Between the onset of the Great Resignation, a rise in burnout, “quiet quitting,” and now, an epidemic of the “Sunday scaries,” employees around the world are demonstrating a growing intolerance for toxic workplace cultures. In fact, research from MIT Sloan found that a toxic workplace culture is the single best predictor of which organizations suffered from the highest attrition in the first six months of the Great Resignation, and continues to be one of the leading causes of turnover to date.
This should be a cause for concern among employers, but new insights from McKinsey suggest that, unfortunately, too many workplace leaders are alarmingly disconnected from their employees in terms of what they value most, what they want most from leadership or from their work, what’s currently inhibiting their satisfaction and engagement, and what’s causing them to walk out the door. While employers believe that compensation, development opportunities, and employment prospects are driving resignation, rethinking, and reshuffling trends, their workers argue that it is actually “relational factors,” i.e., feeling valued by management, having a sense of belonging in their workplace, having close bonds with teammates, and having opportunities for growth within their organization that motivates them to stay.
Interestingly, it is exactly this disconnect that often creates or sustains a toxic work culture. When employers demonstrate this clear lack of awareness of what the needs and desires of their workforce are, and appear either oblivious or indifferent toward the cultural, environmental, or structural problems impacting their employees, employees take this to mean that their employers don’t value them or care about their wellbeing, which results in a lack of trust, loyalty, and engagement that stunts productivity and cooperation, leading to further conflicts amongst peers or management that could have otherwise been avoided.
Given that organizational culture has now surpassed salary as the driving influence on job satisfaction amongst today’s workforce, it’s becoming increasingly clear that in order to retain and attract talent and maintain a strong market performance in 2023, leaders are going to have to devote more attention to their organization’s culture and exhibit a stronger commitment to tackling toxicity in the workplace. To do so, leaders will need to know (i) what signs and risk factors they will have to look out for, (ii) what conditions constitute a healthy workplace culture, and (iii) how they can cultivate a healthy workplace culture.
What Makes a Workplace Culture Toxic: Warning Signs to Watch Out For
What ultimately defines a “toxic workplace culture“ is the unchecked presence of negative conditions (i.e., policies, practices, behaviors, and attitudes) that undermine employees‘ ability to grow, thrive, and be satisfied with their work, perpetuate unhealthy competition and conflict between peers and amongst employees and their leaders, and consequently threaten the overall success of the organization and the wellbeing of its workforce.
For some, it may seem easy to spot when a work environment has become toxic: leaders berating their employees, peers turning on each other, and workers coming into work so stressed out that they make themselves sick and appear more and more disheveled, all come to mind. But other signs are perhaps less overt. That’s why trends like hustle culture and workaholism are still going strong despite burgeoning proof of their costly ramifications, or why nearly two-thirds of employers see no issue with their expectation that employees will work over the weekend despite an abundance of research now suggesting that work-life balance is key to maintaining organizational effectiveness and employee wellbeing.
Thus, to get a better understanding of what defines a toxic culture in the eyes of employees, researchers at MIT Sloan studied more than 1.3 million Glassdoor reviews from employees of Culture 500 companies across more than 40 industries to determine what factors had the largest negative impact on employees’ opinion of their organization’s culture and came up with five attributes most associated with a toxic work environment. These are:
- “Disrespectful.” Among employees who accused their employers of being disrespectful, many cited a lack of consideration, courtesy, and dignity for others as evidence of their disregard toward their staff.
- “Non-inclusive.” Employees who accused their organizations of being non-inclusive cited a poor commitment to DEI—namely, the presence of LGBTQIA+, disability, racial, age, and gender inequities—along with cronyism and nepotism.
- “Unethical.” Dishonesty, deceit, greed, and a lack of regulatory compliance (including OSHA and HIPAA violations) were some of the most common factors associated with an unethical work environment among respondents.
- “Cutthroat.” Employees who described their former work environment as being “cutthroat” shared stories of peers backstabbing or sabotaging each other and complained of ruthless and oftentimes unfair competition.
- “Abusive.” Bullying, harassment, discrimination, and sustained hostility were all the most common conditions associated with an abusive workplace environment, MIT Sloan’s findings showed.
And again, while many signs of such characteristics may seem obvious to employers, others may be so deeply embedded in the organization’s culture that they’ve become normalized and even embraced by leaders (again, think of hustle culture), and as a result go unchallenged or altogether unobserved by management.
That said, the following are key indicators that an organization’s culture is toxic, according to experts:
- Toxic productivity: From “yes men,” to unmanageable workloads, to fewer breaks and unused vacation time. While at first glance, employees’ commitment to the ‘rise and grind’ culture might come across as an indication of their loyalty to their organization or motivation to succeed, a closer look might instead reveal these conditions to be the product of a cutthroat and abusive environment. As Annie Morris, Editor in Chief at Made in CA, explains: “[in a toxic work environment], there’s a lot of pressure to perform. People feel like they have to be perfect all the time, and if they make a mistake or don’t do something right, they’re afraid that they’ll lose their job or get passed over for promotions.” This means that employees might be too afraid to tell their boss “no,” instead conceding to every demand and working overtime to get the job done. When they feel as though their leaders don’t value them, or feel as though they are in constant competition with their peers just for recognition or for advancement opportunities, research shows that employees are less inclined to take time off for fear of being looked down at or even replaced.
- Uncooperative peers: From gossip, cliques, and infighting to role confusion, dysfunction, and incoordination. A more obvious indication that one’s culture is toxic is the prevalence of interpersonal conflicts. When an employer plays favorites or leaves no room for mistakes, employees will inevitably turn on each other: throwing coworkers under the bus when something goes wrong in order to get out of the line of fire, withholding valuable information from coworkers for their own personal gain, and forming cliques and establishing scapegoats to navigate office politics and stay afloat. Not only do conflicts arise because of malevolence, however; a lack of clear communication from leadership or inconsistent expectations of what an employee or team’s role is within the organization can also result in confusion and dysfunction, and a lack of support or appreciation from leadership can further inhibit workers’ willingness to be a team player and put in the work that’s needed or expected of them.
- Chronic or excessive stress: From burnout and presenteeism to frequent illnesses, injuries, and absences. When a workplace environment is toxic, wracked with abusive environments, cutthroat competition, and general uncertainty and instability, this can have a damaging effect on both employees’ mental and physical health. According to US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, toxic work factors like unfair treatment, time pressure, lack of manager support, harassment, and lack of trust, can magnify employees’ psychological distress, which increases their risk of turning to unhealthy coping mechanisms like smoking, drinking, or overusing medication; increases their risk for physical health conditions like high blood pressure, gastrointestinal disorders, heart disease, stroke, and even cancer; and makes them more susceptible to mental health issues like depression, anxiety, and PTSD. Studies have also shown that high levels of work-related stress can also disrupt sleep patterns, causing insomnia. As workers’ stress becomes chronic or excessive and their health begins to deteriorate, this may not only result in workers’ taking more sick days or being sick more often, but it can also undermine workplace safety (that is, if their employers prioritize safety at all). If employees fear repercussions for taking a sick day, they might still come to work despite being ill, otherwise known as presenteeism. When this happens, research shows that on-the-job accidents and injuries become more commonplace, and in some cases, even work-related fatalities.
- A disengaged workforce: From low enthusiasm to high turnover rates. Whether it be due to nepotism or corrupt office politics, poor communication and role confusion, lack of opportunities for growth, or micromanaging bosses, employees grappling with a toxic workplace culture are shown to be less engaged, less motivated to succeed, and consequently less productive compared to workers whose bosses nurture their professional development and put trust in their abilities. In the absence of trust and psychological safety, employees are also found to exert more, if not most, of their energy on navigating office politics and staying off the chopping block, so to speak, which further impedes on their creativity and productivity. As a result of this detachment from work, data from SHRM shows that one out of five workers have left their jobs over the last five years—and these high turnover rates have a ripple effect: As more workers leave their roles due to toxic conditions, remaining employees are forced to take on the workloads they left behind until a replacement is found, which can exacerbate the stress and burnout they might already be experiencing themselves, causing them to follow suit and leave their roles as well.
- Leadership burnout. While poor leadership tactics, from micromanaging, to verbal abuse, to favoritism, and more—might be more obvious signs of a toxic workplace culture, perhaps overlooked is the toxicity that’s brewed when leaders fail to prioritize and take care of their own health and wellbeing, as this can have a ripple effect throughout the entire organization. For instance, when leaders fail to establish healthy work-life boundaries, pushing themselves to the brink of burnout and exhaustion by staying late at the office or continuing to work late into the night, sending emails and working on the weekends, and showing up to work even if sick, they inadvertently (or perhaps consciously) set the expectation that their workers should do the same—especially when employees feel as though they’re fighting for validation and support from leadership. Furthermore, the evidence is clear that burned-out leaders make poorer choices, leading to lower levels of confidence, trust, and security amongst their workers.
Costs and Consequences of a Toxic Work Environment
While these signs of a toxic work environment are inherently costly on their own, stunting employee growth, performance, and creativity, research shows that on the whole, a toxic work environment can cost employers billions of dollars a year in damages as a result of:
- High turnover: As research shows that more than half of employees quit their jobs due to toxic workplace culture, with workers 10 and a half times more likely to leave due to culture than compensation. Furthermore, more than half of employees in one survey said they would take a job with a competitor if the new workplace had a better culture than the current one. According to experts, these lost employees can cost up to 6-9 months of their salaries, or up to twice their salaries in order to replace them. Overall, a new SHRM report posits that the cost of turnover is estimated to be more than $223 billion in the US alone.
- Difficulty acquiring and retaining new talent: As new reports examining Great Resignation trends reveal that not only do toxic workplace cultures drive old talent out, but they also drive new talent away. Survey findings reveal that more than four in every five workers say that corporate culture is somewhat or very important in deciding where to apply for a job, while a landmark 2019 Glassdoor survey found that nearly three-quarters of job seekers in the US, UK, France, and Germany apply to an organization only if its culture aligns with their personal values. This will only perpetuate rapid cycles of mass turnover followed by mass onboarding if new recruits find their new culture to be toxic. In fact, according to Lever’s 2022 Great Resignation report, close to two-thirds of Gen Z workers are likely to only stay at their jobs for less than a year and are more than twice as likely to leave their jobs in the next month due to toxic culture.
- High healthcare spending: As studies show that health care expenditures at high-pressure, cutthroat organizations are nearly 50 percent higher than those at organizations with healthier cultures. In fact, just in the US alone, toxic workplaces are estimated to cost employers close to $24 billion each year due to sickness and healthcare costs. This comes as data suggests that anywhere between 60 to 80 percent of all workplace accidents can be linked to work-related stress, as well as more than 80 percent of doctor’s visits, while employees working in toxic workplaces are between 35 to 55 percent more likely to suffer from major diseases.
- Productivity losses: As the WHO estimates that more than $1 trillion in productivity is lost each year due to workplace stress and burnout. In fact, studies suggest that at the individual level, those who show up to work ill due to toxic cultures can be over 30 percent less productive than when they are well—costing employers up to $5,000 in lost business per employee; while at the organizational level, employers with low employee engagement scores, on average, experience 18 percent lower productivity, 16 percent lower profitability, 37 percent lower job growth, and 65 percent lower share price over time.
- Lost workdays: As poor mental health due to psychological distress in the US alone costs close to $50 billion a year in missed workdays, while the WHO estimates that more than 550 million workdays are lost each year due to stress on the job.
- Reputational damage: As research from MIT Sloan discovered that a toxic culture is the strongest predictor of a negative Glassdoor review.
- Lost customers and investors: As studies have found that just one bad review can convince more than 94 percent of consumers to avoid doing business with an organization, while small businesses with less than a 1.5 star rating on Google are shown to earn 33 percent less than the average business. Furthermore, one report found that about a quarter of employees who had been treated with incivility by their peers or management at work admitted to taking their frustrations out on customers—80 percent of whom say they would rather do business with a competitor after just one bad experience, costing employers more than 75 billion in lost earnings. And exacerbating such losses is the fact that nearly nine in 10 investors say they would quickly remove funding from an organization they were invested in if the organization became involved in a bullying or harassment case.
What Defines a Healthy Workplace Culture?
With the features of a toxic workplace in mind…
What ultimately defines a healthy or positive workplace culture is one that puts people and purpose before profit; one in which leaders work to unite all members of an organization by:
(i) communicating how they are an integral asset to the organization and its mission at the individual level and reinforcing their value
(ii) prioritizing their safety, wellbeing, and sense of belonging through comprehensive policies, practices, procedures, codes of conduct, core values, mission statements, and more
(iii) nurturing their personal and professional development, and
(iv) fostering fair, collaborative, and inclusive teams and a close-knit community.
Honesty. Integrity. Respect. Accountability. Trustworthiness. Fairness. Equality. Sustainability. Community. Excellence.
These are just some of many core values (or virtues) that organizations can commit themselves to in order to tie themselves to a strong social or moral purpose and set themselves apart from their competitors. But not only that, such values are also what inevitably influence employee engagement and behavior, foster brand identity, and drive corporate culture.
The values of a strong, healthy, and positive culture, like those just listed, will center around ethical principles of justice, equity, and inclusion, in which all members of an organization—and not just those at the top—feel seen, heard, and valued, feel as though they have a say in decisions the organization makes and in the creation and execution of their organization’s mission, feel prioritized in the sense that their health, wellbeing, and professional development are all key measures of organizational success, and feel trusted by and have trust in their peers, managers, and leaders.
To embed these values into a culture, leading experts at Gallup argue that leaders need to do three things: (1) lead by example, (2) seek out and share employee testimonies, and (3) hold everyone accountable. Thus, signs of a healthy workplace culture ultimately include:
- Open, honest, and transparent communication from leaders. In a healthy work environment, leaders can be found frequently engaging in open and honest conversations with their employees in the office, via email, text, and all methods of internal communications. Within such communications, leaders establish clear guidelines and expectations around behaviors and attitudes that are to be tolerated or penalized in the workplace; responsibilities, goals, and objectives that employees are to fulfill; and beliefs, values, and organizational promises that all members are to uphold. In doing so, leaders ensure that all employees know their role(s) both within their smaller teams or siloed departments and the organization as a whole. They help establish clarity and understanding around duties and deadlines and make themselves available to employees so that they feel that they can go directly to them with any questions or comments they may have. Most importantly, in a healthy environment, not only do leaders openly celebrate victories and recognize achievements, but they also acknowledge problems, setbacks, and failures, and guide their staff out of trouble and propel them forward and onward.
- Empathic and compassionate leadership. According to research conducted by the Harvard Business Review, one of the principal qualities of a positive and healthy work culture is leaders “caring for, being interested in, and maintaining responsibility for colleagues as friends,” and “offering kindness and compassion when others are struggling.” Interestingly findings from a recent Gallup poll found that workplace wellbeing matters more to employees and has a larger influence on their engagement than even sought-after material benefits like flexible schedules or work-from-home opportunities, and how employees ultimately define workplace wellbeing is the psychological safety and assurance that comes with being able to trust that one’s leader has employees’ best interests at heart, to speak up and ask for help when needed, and to be rest assured that they will be forgiven for simple mistakes and will be met with sympathy and understanding when met with personal or professional challenges.
- A strong commitment to work-life balance and personal wellbeing. In tandem with empathic leadership, organizations that tout a positive workplace culture demonstrate a steadfast commitment to employees’ health and wellbeing. According to the APA’s 2022 Work and Wellbeing Survey results, more than four in five workers say that they consider an employer’s support for their workers’ mental health when looking for a new job, and according to them, some of the best ways that employers can support their workers’ mental health and overall wellbeing include establishing and enforcing strict work-life boundaries—especially following the rise of hybrid and remote work—providing flextime and ample paid time off opportunities, and encouraging, or rather, empowering employees to take needed time off and prioritize their health and wellness needs before their work responsibilities.
- Opportunities for professional development. In a healthy work culture, the principles of diversity, equity, and inclusion; fairness and equality; and sustainability and excellence are made manifest by the offering of equal opportunities for growth and advancement within the organization and the commitment to employees’ personal success and achievements. This means that everyone—from C-suite executives to interns and new hires—all have access to training or certificate programs, courses, classes, and other resources that will sharpen and enhance their skillset and set them up for long-term success in their careers. Not only that, but this also means that everyone feels empowered to grow professionally and supported by leadership to achieve their own personal goals. With that, employees take comfort in knowing that vacancies or promotions will go to the most-qualified candidates, rather than favored friends, relatives, or associates.
- Close bonds and social connections; frequent collaboration. In the absence of cut-throat competition, employees view their peers as friends, rather than foes. When this happens, employees feel motivated to work together to achieve collective goals, rather than work individually. This saves workplaces from disjointed or dysfunctional teams and drives performance and organizational efficiency. Communication within teams is improved, and employees feel that they can trust that their teammates have their backs, and in return, they have their coworkers’ backs as well. When employees are able to be vulnerable with their peers and engage in honest conversation, bias, prejudice, and resentments are squashed, cliques are avoided, and incidents of harassment, bullying, and discrimination are greatly reduced.
- Highly engaged, motivated, and innovative workers. When employees feel connected to their organization through the reinforcement of shared values, feel trusted and supported by their leaders, and feel bonded to their peers, they’re driven to do their best work. Not only that, but in the absence of micromanaging bosses and oppressing oversight, they feel motivated not only to accomplish the tasks assigned to them, but they feel free to create and innovate new ways of getting work done, new ways for the organization to carry out its mission(s), and enhance both customer satisfaction and the organization’s market performance. When leaders prioritize employees’ holistic and long-term health, wellbeing, and success, employees think about their future with the organization in the long-term as well; and are encouraged to stay with the organization longer—even if challenges arise.
Benefits of a Healthy Work Culture
With these characteristics in mind, the benefits of a healthy workplace culture are innumerable. Some of the most astounding benefits that a strong culture has to offer include:
- Highly engaged and productive teams: Research shows that when employees view their organization’s culture positively, they are 3.8 times more likely to be engaged at work; in fact, a staggering 89 percent of “highly engaged” employees claim that the culture in their organization is positive. Some of the markers that are associated with increases in employee engagement rates include workplace connections; clear communication around organizational goals, objectives, and plans for implementation or execution; community, inclusivity, and teamwork; learning and development opportunities; frequent feedback; commitment to wellbeing and wellness programs; and above all, trust in senior management.
- Improved retention and recruitment: In a recent study conducted by Deloitte, organizations that had the strongest workplace cultures were much more likely to attract and keep talent, including 59 percent less attrition. Given that corporate culture is now more important than compensation or material benefits when employees decide whether to work for a certain organization, organizations with high employee satisfaction rates and employee experience stories testifying to a strong workplace culture are likely to have a larger pool of potential hires to choose from compared to their competitors, and are likely to hold on to new talent for the long-term—a needed perk amongst mounting evidence that suggests that Gen Z, on average, is spending significantly less time at a given job compared to older generations.
- Healthier employees: While toxic work cultures are linked to poor health outcomes, the opposite is also true. Research shows that employees who think positively of their workplace culture tend to have lower heart rates and blood pressure, as well as stronger immune systems. As this makes employees less likely to get sick, organizations that tout healthy workplace environments also observe 41 percent reductions in absenteeism and presenteeism.
- Less accidents, injuries, and mistakes: In addition to fewer absences and less sick days, founder and CEO of Choose People, Kris Boesch, reports that organizations with people-centric or “people-first” cultures boast 26 percent fewer mistakes, accidents, and work-related injuries.
- Greater customer satisfaction and higher profitability: When employees feel healthier and happier in the workplace thanks to a positive work culture, research shows that such feelings tend to rub off on the customers they interact with, making for an improved customer service experience. Consequently, PwC insights reveal that organizations with strong cultures are a whopping 89 percent more likely to report higher customer satisfaction—but not only that, they are also more likely to report revenue increases up to four times that of their competitors (with an average increase of up to 682 percent for organizations with thriving cultures compared to just 166 percent for organizations with poor cultures).
- Organizational resiliency and adaptability: Managers almost unanimously agree that a positive workplace culture creates more resilient teams. In fact, a strong company culture is responsible for helping nearly 70 percent of organizations adapt better to the pandemic, according to new insights from PwC, as 67 percent of senior leaders cited a strong culture as the tool that helped change initiatives happen and helped them to maintain and drive successful outcomes.
How to Cultivate a Healthier, Happier Workplace
Despite the vast advantages of a healthy workplace culture, new insights from Gallup show that only about a quarter of US employees strongly agree that their organization delivers on its mission and promises, say that they can apply their organization’s values to their work, and actually believe in those values. This once again goes back to the employer-employee disconnect driving attrition and toxic workplace environments: when leaders attempt to unite their workplace around a common goal, value, or mission without taking into proper account the needs, concerns, or values of their employees, such efforts ultimately fail.
Instead, the cultivation of a healthy, harmonious workplace culture happens only when everyone in the organization is involved, and not just those at the top. That said, some of the best practices that can help organizations to improve their environment and enhance their workplace culture include:
- Incorporating diversity, equity, and inclusion into daily operations. First and foremost, building a healthy work environment and a strong culture requires that organizations reimagine what diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in the workplace looks like. In fact, many experts have advocated for an alternative acronym, EDI, to highlight how regardless of how diverse or ‘inclusive’ an employer intends to be, without ensuring that discriminatory, oppressive, or limiting policies, practices, and biases are absent or disbarred from the workplace (in other words, without ensuring that the workplace is equitable), toxicity in the workplace will prevail, as will its numerous costs and consequences. That said, employers need to look beyond diversity recruitment, and pivot their focus toward how they can create a sustainable environment that treats all employees as equals, helps them to reach their full potential, and motivates them to stay. This may include ensuring that all groups present in the workplace (namely, all ages, genders, races, ethnicities, etc.) are accounted and spoken for before any important decision is made; that everyone has a chance to be heard during meetings; that everyone has the same opportunities for growth and promotion within the organization; and that everyone is treated with the same level of respect.
- Providing training opportunities for leaders and managers. While healthy workplace cultures revolve around the equitable treatment and involvement of all members of an organization, establishing that workplace culture starts at the top. How leaders communicate, behave, and defend or explain their behaviors in the workplace inevitably influences employee behavior, sentiment, and their experience at large. That said, many experts on corporate culture underscore the importance of providing training opportunities to teach leaders from all levels of the organization about the signs and characteristics of toxic workplace cultures, the role they play in determining workplace culture, and how they can prevent toxic cultures and, alternatively, foster positive cultures. This includes encouraging leaders to seek out cross-cultural experiences that help them to enhance their awareness of other cultures and really connect with the needs, interests, and values of their employees; allowing them the time and opportunity to help them build key skills like empathy, active listening, and recognition; and organizing workshops dedicated to teaching leaders how they can be supportive of employees’ workplace mental health and wellbeing needs and be accommodating toward their personal and professional goals.
- Offering educational and professional development opportunities. As leaders are trained to be more empathic, inclusive, and accommodating, one of the best ways in which they can show support to their workforce, according to employees, is by offering career-enhancing education and continual development opportunities that tie them to their organization’s key missions or purpose, reassures them that their work and talents matter and are valued, and motivates them to look for new and improved ways of contributing to their organization. Research shows that employees who feel as though their employer not only values their work but cares about their long-term career prospects and individual success are likely to feel happier and more secure, creating a culture of celebration instead of cutthroat competition. Some of the most sought-after PD opportunities include management and leadership training, certification programs, technical and interpersonal skills training, and employer-subsidized degree programs. By incorporating development opportunities into daily operations, leaders establish an equitable and inclusive culture in which all believe they have the potential to rise to the top, regardless of connections, backgrounds, or other unfair advantages that, when advantageous, perpetuate toxic cultures.
- Prioritizing holistic wellbeing; implementing wellness programs and flexible benefits. When employees feel as though their leaders look down on their health and wellness needs as a detriment or burden to the organization, they are more likely to feel detached from their leaders and peers, disinterested in their work, and overall, less committed to their roles and employment with the organization. In fact, a new study has found that the majority of today’s workforce (86 percent) would be more likely to leave a job if it did not support their wellbeing, while 83 percent say they are more attracted to organizations that demonstrate a “progressive culture” that cares about workers’ holistic health and wellbeing. In order to create such a culture, numerous studies point to the importance of maintaining workers’ work-life balance and upholding their “right to disconnect;” prioritizing flexibility and autonomy when designing benefits offerings (such as by offering work-from-home and choose-your-own-hours opportunities, unlimited PTO, as well as health and wellness stipends); and incorporating stress-reduction, mindfulness, and meditation practices into the workday. When employees are given the okay to relax, recharge, and recover, they’re protected against chronic or excessive stress, which not only improves their performance, but also improves their mood, which in turn creates a happier, more cooperative, and good-natured culture.
Consider: The Teal Organization Model
Developed in 2014 by former McKinsey executive, Frederic Laloux, the teal paradigm is an organizational theory based around workers’ self-management, in which hierarchical structures are eschewed in favor of decentralized and horizontal organization that places trust in employees’ individual and collective intelligence and fosters an equal sense of belonging and responsibility among all workers. Laloux believed that this integration of talent and knowledge and emphasis on human capital would help employees to maximize their potential in the workplace and would help their employers continuously and effectively adapt to the ever-changing now by uniting all members of an organization to a single purpose, mission, or goal that they perceive themselves to hold an equal stake in. According to Laloux, the three main advantages of this organizational model included (i) a more committed, motivated, and happier workforce thanks to a people-first culture, (ii) a more creative and innovative workforce thanks to a lack of competition and the lack of fear about making mistakes, and (iii) an integrated view of success in which individual progress is considered as progress for the organization as a whole.
- Fostering peer connections. When leaders work to create a workspace in which employees feel supported both professionally and personally, they create a space for positive peer connections to flourish in the absence of fear, insecurity, and toxic competition. In addition to creating that space, however, it is important that leaders take advantage of that opportunity to foster peer connections, as peer learning and co-development are essential for establishing a culture where everyone’s ideas and opinions are respected, listened to, and valued and in which teamwork and collaboration are preferred over siloed efforts, which in turn leads to faster and more efficient problem-solving and helps organizations quickly adapt during times of crisis or rapid change.
- Enlist the help of a culture consultant. In order to effectively discern the state of one’s culture and the impact that it’s having on employee satisfaction, engagement, and performance, it’s helpful for organizations to enlist the services of a neutral and nonbiased third party who can observe the behaviors of both leaders and their employees to develop an objective assessment of the organization’s lived culture. As many already know, simply stating that an organization has a “strong” or “inclusive” culture does not magically make it so; just think of how many organizations have posters hanging all over their offices advertising their commitment to “teamwork,” “respect,” “diversity and inclusion,” “equality,” and the like, while the behaviors and attitudes that dominate those offices suggest otherwise. To combat this and ensure that an organization’s expressed and lived culture align with each other, organizations can hire consulting firms to come in and observe behavior and look for underlying issues that may be contributing to toxic work environments. For instance, they can observe how employees congregate during lunch breaks to determine if an organization’s culture truly champions diversity, equity, and inclusion, or observe how approachable and available leaders actually make themselves to their employees, regardless of what they might think. Consultants can also be helpful to gauge employee sentiment, as employees are more likely to be more open and honest about what they think about their organization’s culture, leadership, and communication styles to an external party compared to an internal HR professional. They can also provide coaching support in order to educate leaders on how culture is developed, how it can be measured, and how it can be changed and create a space in which people can openly discuss any comments or concerns that they have and develop an action plan for creating a better culture.