We’ve all seen toxic players in our organizations over the years – players who demean, discount, and dismiss others at every turn. Some toxic players behave even worse – they lie, cheat, and steal.
Toxic players can be found in the ranks of senior leaders, hourly employees, and everywhere in between.
The research on the prevalence of toxic employees is sobering.
Christine Porath found that 98% of the employees she’s interviewed over the past 20 years have experienced incivility or rudeness in the workplace.
Over 65% of employees across the globe are not engaged or are actively disengaged at work. That number hasn’t shifted significantly in over two decades.
Respectful treatment of all employees at all organizational levels occurs in only 38% of global workplaces.
Your organization may be much healthier than these studies indicate – but I’ll bet there are opportunities for your organization to improve the health of its work culture. Eliminating toxic behaviors will go a long way towards creating and maintaining workplace sanity.
Why do senior leaders tolerate toxic behavior from leaders and employees in their organizations? I have found two primary contributors to this issue.
First, senior leaders are not typically asked to manage the quality of workplace relationships. The only thing that senior leaders are measured, monitored, and rewarded on is results. People complaining about demeaning behavior just doesn’t register in leaders’ minds.
Second, dealing with toxic players is hard. It’s drama-ridden. People are unhappy and express it, often loudly. People defend themselves, often loudly. It’s certainly not fun for the leaders trying to make sense of the issues and inspire people to “play nicely.” So, many leaders just tell people to stop the bad behavior but don’t follow up to see if they’ve quit doing it. Other leaders simply ignore the problem.
So, toxic behavior continues. A 2015 study by Cornerstone On Demand found that good employees are 54 percent more likely to quit when they work with a toxic employee.
Eliminate toxic behavior in your work culture by doing these two things.
Define: Start by defining exactly how great team citizens must behave. Formalize the values and the behaviors that will ensure trust and respect in every workplace interaction.
Sharing lofty values statements won’t, by itself, eliminate toxic behavior. You must specify the observable, tangible, and measurable behaviors that are required for workplace civility – and sanity.
Here’s an example from one of my culture clients. They defined their “respect” value with these behaviors:
- I seek and genuinely listen to others’ opinions.
- I do not act or speak rudely or discount others.
- I work to resolve problems and differences by directly communicating with the people involved.
There is no question what this company expects of every leader and team member regarding how to demonstrate their “respect” value.
Align: Once valued behaviors are clear and communicated, senior leaders must be role models of every behavior. Credibility for values alignment only happens when senior leaders are the champions of those desirable behaviors.
Just as you measure, monitor, and reward traction on performance expectations, you must make values as important as results by measuring, monitoring, and rewarding traction on your valued behaviors. The best way to do that is through a values survey that allows employees to rate their bosses and senior leaders on the degree to which those leaders model the company’s valued behaviors in every interaction.
Every leader gets a customized report twice a year, noting how employees see them modeling their valued behaviors.
Alignment requires modeling, coaching, praising aligned behavior and redirecting misaligned (particularly toxic) behavior, feedback – like the survey results above – and more, daily.
When clients create a purposeful, positive, productive work cultures by defining and aligning all plans, decisions, and actions to their desired values and behaviors, they enjoy 40% gains in engagement, 40% gains in customer service, and 35% gains in results and profits.
Pay attention to the quality of workplace interactions. Identify toxic players and provide them coaching and clear boundaries for daily behavior. Reward and recognize players that treat others with respect AND that deliver needed results.
You’re going to be there anyway. You might as well do the right thing – every day.