Preventing a toxic culture

Last week, I wrote about managing toxic employees.Cartoon of multiple smiling faces of all genders and ethnicities

But what about preventing toxic tendencies right from the start?

Toxicity can develop in an environment where individual achievement is valued over team accomplishment.

It’s important to acknowledge outstanding contribution at the individual level – and it’s equally important to avoid creating competition between individuals. The outdated and destructive practice of “forced ranking,” also known as the “vitality curve” (talk about using an apparently positive term to describe a harmful practice!), sets people against each other for their survival, instead of encouraging teamwork.

Instead, set team goals and offer whole-team rewards. Encourage informal inter-team mentoring. Cross-train.

Facilitate open dialogue about challenging issues, including situations that arise outside the company – protests and other events in the news. Make sure all your employees feel safe; psychological safety is a key factor in employee engagement and productivity.

Thank your employees. Thank your colleagues. Thank your leaders. Studies from Workhuman indicate that just FIVE thank-yous or indications of appreciation over a FULL YEAR reduce the likelihood of an employee seeking another job by over half. No, their paycheck is not “thanks enough” for doing their job!

Have you thanked someone recently?

Organizational culture is top-down, not bottom-up. As a leader, are you walking the talk? Do you know what behaviors your company expects, based on the company values? Are your company values clearly articulated, with associated measurable behaviors, in such a way that every employee knows what’s expected of them? (Ahem…)

Toxic cultures don’t just happen. They’re enabled and facilitated, though not necessarily with malicious intent; usually it’s through neglect and lack of focus.

Toxic cultures don't just happen. They're enabled and facilitated, though not necessarily with malicious intent; usually it's through neglect and a lack of focus.Click To Tweet

You can help prevent that.


Thanking people is an art form. Here are a couple of posts to help: “Why Thank You isn’t enough,” “A simple preventive for employee turnover,” and “For what?”.

Oh, and in case you were wondering … “What the *^?@ IS culture, anyway” – there’s your answer. (Okay, MY answer!)


gljudson Leadership, Strategic thinking