"Life always gives us exactly the teacher we need at every moment. This includes every mosquito, every misfortune, every red light, every traffic jam, every obnoxious supervisor (or employee), every illness, every loss, every moment of joy or depression, every addiction, every piece of garbage, every breath. Every moment is the guru." -- Charlotte Joko Beck

Sunday, June 7, 2020

Toxicity in the Workplace

Recently I have been working with a team of people who found themselves in a toxic work environment over several years. They are all passionate about the mission of the organization and fully endorse its cause and business line.

However, there were critical negative issues with management, leadership, and communication throughout the company. The senior staff belittled people, micromanaged them, second-guessed everything, were dishonest, and kept secrets -- even from each other, Because of their deep belief and commitment to the work and care for their co-workers, most employees stayed despite the problems, believing that if that they just work hard enough, they can make things better and continue their good work.

Unfortunately, the toxicity of the environment overtook and overshadowed the company's work. It also manifested in serious degradation of the workforce. A number of employees became complacent, non-productive, and even detrimental to the organization. Worse yet, several employees become ill, some even requiring professional therapeutic assistance. A few who ultimately left the company had a difficult time committing to a new company or were not able to face starting a new job altogether.

Most of the workers were intent on not giving up on the company and its mission. What they did not fully understand is that correcting deeply embedded toxicity like this takes more than just their determination and loyalty, and that the solution lies in EVERYONE being on board. Each cog in the wheel of a workplace must be in place to consciously work to make things better, more effective, and healthier. If the entire team, including every employee, senior leadership, and management at all levels, do not make this a priority the resulting side effects will ultimately destroy and bury, not only the work and the success of the company but the mental and physical health of the workers.

Through his social media "Leadership First" sites, Gifford Thomas, author of The Inspirational Leader, Inspire Your Team To Believe In The Impossible, has this to say about the impact of toxic leadership: "Our workplace has virtually become a second home; however, when the workplace becomes a source of stress for people, that stress can take a more substantial toll on our health than we realize.”

Unfortunately, according to Dr. Jean Kim, leadership can be one of the significant causes of this stress, and when a leader displays certain behaviors and characteristics that contribute to a negative, even hostile working environment, it’s a warning sign that the environment is dangerous to your mental health.

Leaders' misuse of their influence can quickly trickle down into their employees’ psyches, causing incredible distress, betrayal, anger, and can even lead to mental illnesses like depression, anxiety, and even trauma. Look out for the following traits and behaviors. This list will help you identify toxic leadership and work environments to avoid. 

Note the overwhelming theme of communication here. Almost all of these can be illuminated by looking through the lens of communication. How are leaders communicating with people, and what are they communicating with their words and actions?

Only open, honest, inclusive communication can help reduce the potential for toxicity.