and things which are getting in their way. Even when these are not directly linked to issues in the workplace, it helps employees to ‘get things of their chest’ and even just feeling like there’s someone to talk to can help make a difference.

Effective communication seems basic, but it’s something that many organisations fail to get right. It’s a way to stop complaining and create effective conversations that actually solve problems.

  1. Strategy

When we’ve acknowledged issues with culture and understand the pain points of employees, it’s important to start strategizing. Whether we already had ‘strategies’ in place or not, they need reviewing to ensure they cover all pain points and to ensure that management and employees know how to follow them.

As an example, implementing a thorough well-being strategy can help to keep employees refreshed and happy. Or, planning weekly or monthly meetings with employees can help keep morale up by ensuring their issues and complaints are heard. There are a variety of methods that can be put into place to ensure we’re keeping on top of our efforts.

  1. Stress reduction

Reducing stress in the workplace should be one of the main focus points when creating a new strategy. A toxic environment can be stressful in itself, but stress also feeds toxicity in the workplace, so we end up creating a rather vicious cycle. We need to focus on breaking that cycle wherever possible.

Taking time out to relax and refresh each day can make a big difference, even if its only for a few minutes. It might seem like regular breaks could negatively impact productivity, but a lack of breaks will often harm it more. Ensuring that we’re able to get away from our desks, even for the shortest periods of time, is a great starting point to help with workplace related stress. From there we need to ensure we’re monitoring employees and their workload to spot the tell-tale signs of burnout.

  1. Flexibility

It’s important to understand the impact that flexibility can have in the workplace. If we’re running a “my way or the highway” style approach, your employees will have little motivation in their work and become almost robotic.

Giving your employees some creative freedom allows them to bring something new to their roles and brings new ideas and efficient processes that weren’t there before. You hired them for that position for a reason, so they’ll bring skill and insight that you don’t have. Allowing your employees to have a significant impact on the success of the organisation brings a feeling of reward and accomplishment.

  1. Recognition

Given the previous point about letting your employees more freedom in their roles, recognition needs to be considered. Regular recognition works to eliminate multiple factors of a toxic culture by making sure that everyone’s contributions receive the appreciation they deserve.

Lack of recognition is a key sign of a toxic culture, as nothing makes employees feel undervalued like being highly successful at what they do, bringing all sorts of benefits for the organisation, but not getting even a smidge of recognition for what they do. Reward is a big part of what keeps us motivated in the workplace, so don’t expect a lot of drive from your employees if you don’t know how to give credit where it’s due.

  1. Lead by example

It’s often the case that most issues with toxic cultures can be fixed by making management lead by example – another one that’s so simple, but so effective. When management truly walk and talk a positive company culture, the employees will begin to develop the same. Management need to set the tone, pace, and the actual psychological health within an organisation.

Management that are humble and actively serve their organisation with a positive attitude are the best antidote for a toxic culture. Good employees will naturally follow as the positivity catches on, so it’s important that any training and strategies put into place to fix the issues must start with management. Happy management really will equal happy employees.

  1. Hiring for culture fit

One thing we must remember when trying to transform our organisational culture, is that some people just won’t fit. It’s vital to have a sense of what your culture is truly about, so we can better understand when whatever it is that isn’t working out with an employee or a candidate it’s simply due to lack of cultural fit.

CIPD estimate that the average cost of recruiting the wrong person is approximately 1/3 of their annual salary (so often between £8,200 and £12,000), plus everything else like cost to rehire, cost of retraining, damages to productivity, and the rest on top of that cost. When we hire someone whose values align with the organisation, the level of fit allows us to create a more productive and engaged workplace through shared goals. These shared goals allow us to work better together. The concept of culture fit has long been misunderstood, resulting in an ineffective way of recruiting through unreliable measures. Our latest whitepaper discusses hiring for values in detail and how it can help attract and select the best candidates.

Culture transformations can seem daunting and challenging in the beginning – but even the simplest of strategies can help to get things on the right track. There are so many benefits to having a positive and productive company culture that it would be difficult to list each one, but it creates happy and committed employees who are the absolute key to the success of any organisation.

It’s also important to remember that workplace culture falls down to how well employees work together, the general environment and the collaboration between everyone there. You might have a fancy office space with nice break-out areas and posh lunches being delivered, but until you create a truly collaborative organisation with shared goals and motivations, you don’t really have a good workplace culture!

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