Are You in the Danger Zone?

By: Colleen Jones

Recently I was talking to a friend in HR who laughingly told me that she had spent the week at work with a fake smile on her face and a primal scream constantly wailing in her head. Why? She has been having the same conversation over and over again for the past three years.

“No one listens. No one cares to understand what is really going on or to find a real solution,” she told me. ”Instead, we will create several painstakingly curated PowerPoint decks to outline an internal “program” that will never address the root cause or generate any true impact. Things will never change.”

She sounded exhausted and beat. “There is no point in speaking up anymore. I will only be labelled a naysayer or be seen as being difficult. So, I will do my best to muster a smile, nod my head and slowly numb myself to the lack of progress and do what I have been told to do.”

Sadly, I know she’s not alone.

The Danger Zone

When we think of toxic workplaces, we often think of environments filled with overt bullying, harassment or aggressive leadership styles that generate open conflict. But toxicity can be alive and well in many seemingly “nice” organizations with inspiring #companyslogans. It can show up in the forms of subversive shaming, micro-aggressions, denial, complacency, and finger pointing. In these environments, your employees are checking out. Teams operate in dysfunctional, superficial ways and employees are doing the bare minimum to collect their paycheque at the end of the week. “Work to rule” and “quiet quitting” aren’t trends in these organizations – they’re cultural norms.

In toxic workplace cultures your leaders may be living in either a state of fear or ignorance; unaware of how to make things better or feeling completely disempowered to effect any change. If you are wondering if your “nice” culture might actually be a bit toxic, consider the following questions:

  • Do people regularly speak up and share their candid opinions in group settings?  (Or is it reserved for selective 1-1 conversations or “pre-meetings”?) 
  • Do people willingly share what they are working on? (Or are cards held close to the chest?) 
  • Do people speak with genuine excitement about the future of the organization? (Or is it the same old #companyplatitudes?) 
  • Do people proactively plan for a career with the organization and initiate conversations about what is next? (Or do they keep their head down and avoid commitment?) 
  • Do people enthusiastically raise their hand to take on more when they are able to? (Or do they avoid eye contact when someone is looking for help?) 

If you have answered No to some or all of the above, you are not alone. Almost 1 in 5 employees feel they are working in a toxic work environment according to a recent American Psychological Association Survey.

From our perspective at The Roundtable, toxic cultures (aka the danger zone!) often stem from systemic leadership issues. It can feel impossible to navigate your way from this state of hopelessness to a place where all employees are engaged and performing to make a collective impact. The process begins with identifying the root cause of your leadership issues, to inspire hope that better is possible and to establish the path for sustainable change and it starts at the top.  

Reach out to learn more about how we can help your executive team set the foundation you need to get on your way to higher, sustainable performance.  

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