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5 Causes of “Pockets of Toxicity” in the Workplace

Employee RETENTION is on the minds of many human resources executives globally, while CULTURE is on the minds of their employees.

Organisational culture is often described as all of an organisation’s beliefs, values and attitudes, and how these influence the behaviour of its employees.

Culture is often what determines whether someone will stay with their organisation, or leave.

According to research from Donald and Charlie Sull, a toxic culture is 10 times more important than compensation in predicting staff turnover!

Culture affects how people experience an organisation, and when someone finds themself in a toxic culture, it impacts every aspect of their life.

Toxic culture goes home with people at night, and relationships suffer. Physical, emotional and mental health suffers. Wellbeing becomes harder to attain. Burnout and overwhelm spiral.

Leaders may think that their culture is in good shape, and still be missing important information about specific pockets of toxicity within the organisation.

It may be that specific leaders, or smaller groups within the organisation, are showing up in ways that fuel toxicity… and no one is saying anything, because they’re performing and leading financially successful parts of the business.

The reality is that the higher you sit in your org chart, the less likely it is that you’ll hear about the toxic behaviours people are experiencing layers below you.

Donald and Charlie Sull’s research identifies five (5) things that lead to pockets of toxicity in a culture, and not surprisingly, all of them have to do with how people are feeling about their work environment.

1. Disrespectful

Feeling disrespected at work has the largest negative impact on an employee’s overall rating of their corporate culture of any single topic. Respect really matters; and this is one reason organisations need to think carefully about the benefits of having RESPECT as one of their top values.

2. Non inclusive

When we see ‘favourites’ in a culture, when voices are actively being left out of discussions and decisions, when a few people are dominating meetings, when we see in and out group stuff – we can be sure that Psychological Safety is low and people aren’t feeling OK about speaking up. Inclusion can be especially hard for people who fall outside the mainstream.

3. Unethical

Dishonest behaviour, lack of regulatory compliance.  This is an integrity issue – and no leader or manager should ask anyone to do anything that they wouldn’t be prepared to do themselves (perhaps because it’s reputationally threatening).

4. Cutthroat

Feeling stepped over, undermined, experiencing power play and competition between individuals and silos all translate into cultural toxicity. It may take time, but if these behaviours go unchecked and people aren;t held acocuntable to a set of agreed standards, toxicity takes hold.

5. Abusive

Rudeness, poor conversational skills, reactivity and mood.

Every one of the above is the result of employees experiencing leaders/managers who are potentially challenged in their emotional intelligence, unskilled in Conversational Intelligence®, and finding themselves working in an environment of low trust and low Psychological Safety.

Toxicity is seen in a culture where the four courage building skills (as taught in the Brené Brown Dare to Lead ™ course) have not been taught, role modelled, implemented and held accountable across the culture.

A vital, thriving culture is not something leaders can ignore… and nor can Corporate Boards. I believe genuine culture change and refresh can take up to 3 years of intentional work!

It’s a journey of exploration, insight, learning, unlearning and relearning. Of increasing awareness and self-awareness, and witnessing the impact strategically, financially and culturally across the organization when we see the growth of transformational courageous leadership.

Unleashing potential at every level!

Cultural change requires a holistic approach that incorporates multiple interventions and a sustained focus over time. Without a commitment from the top team, any organization wide culture change – including a cultural detox – is destined to fail.”

Dr Donald Sull


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