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Navigating Toxic Workplaces

Jehan | Aug 27 2022
Navigating Toxic Workplaces

Toxic workplaces have the ability to completely derail our careers and the overall work environment, distracting from the wider goals of everyone at the organization.

Do you often find yourself repeatedly hitting the snooze button, struggling to wake up on a Monday morning? Do you wake up dreading the work week ahead?

The above is a culture test. If you read that sentence and thought, yes sounds familiar, you might be a victim of a toxic workplace. So how do we fix that?

For those present at the Lahore Edition of +92Disrupt, Mannan Amin, co-founder of Tintash, taught us how to differentiate between one bad Monday or what can feel like a lifetime of them.

What do Toxic Work Cultures Look Like?

Amin began his talk with an anecdote to illustrate the forms of toxic work cultures that can cause damage to the psyches of employees if gone unchecked.

Amin shared his own experiences regarding the pitfalls and inadvertent behaviors that can contribute to toxic work cultures. One such error involved interviewing a candidate for a position that required reporting directly to a partner in the company.

In such a position, Amin acknowledged that the right move would have been for his partner conduct the interviews instead. In not doing so the response it evoked from the partner was one expressing that he saw his job as a mere obligation, with no element of choice in the matter.

This is the kind of attitude you do not want your employees to have, given the resentment it can foster. Doing the bare minimum required for the job pushes bad culture, and does not leave room for the growth needed for both individuals and businesses to excel.

“Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast” – Peter Drucker

Organizational culture sits at the heart of the workplace. It is culture as opposed to a strategy that determines success, with toxic culture being the ultimate killer of high engagement.

Studies have found that toxicity in the workplace is 10 times more likely to contribute to attrition than compensation.

Breaking Down Toxic Culture

Mannan Amin referenced a book that he believes is key to understanding toxic patterns within the workplace. ‘The Progress Principle’ by Steven Kramer and Teresa Amabile focuses on key lessons regarding employee engagement.

Specifically focusing on the concept of inner work life, the writers posit that the practical motions one sees individuals going through at work are just the tip of the iceberg. One’s inner work life is defined by the thoughts, emotions, and motivations that drive them at work.

Amin armed us with the vocabulary to define and label factors within our inner work life. By doing so we can focus on improving it, resulting in happier employees and higher productivity.

People-related:

  • Toxins: Examples of these include disrespect, discouragement, and disregard for others’ emotions
  • Nourishers: Examples of these include respect, recognition, and regard for others’ emotions

For someone experiencing a toxin – whether it be an act of interpersonal conflict or unintentional – the impact can be extremely negative.

mannan amin's talk on navigating toxic workplaces

A nourisher acts as the opposite of a toxin. An individual – if given the right encouragement – thinks about work in a much healthier manner. People who experience nourishers think of work not as a burden but rather as something that fulfills them. This is an example of the kind of culture one should aim to build.

Policy-related:

  • Inhibitors: Examples of these include lack of clarity around goals and a lack of autonomy
  • Catalysts: Examples of these include clear goals, appreciation from the right people, and autonomy

Inhibitors are material-related factors such as not being provided with the right kinds of tools or resources that enable productivity within the workplace.

How do we Build a Scalable Non-Toxic Work Culture?

“In an ideal company you want to dial down for toxins and dial-up for nourishers” – Mannan Amin

The above can be done in a nudging manner. The right pat on the back or a word of praise need not be explicit but one needs to be equipped with the right vocabulary to build healthy work environments.

It is essential to prioritize weekly check-ins with all those in the workplace. Discussing the toxins and nourishers employees may experience inculcates healthier attitudes. Tintash has built a culture test platform that caters to this, recording the average toxin counts of individuals within a company.

Why Does This Work?

Starting the right kind of conversations regarding inner work life can transform the workplace into a safe space for individuals. This decreases their emotional load and helps people untangle and iron out any issues they may have with their peers and the environment around them.

Moreover, inner work-life conversations also take into account the messiness of human relationships. They help individuals identify what kind of toxins they may inadvertently be giving off and how to improve upon that to build healthier non-toxic workplaces.

Read about what we learned in +92Disrupt: LHR Edition’s panel on why startups fail, click here. To find out more about +92Disrupt: KHI Edition, click here!