How to manage toxic workplace culture and create harmony in the workplace

Fresh insights for Leaders to Remove Toxicity at Work with an Image of Allison Graham in a white shirt and a brown leather jacket.

What can be the wake-up call that leaders need to fix the gossipy, backstabbing, box-checking, tear-inducing, overly-stressed cultures that are becoming entirely too frequent? I know leaders care, but it can feel like everything you’ve tried is failing and I believe I understand why. Keep reading for my observations.

Given the reality of today’s intensity and the increased pressures both from internal and external sources, even top-performing teams that were once optimistic, can easily slip into negativity.

It’s the leadership’s responsibility to stop the downhill momentum before it’s so ingrained that there is no way back to an engaged, high-performing workplace.

That’s harsh.

I get it.

I might even sound very critical.

That’s not my intention.

Rather, it’s quite the opposite.

My plea is laced with empathy and respect for the challenging human dynamics that leaders and employees juggle every day.

a group of professionals all wearing blind folds
Toxic workplace behaviours will not be resolved by leaders ignoring the issues and hoping they go away.

I believe 98% of those who lead organizations that have negative working environments do not want their employees to be miserable at work.

The leaders I’ve worked with have a growth mindset and are aware of the atmosphere in their workplace. The difference with them is that they take steps to correct the downhill trajectory early. Rather than turn a blind eye to the warning signs that their company’s vibe is shifting for the worse, they proactively resolve problems before they intensify.

Despite wanting a more harmonious workplace, I see why some leaders turn a blind eye to the toxic behaviours that are happening in their hallways. 

Among the reasons I’ve observed leaders will ignore the escalating negativity include: 

  • They are too busy putting out fires and keeping the lights on to worry about the kumbaya of the workday.
  • They’ve tried to fix negative dynamics in the past. Changes lasted for a few weeks, then returned to normal.
  • In some cases, it’s their top producers who are mostly to blame, and they don’t want to risk the top-line results by having the tough conversations.
  • They think talent is easy to come by. If a person is unhappy working for them, they should leave. Everyone is replaceable.
  • They learned early that a bit of negative edge on a team is an effective way to run a tight ship and think productivity will dip if people are too happy at work. 
  • They believe employees need to suck it up and be grateful for their jobs. It’s up to them to ignore internal politics.
  • They are oblivious that their patterns are contributing to the negativity.
  • The leaders are just too exhausted, burned out, and pessimistic themselves to even imagine how they would inspire their employees to get out of their funk too.

While I empathize with the excuses, these reasons don’t make it okay to enable a toxic working environment – especially when there are so many ways to stop the downhill spiral of negativity.

Typically, resetting an organization’s vibe requires an outsider’s perspective. That’s one of the reasons why my industry is booming as experts with different angles are stepping up to consult, speak at conferences, and offer training programs.

(I hope my colleagues who share this area of expertise will join the conversation by offering their insights in the comments section.)

Image of office workers collaborating with each other.
Creating a harmonious workplace is worth the effort and it is possible.

The benefits of leading an engaged workforce free of political angst, far outweigh the time and financial resources required to make it happen.

People spend way too much of their life at work to be miserable.

That doesn’t mean everyone can quit their job. If every person who is unhappy at work left their place of employment, society would have a group of people swapping jobs hoping to find greener grass. No one would be left to fix the actual problems that cause toxicity at work. 

A reasonable amount of interpersonal friction is a natural part of working with others. There are many factors that contribute to a healthy versus toxic culture. I believe among the most important is having an effective way to solve problems related to human dynamics.

It’s the leadership team’s responsibility to prioritize and implement a strategy to restore harmony in a workplace. 

When leaders step up, employees also need to be willing to shift gears. If they don’t participate to make a more positive culture viable, then nothing will change. Both sides need to focus on the same harmonious outcome to stop in-fighting.  

In addition to the above realities, there’s a more significant reason leaders don’t want to dive deep into fixing toxic cultures. It’s pride, or you can call it ego, but whatever you call it, it’s undeniable. 

One of the most powerful motivators in human behaviour is the need to save face. It’s hard to accept responsibility for failures. It’s embarrassing for the person at the helm to admit that they let an issue as important as creating a positive work environment slide.

A leader is not alone in this. No one is perfect. It likely wasn’t one big failure. More often than not, it’s a series of little problems that were ignored and over time each individual issue compounded like a snowball rolling out of control down a hill.

I believe the only way to fix toxicity in the workplace is for the leadership team to dig deep in a psychologically safe, confidential environment so they can burst out of their blind-eye bubble. Ultimately, executives need to swallow their pride, gain objectivity about what’s truly happening in the ranks of their organization, and take appropriate steps to inspire the kind of workplace culture they want for the future.

I am strongly optimistic that leaders who are willing, can turn the tide of negativity within their organization. I believe it’s possible because I’ve seen the transformation that happens when leaders realize what they need to do to inspire a respectful workplace.

Allison Graham headshot smiling leaning against a grey wall, blue cardigan and white top

Welcome! I'm Allison Graham

Let’s face it – life is tough enough without having behaviour patterns that make life harder than it needs to be! 

That’s why I’m obsessed with finding ways to make the human experience easier by offering strategies for problem solving, dealing with chronic pain, leveraging empowering stress, and stopping patterns that create destructive stress. 

I hope you find huge value in my content. To go deeper please check out my online courses, coaching, and keynote speeches