In 2019, it amazes me that toxic work environments and toxic leaders are still allowed to exist. After all of the money that companies spend on conflict resolution training, Emotional Intelligence training, personality temperament tools, etc., I still hear about toxic environments and leaders. Now before you start thinking oh no, here we go someone is venting about an environment that has standards and hold people accountable, um no. That is not where I am going. I have been around a while to know the difference. I am talking about environments created by people with authority that are hostile, draining and overall just a horrible environment to work in. When I hear about these type of “leaders”, I always wonder why they are allowed to operate in this fashion. Toxic leaders are everywhere. The disheartening part of most of the stories that i hear about, the leaders are in career fields that have been designed to assist different levels of management in discouraging this type of behavior. They are the ones who are advising CEOs, Managers and Commanders at all levels (in the military). Yet they are not practicing what their program is about.
As I sat back and reviewed the stories that I heard and in some cases the situations I have been in, I started to notice the following things that allowed these “leaders” to get away with the behavior:
1. Their supervisor was not engaged. In most human resource or human relations fields, the managers or team leads are given the freedom to run the programs the way they want to as long as it keeps upper management and commanders out of trouble. They don’t really get involved unless there is something that is not getting done, someone’s job may be on the line (theirs), or the program is receiving adverse attention (media coverage, a congressional inquiry or a complaint/grievance).
2. The behavior is/was only displayed in the work center. When they are out in public (events,meetings, etc.) they appear or appeared to be on their best behavior. They act as though they are taking care of their subordinates and creating a positive environment. This is the complete opposite of what is really happening.
3. They are the considered the expert. Due to the lack of involvement from their supervision and their busy schedules, they are trusted to run the program they way they see fit because they are the expert doing the job. The supervisor doesn’t bother to gain knowledge about the program or the environment because they don’t see any issues on the surface. You know the old saying, “No News is Good News.”
4. The employees fear reprisal or retaliation. The employees are afraid to report the toxic behavior out of fear of reprisal or retaliation. Some people truly believe or know that if they report the behavior or toxic environment they will be punished for doing so via their performance appraisal or they will end up in an environment that is worse than the one they are currently in.
5. The toxic leader has created alliances. It is sad but some people are so good at what they do that they have created alliances with the very people who are supposed to help employees in these situations. They have said unfavorable things about their employees to other people. It is unfortunate because when the employees do reach out, they are unwilling to assist those asking for help due to the bias picture that has been painted for them by the toxic leader. Unfortunately, some employees don’t know until they reach out for help. In some cases the employees are aware which also keeps them from seeking help.
6. No one wants to do the work. In cases where upper management is aware of the toxic environment and/or leader, no one wants to tackle the situation head on. There is a fear of hurting someone’s career, employees are told to “just deal with it” or they don’t think the situation is serious enough to apply disciplinary actions. One reason is because they have let the behavior go on for so long. If they decide to discipline the individual they are acknowledging there is a problem and let’s be honest some people in management just don’t want to deal with this particular part of an organization.
There are many other reasons why toxic environments and toxic leaders exist. Unfortunately, the list can go on. As a leader /manager within an organization, we have to make sure that we are doing our part to combat this type of behavior. We have to learn to stop wanting to be liked and start doing what is right to take care of the people that have been placed in our care. With so many resources available to help create positive work environments and safe spaces for our employees it is time to get to work. For those of you that are doing the work, don’t give up. The good person does win in the end. You may have to fight a little harder but you will win.
What are some of the reasons that toxic environments and toxic leaders exist in within your organization? What are some ways these behaviors can be addressed?
What can you do to change the atmosphere?