Here’s how managers can unwittingly cause a toxic workplace

Leaders play a critical role in defining and articulating the values, practices, and beliefs that will support the corporate cultures they aim to create.

And managers can fail to maintain these cultures for various reasons. Perhaps they have a case of uncontrolled narcissism – they put their personal needs for attention, admiration and acceptance above their people and the company’s mission.

Or maybe their leadership style is to instill fear – they lead with interactions that make people feel insecure and afraid at work. These leaders tend to feel big by making others feel small.

“Fear of competitors, market change and obsolescence can be motivating,” says Chris Evans, CEO of Barefoot, a brand experience agency on a mission to end pointless moments between consumers and brands, “but if one is going to profile a common enemy, it should be outside the organization and something that is ultimately motivating for achieving the mission.”

Other traits that signal a toxic leader can include arrogance, an inability to listen and receive feedback, or decision-making motivated by self-interest.

Here are four ways leaders can — intentionally or not — poison a company’s culture.

1. They ignore the problem.

Toxic leaders will avoid addressing employees who act against the company’s culture. You will see them let certain behaviors slide over and over again. Or maybe they are just naive and ignorant. Regardless, keeping an eye out for this behavior will help you identify a misaligned leader.

When you see this happening, pull them aside and tell them what you noticed. If they are ignorant, make them aware of their behavior. If they know, ask why they’ve let things slide and brainstorm ways to approach staff and address issues before they get worse. Often, managers may feel ill-equipped to solve a problem and need guidance on conflict resolution.

2. They create a culture of friendship.

If you sense an air of exclusivity, you may have a toxic manager. Sometimes managers can become comfortable with certain employees over others and consciously (or unconsciously) contribute to cliques and exclusivity. Some managers even use company values ​​to create “in groups” and “out groups”, which is never good.

“Even with stated values, beliefs and practices, there should be plenty of room for different backgrounds, experiences and viewpoints,” says Evans.

When leaders emphasize hierarchy and promote their friends or former colleagues over others who are equally qualified, it creates a cycle of “in group/out group” behavior and exclusivity. As a result, “in groups” are often given preferential treatment and held to different standards. This is never healthy, even for people in “in groups”.

Positive workplace cultures seek out diverse voices and perspectives, promoting openness and fairness. If you notice the opposite happening in your workplace, point out this behavior to your manager and remind them why inclusion is important not just for the people, but for the overall health of the workplace. Give them specific action steps to take moving forward, such as encouraging 1-on-1s with newer employees or sparking conversations with less chatty employees at work events.

3. They enable bullying in the workplace.

When managers enable exclusive behavior, bullying can occur. Workplace bullying is mistreatment of one or more employees by another employee.

Examples include not inviting certain people to a work happy hour, purposefully assigning mundane tasks to someone repeatedly, changing deadlines unfairly, or denying people access to certain programs without reason.

If you see this happening or hear of complaints, always contact the person responsible directly. Consider group training on what is and isn’t okay in the workplace and how to deal with bullying. This will give the employees more freedom to make you aware of this behavior, so that you can stop it early.

4. They are micromanaging.

How do you spot a micromanager? Their workers experience burnout and distress.

Micromanagers are managers who try to control every aspect – no matter how small – of the company, project, activity or whatever it may be. Worker burnout and high emotions are likely to increase when bullying, micromanagement and exclusivity occur. With toxic managers, they can unconsciously create unmanageable and unsustainable workloads for the employees. These unhealthy workloads can also contribute to disengagement and burnout.

If you suspect a manager is micromanaging, there may be a trust or control issue at play. Ask them why they have a hard time trusting their employees and start from the root.

The truth is that all organizations will encounter leaders who exhibit toxic behavior at some point – it’s almost a given. The key is to establish accountability now so that you can ultimately help these leaders grow, develop and change for the better.

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