Avoiding a toxic culture in your organisation: Best practices

12 June 2023 / Insight posted in Article

In light of Baroness Casey’s report on the Metropolitan Police, which highlighted a toxic culture caused by archaic examples of racism, homophobia, and sexism, bad company culture has become a common point of discussion in many workplaces.

If toxic workplace behaviours are allowed to continue unchecked, and it’s common in places where law and order should be of the highest priority, it should be clear this is a far bigger issue than initially thought, which is why drastic and pointed action is needed to force a lasting workplace culture change.

Below, we’ll explain what a toxic work culture is, what steps can be taken to address the root causes, and how inspired leadership can lead the charge against a toxic culture at work, no matter how ingrained it may seem.

Workplace culture definition

Your workplace culture definition may differ from the person next to you, which is why it is often so difficult to address. What is deemed an acceptable practice, or just “part of the job”, may be a symptom of a bad company culture that has been allowed to become the norm.

Forbes‘ workplace culture definition is: “The shared values, belief systems, attitudes, and the set of assumptions that people in a workplace share.” This is a great way of looking at the issue and is why it can vary from workplace to workplace, often being passed from management to employees, from one generation of workers to the next.

Setting the right leadership example

Your leadership team is responsible for setting an example of acceptable behaviour, so they must be trained and prepared to inspire others to act appropriately. Employers should ensure that their leaders and senior managers call out toxic culture practices and ensure that such actions are not allowed to continue happening.

The leadership team are representative of the company, so if a toxic culture is allowed to persist under their supervision, it not only reflects poorly on them but also on the company as a whole. Effective change happens when those with the power to act do so, and when we’re looking to overhaul a toxic culture in the workplace, the active involvement of the leadership team is essential.

Prioritising employee engagement

If you want to address a toxic culture at work, working with all internal stakeholders offers the best chance of success. While it is great to see so many businesses take steps to improve a toxic work culture, it is often done without the involvement of the negatively impacted parties, resulting in their wants and needs being overlooked or outright ignored.

To effectively address a toxic work culture, company-wide surveys could encourage greater employee engagement, owing to the idea that many members of the workforce may prefer to disclose their grievances anonymously. If your company has previously had a toxic work culture, impacted parties may not feel safe or comfortable disclosing this publically, further highlighting why this is such an important endeavour.

Conversely, it may also be a good idea to hold in-person workshops that are open to all parties, providing a safe space for anybody who wishes to disclose any problematic or harmful treatment while at work. This can be facilitated by a third-party organisation, which could remove any bias and put employees at ease, making it easier for them to discuss their toxic work culture experience.

Building an inclusive workplace with EDI strategies

Having a strong equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) strategy is a necessity if you want to combat a bad company culture. Statistics suggest that being able to be your true, authentic self and feeling safe while doing so is one of the top factors for job seekers when choosing a new employer. However, a toxic or bad company culture could prevent this from happening, hurting morale and damaging the company’s reputation.

For employers to combat a bad company culture by focusing on EDI strategies, they could:

  • provide their management team and their people with regular EDI training;
  • implement a company-wide EDI statement;
  • carry out a gap analysis on the current EDI practises within the workplace;
  • put together an EDI strategy and communicate this across the organisation and as a recruitment incentive.

While a bad company culture can sometimes be indicative of larger problems within an organisation, for many workplaces, it is often caused by lazy habits that can addressed fairly easily. It is the responsibility of the management and leadership team to address bad company culture by looking to enact inclusive policies and understand the diverse and varying needs of the workforce.

Fostering growth with reward, learning and development

To address a toxic culture at work, it may be beneficial to place an added importance on personal and professional growth. Ignorance is often cited as a reason why a toxic culture at work is left unchecked and allowed to fester, but by taking steps to learn about the issue and actively taking steps to ensure it doesn’t persist, the culture and morale should improve.

The below actions should be a priority when assessing whether your organisation’s current structure is a potential risk and could lead to claims of sex discrimination and/or unequal treatment towards females and/or female-identifying people:

  • gender pay gap reporting;
  • succession planning;
  • reviewing learning and development opportunities and assuring they are consistently applied;
  • pay structure review and design.

Changing a toxic work culture

If you want to enact a workplace culture change, action should start at the top of the business and trickle down. As it’s often said, company values should be immediately clear to those working at all stages of the business, as well as from the outside, and the best way to get things moving is to instil this workplace culture change within the management team, who can then influence those under their supervision.

To successfully influence a workplace culture change, education and training can be key. By educating the leadership team about behaviours that could be deemed toxic, they can better understand the negative consequences and how a toxic culture can nipped in the bud before it can cause systemic issues, even if there is no malice involved.

How Moore Kingston Smith can help

If you are keen to address a problematic or toxic work culture, or if you want to focus on a particular area previously highlighted as a potential concern, please contact one of our People Partners.

At Moore Kingston Smith People Advisory, we’ll work with you to help identify what areas are a priority and put together a bespoke workplace culture change plan.

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