Employee Retention: Addressing a Toxic Work Culture

By: First Union


Employee Retention: Addressing a Toxic Work Culture

A good business starts with trust; it's not about micro-managing and it's not about bullying employees into performing. This merely leads to frustration, disappointment, bitter feelings and ultimately, yes, a toxic work culture which will drive those top-performing employees away.

What exactly does such a toxic culture look like: it generally is an atmosphere filled with stale ideas, people that don't trust one another, ego trips abounding, and dishonesty running rampant.

Who would want to immerse themselves in such an environment…Certainly not your high performers. Remember, these are your top people, those who truly are the backbone of your organization. As such, they get noticed because they know how to get things done. Recruiters and competitors are looking at them daily, probably messaging them too. What then happens when they look around at their current situation and recognize that it is indeed toxic; they're probably going to go where that grass is much greener. If your high performing employees are doing well in a toxic culture, they're smart enough to realize what awaits them in a non-toxic one.

In this article, we look at some of those red flags that may be signaling your company culture a toxic one and thus compelling your best employees to look elsewhere.

Working from home is viewed negatively

When management labels working from home as equivalent to laziness this is a problem. Largely, this attitude stems from the fact that the management team wants to be able to "keep an eye" on people; they simply don't trust individuals to be productive on their own. The belief is that an employee at home will take advantage of the situation.

Perhaps they see that employee as trying to hold down a side gig, or paying more attention to their children than their work during on-duty hours. There's an underlying paranoia associated with letting people work from home that is incredibly toxic to your company.

Today especially working from home is becoming increasingly common. Not allowing employees to do so will eventually dry up your talent pool as people want that flexibility and what's more, that want to know you trust them to do their work and do it well.

Management Fears Entrepreneurship

A toxic work culture sees entrepreneurship as a threat. The management feels that an entrepreneurial employee is just waiting to run off with their ideas.

On the flip side of that coin, a business with a healthy culture fosters this sense of entrepreneurship. Those that have previously owned businesses especially can be so valuable. Allowing employees to make decisions and act on them can only make your company stronger and more cohesive.

Managers vs. Employees

Look at how the various stakeholders are treated. Are managers given catered lunches, limo rides to meetings, huge spending budgets? And meanwhile, the employees are given, well, much less. It's not just about this type of treatment. When issues arise or project initiated, is the party line something like management needs to do X, or the managers have to address problem Y?

In a non-toxic culture, the various company units are one. Everybody plays a part in the decision-making process and everyone feels a sense of responsibility for company performance.

Hours worked matter

So many company managers tend to judge people by when they come in and when they consequently leave for the day. But what is this a measure of? Some people may sit at a desk for 14 straight hours and yet actually do maybe four solid hours of work. This one's all about quality versus quantity.

Results are what should matter. Productivity should count far more than the number of hours someone punches in. And when productivity does seem to be lagging, a true leader won't simply dismiss that team member but find a way to help them back into their "groove," so to speak. They will proactively coach that employee toward more productive ends.

Preferential treatment

Are people in your company given a preferential treatment? Is there a culture of behind-the-back talking? Is management exacerbating situations rather than diffusing them?

Treating some employees one way and the rest another is only going to create rifts throughout your organization. And rifts are far from productive. You want a team mentality and thus a non-toxic culture. Pitting employees against one another will severely hurt your business in the long run.

Shaming those in the wrong role

As far as those who may be underperforming within your firm, how are they treated? Are they shamed, talked badly about? Spoken down to? Some companies will even label those who may be struggling as stupid or incompetent. Such a work culture is about as toxic as it gets.

In positive cultures, those who are somehow falling behind or not meeting expectations are given help. They are offered to coach and/or mentoring. Maybe they are in the wrong role—so what's the right one? As a leader, this is what you need to help figure out.

Condemning low performance

Low performance should not be punished—quite the opposite, it should be addressed in a meaningful and helpful way. To shame and condemn employees is the mark of a shallow leader. And it certainly isn't going to inspire them to want to try harder and do better.

Addressing the Problem of a Toxic Culture: Starting with Leadership

How can you fix what is wrong with your company, how can you rid the environment of toxicity…A few tips:

  • Learn to trust people
  • Earn their respect
  • Exercise compassion and empathy
  • Offer chances for growth and development
  • Foster autonomy
  • Allow employees to express themselves and be who they are

In conclusion…

Toxic cultures aren't just driving away those high performers, they're also taking a toll on the bottom line. Sales drop, profits plummet in a toxic environment. If this is your business, it's time to make some changes. Talk to your people, get their feedback, and heed what they're saying.

If you are dealing with a toxic work environment, First Union is here to help. Call today to speak to one of our agents!

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