Simple Steps to Begin Transforming a Negative, Toxic Workplace

Last weeks’s blog article on the 3 Reasons Employees Undermine Co-Workers, Stab Each Other in the Back and Act Passive Aggressive struck quite a nerve. I received a number of direct e-mail comments, not so many here on the blog, though. Interesting.

Anyway, comments were in the vein of “Skip, this is great stuff, but what can we do about it? How do we fix this problem?”

Well, the good news is that solution is simple. The bad news is, its not that easy to implement.

Fixing these issues in a work environment takes what Pat Lencioni, author of The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team calls, “heavy lifting.” Heavy lifting means dealing with some challenging issues head on that have probably been avoided for an extended period of time. The heavy lifting will be mostly on the part of the organization’s or team’s leadership, but certainly also all team members.

My recommendation for fixing this begins from the bottom up. Here are the 3 reasons I mentioned in last week’s blog article for why employees undermined their co-workers, stab each other in the back and act passive aggressively often with an “it’s not my job attitude:”

  1. Low self-esteem
  2. Lack of communication skills
  3. Enabling of the behavior

So from the bottom up we have to start by stopping the enabling of the behaviors.

This tarts with giving everyone, and I mean everyone a clean slate and the benefit of the doubt. Easy to say, not so easy to do, right? But, that is what it takes.

Plus, its the right thing to do and here’s why:

1) If the behavior has been enabled in the environment for any length of time for it to become a toxic work environment, it is the leaders fault. They have chosen to allow these behaviors to go unaddressed for a significant amount of time. Everyone knows what’s going on and who the perpetrators are. Most everyone, including the leader just wish and hope it gets better and usually it just gets worse, right?

So, instead of trying to close the barn door after the horses have run out, let’s corral the horses and build a new barn for them to live in.

Everyone starts tomorrow with a clean slate. Everyone.

With that clean slate comes new performance and behavior expectations. These new performance and behavior  expectations must be well thought out in advance and strategized so that a new expectation is created and set in the minds of everyone from the very beginning.

If this is something you think you need to do for your team/organization and would like some help go to and investigate if a private, 1:1 strategy session is something you would benefit from. I’m happy to strategize with you how to make this happen effectively.

Chances are the leaders are going to need some skill development in their influencing communication skills to be able to pull this off effectively and to be able to have the type of candid conversations necessary to make it work.

Additionally, this would lead to improving #2 in the list from last week, giving everyone on the team the communication skills necessary to influence their own relationships and work environment in a positive, candid and proactive manner.

It would also begin to turn around reason #1 in last week’s list, low levels of self-esteem, in the manager or leader, as one of the best ways to increase self-esteem is to improve skills and competencies.

Hope this helps. Please let me know what you think and leave a comment below.

’til next time, make it a great week!

3 thoughts on “Simple Steps to Begin Transforming a Negative, Toxic Workplace

  1. Jack Pyle says:

    Enabling poor behaviors is certainly an issue in many organizations, Skip. I once worked with a supervisor and staff doctor who were in conflict. She was constantly late to the medical practice. When he talked to her about it, she would come on time for several weeks, then start being late again. The supervisor didn’t say anything to her again about her tardiness, so she figured it was okay. Many people in leadership roles seem to have a difficulty with confronting work behaviors that are unproductive. Apparently it is easier to ignore bad behavior than coach or retrain employees.
    This is probably because many leaders don’t have the communication skills and techniques to do so.
    You hit the nail on the head about this, for sure.

  2. Skip Weisman, Workplace Communication Expert says:

    Thanks for stopping by and being inspired to leave a comment. Scenarios like you mention are all too common. I also point to low self-esteem as the ultimate culprit that causes the leader not to have the internal strength to step up and confront the issues as they need to be. I believe being confrontation avoidant is steeped in low self-esteem, as I mentioned in the original article last week as one of the 3 primary reasons this stuff perpetuates in workplaces.

    That’s why you and I will always be in demand I guess?

    Thanks, again, Jack for adding to the conversation!

  3. Rob Moore says:

    Skip, This is a great blog post first of all! Second, I love what you have to say here as well as Jack’s comment about this. One of the biggest mistakes that leaders make is not addressing an issue the first or second time it happens. It can sometimes be okay to let something slide once depending on what it is but most of the time not. At this point, the issue is at it’s easiest point of being corrected. The longer they wait to address the problem, the worst it gets and the faster it gets worse. Thanks again for the post and the comments guys!

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