Picture a place where only titles, job descriptions, and levels in the hierarchy matter. A place where communication doesn’t flow, and silos are part of the landscape; a place where status and visibility are more important than collaboration and results. You’re picturing a toxic workplace.
The elephant in the room
Toxicity is something all employees feel, and nobody talks about. Many rules shape a toxic culture, with little space for breaking out ideas or innovation; even when innovation is supposedly promoted.
There’s no trust to openly tell that a goal is unachievable; there’s no room to say no to ideas coming from the top management; avoid open conflict is a rule, and conversations take place in informal places to gain allies in hidden fights.
As a result, trust is missing at the most elementary levels, and then burnout peaks.
Fear is the topic we need to talk about
Many types of fear are palpable in a context where no one speaks up: fear to be criticized or, worst, looking stupid in front of the boss; fear of getting in trouble for breaking the rules or fear of the next reorganization in which they can get fired or demoted.
These fears produce job insecurity and instability. As a result, employees will lack of commitment, more interested in preserving their jobs than in doing a good job. And managers will be more focused on defending their positions than in creating the right conditions for work. This is a snowball effect, difficult to stop.
What you promote is what you get
Leaders’ behaviors are responsible in having a toxic workplace. Recognizing what is not working and change things is tough for people; more for those enjoying a good position with a short-term view. Nobody wants to hear bad news about their impact.
The reality is that a toxic workplace make talent run. In this kind of places, there is a lot of talking about failures or infractions, and very little about success or recognizing efforts. There is a lot of control, and a little of confidence.
Therefore, the best employees, those with more possibilities to thrive somewhere else, will resign sooner than later. This is bad for the ones staying, and bad for the company.
An environment lacking good talent will deteriorate quite fast. If the talented people are burnout and go away, there will only remain the mediocre; and thus, the average performance will go down.
You can’t improve retention if you don’t change the culture
A toxic culture can’t be improved overnight, but without making some changes, managers won’t reduce employees’ attrition. They should start by building the trust and creating the psychological safety needed for their people to feel safe enough to start speaking up. They need to get some understanding about what’s happening and take some action.
Otherwise, in the long-run, they’ll only manage a beautiful results-empty place.