Why Coaching is a Powerful Antidote to Toxic Workplace Culture
In early 2021, the world saw hundreds, if not thousands, of people getting up and leaving their jobs. The Great Resignation, as it was called saw, thousands of technical experts, and even C-suite employees just call it a day for their 9 to 5 jobs.
And COVID-19 was to blame - at least that was the cover-up story. So was the pandemic the primary reason why 47 million of the US workforce voluntarily quit their jobs in 2021?Something didn't add up.
Digging a little deeper, the Great Resignation wasn't something that happened overnight - it wasn't like an apocalyptic awakening like what you are used to seeing in the movies when employees woke up, came to work, and decided to leave. The systematic tension was building within the system that nobody paid attention to, and the floodgates broke open. While the pandemic took much of the blame, the Great Resignation has to do with several compounding organizational factors converging for this to happen.
Most of them were preventable and could've been addressed along the way. But the corporate world didn't. And one of the main reasons that's driving these resignations?
Toxic workplace culture.
What is Toxic Workplace Culture?
We live in a world full of toxicity. The air we breathe, the food we eat, and the beverages we consume have some toxicity that we don't see with our eyes. Lucky for us, our lungs, kidneys, and digestive system take responsibility for detoxifying our bodies constantly to ensure we stay in a state of normalcy.
Remember that time when you got sick after consuming stale food? You felt lifeless and had to wait it out, feeling nauseated and unwell. That was because the intake wasn't manageable, and the body couldn't process it. You wished never to have to deal with it ever again.
Now imagine if you are exposed to increased amounts of stress, leading to burnout and frustration, daily for 8+ hours, eventually making you sick every day?
That's how a toxic workplace can make you feel.
Picture this - what is the first thought that comes to your mind when you think of a toxic workplace? Is it the time when you disagreed with a team member or when a colleague missed a deadline and didn't communicate? That may be annoying, but what if you felt disrespected daily by leaders on the team? And people were rude to each other all the time? What if your colleagues took credit for your hard work and used it to get a promotion for themselves? What if you rarely felt heard, seen, or valued? And imagine if it is something you must face every day with no end in sight?
A toxic workplace isn't a bad day at work - it is a cycle that continues as long as you’re working. The choice is up to you - do you continue to harm your body and take home earnings to see an eventual physical and emotional decline or take measures to leave the environment that's causing harm? The most considerate answer is the latter.
The MIT Management Review study that analyzed the impact of over 170 culture topics on employee attrition between April and September 2021 found five critical issues. Out of the five, a toxic workplace culture was 10.4 times more likely to contribute to attrition than compensation. It was evident that the toxic workplace culture was driving people out in the Great Resignation.
As leaders in the workplace, it is up to you to ensure that the workplace is a healthy one that your employees love coming to and committing 8-9 hours of their daily life. Because the answer is simple - unhealthy working conditions can make life miserable for employees and could eventually lead to negative impacts like attrition.
Working in a toxic environment can be disastrous in the long run as workers experience stress, anxiety, and even dread. Above all, the aftermath of this toxicity lasts even beyond the workplace.Think of it this way: you come home after work and want to spend valuable time with family and friends. But if you return from a toxic workplace, you won't be leaving the drama at your workplace behind; you'll be thinking about it at home. Your mind will be racing while you have dinner with your family, you'll be wondering about it while you go to sleep and even when you wake up. The adverse impact of this is far-reaching and complex.
The Need for Change
As leaders, it is often challenging to address the root of the problem. If you are in a company that has tolerated bad conduct and given a free license for it to happen, you’ve essentially taken the first critical step toward establishing a toxic culture, and if you’ve never intervened to undo this, this may now seem entrenched. However, that's the problem we want to fix - eliminating a culture that tolerates terrible behavior in the name of productivity.
I often come across leaders who arrived at the root of the problem but instead of addressing these problems only attempted bandaid surface-level solutions. So, the workplace stress workshop is good, but doesn’t get to the root of the problem. Telling your people that we’re all in it together, while doing nothing to fix the entrenched systemic issues creating toxicity isn't the fix for the problem. Nor is encouraging staff to tolerate toxic bosses either.
The responsibility is up to you to make the fixes. It starts with you - there are critical steps that you can take to avoid a workplace culture becoming toxic.
There are several reasons why a toxic workplace is born, and selective elements eventually pave the way for this. The main reason is often disrespect, where workers feel like the system isn’t providing them with the levels of respect that they deserve. Other significant reasons include unethical behavior, failure to promote diversity and inclusion, and favoritism. While most of these elements are obvious, sometimes it can be challenging to recognize how unknowingly, you too might systematically be a part of it - by way of selected actions or inactions that contributed to creating a toxic workplace.
Sometimes, at the root of the problems lies highly productive senior staff who are the source of toxicity. Our current HR guidebooks would most likely recommend having one-on-one feedback sessions with these staff. However, this strategy while well-intentioned on its own is often ineffective.
Another option that I encourage companies to employ is to conduct 360-degree-reviews for staff routinely. This is a great initiative, but when you do 360s, it is essential to have a Coach to help your staff process through this feedback rather than going through this with a Manager.
A professional Coach will be a great sounding board for anyone who wants to change professionally. Here are four reasons why it’s critical to process through 360 reviews with a Coach.
1 - Elucidate blind spots
A coach can help elucidate blind spots we have to our own behavioral patterns. We all understand that we are human, and we will contend with negativity bias. A coach can help us look at trends in the 360 review data objectively, so as to avoid our negativity bias resulting in us focusing on one piece of negative feedback while ignoring all the positive. Sometimes, toxic traits can go hidden as you manage, but thanks to an external viewpoint, they can be easily found and addressed.
2 - A safe space to land
Tough constructive feedback can be difficult to digest, having your leaders process their emotions with a trained coach vs. a Manager who is not trained to do this can help you prevent a disastrous situation. A trained, objective, neutral party is the best person to be beside you to process through constructive criticism with your sense of dignity and integrity intact.
3 - Brings in a sense of accountability
One of the pitfalls of a 360 is that many staff don't feel like there is actually any change that comes from them. You spend a decent amount of time discussing and bringing to light the issues, but there's no action taken afterward in most cases. It has gotten to the point where employees feel that 360s are 'just regulation.'
Instead, with a coach, as areas for growth and improvement are identified, this can serve as the foundation for an individual action plan for the rest of the coaching engagement. It's hard to weasel out of taking consistent, brave action when you have a Coach checking in and supporting you while you do this.
4 - A source of empowerment
Working with several leaders, I've understood that most leaders misunderstand or underestimate the value they bring at work. Sometimes it's hard to identify your unique strengths and value simply because it comes so naturally to you. 360 reviews and coaching help staff who don't understand how people experience them or who are feeling a bit unconfident or insecure, name and claim their strengths and genius. You want to empower your staff, this is one incredible way to do so.
Start taking control
No new wellness program activities will help you solve toxic workplace issues. The entire process needs to be a systematic progression, and conducting 360 reviews with a Coach is one important solution lever to pull to address individual and inter-personal factors creating toxicity. This is a worthy investment in the journey to creating an inclusive and favorable workplace for everyone.
If you are looking to address culture issues that are driving your high attrition rates, let’s set up some time for a complimentary consultation.
About This Contributor
Tajan Braithwaite Renderos
Win with a coaching approach to people management!
Fortune 500 leadership development trainer and DEI Specialist. A go-to Leadership development coach for companies ready to level up the people management skills of staff