Hindustan Times (Delhi)
How can stakeholders deal with toxicity at the workplace
Individuals, teams and companies must be firm in dealing with toxic behaviours and leadership should not allow good performance to be used as an excuse to perpetuate negativity at the workplace
We have all heard the saying – People leave managers, they do not leave organisations. So who are these managers that people leave. Sadly, toxic managers, as they are called, exist in every organization and they can wreak havoc in the workplace. Toxic managers’ behaviours lead to low productivity, low motivation, and high employee attrition. Teams led by toxic managers find it difficult to trust, bond and experience high stress and burnout.
For an organisation to drive a culture of inclusion, ownership and performance orientation, it is important to identify, understand and help toxic managers change or weed them out.
WHY ARE SOME MANAGERS TOXIC?
We’ve all faced bullies in school, but graduating didn’t mean we saw the last of them. Many who were bullies in school didn’t gradually mature into genteel adults; instead, they transplanted their bullying behaviour from the classroom to the boardroom. Deep down, toxic managers are bullies. They use their position of authority to drive politics, fear, and disharmony in teams. They see no reason to discard behaviour they believe serves them well; they also find doing so hard.
They love sycophants who boost their egos by telling them how terrific they are. They also display sycophantic behaviour towards others, especially towards those senior to them. Creating mistrust among team members is their way of ensuring they remain in control, the central figure in the team so to speak.
STEPS TEAMS CAN TAKE TO DEAL WITH TOXIC MANAGERS
Working for a toxic manager can be disturbing for even the most spirited. To prevent the toxicity of such managers from producing personal anguish and discord in a team, individual team members must push back against their unreasonable demands and unsubstantiated feedback.
In teams that have toxic managers, discussions concerning performance and deliverables must take place regularly. Such discussions create transparency in the team and discredit political ploys and intrigue. When everyone knows where everyone else stands, there is greater harmony and productivity.
Internal team bonding is also necessary for teams that have toxic managers. Such bonding leads to trust between members and collaboration between them. Set free from antics of toxic managers, team members can bond and share,thereby strengthening future collaborations. Peers in a toxic manager’s team must communicate with others freely. Such free communication lessens the impact of a toxic manager’s destructive actions.
It’s also important for team members led by a toxic manager to raise issue-based concerns with HR. When an issue that gives rise to discord arises, HR must be roped in to address it. Without doing so, toxic managers become emboldened and continue creating disharmony in teams. When issue-based solutions are sought it drives home the message to toxic managers and others in the system that unprofessional behaviour from them is not acceptable and will be dealt with appropriately.
A cross-functional network within teams must be created. Such networks must be visible to everyone in the team. Once it exists, its visibility serves as a mechanism that employees can leverage to curb toxic managers.
STEPS ORGANIZATIONS SHOULD TAKE
Organizations cannot afford to ignore the existence of toxic managers.
Every organization needs to take steps to deal with toxic managers. Toxic managers must first be identified and dealt with. One way of doing so is by providing them 360-degree feedback.
With feedback from peers, subordinates, superiors, and customers, toxic managers can see first hand the toxicity of their behaviour and be equipped with tools to curb it.
Organizations should coach toxic managers so they understand in which instances they displayed toxicity and how they may remedy such behaviour. Coaching helps toxic managers understand the impact of their behaviour on their team, the organisation, and perhaps most importantly, on themselves. It’s crucial to provide toxic managers such insights because surprisingly, they might be oblivious to the impact of their behaviour on others.
Organisations should also understand that they shouldn’t look the other way when they have high-performing toxic managers.
Just because a toxic manager is producing stellar results is no reason to turn a blind eye to his or her behaviour because such behaviour, sooner rather than later will harm the organisation. A culture of looking the other way when faced with toxic behaviour of high-performing managers can do serious harm to the company’s reputation. We have read about high profile exits in the recent past from both Indian and global MNCS to prove this point.
Toxic managers often believe their methods are necessary to produce results. Remarkably most even remain oblivious to the impact of their actions. I had a toxic manager in my team who clearly articulated- I am not here to make friends but to drive results. And if that means I am not popular so be it!
What’s important to understand that results driven by a motivated and aligned team are far greater than demotivated, stressed team members who are working in silos. This is why they must be made to understand why their actions are inappropriate, harmful even, not just to the organisation but to themselves, and how they are causing conflict in teams. Toxic managers must be educated about their behaviour with sensitivity and empathy otherwise attempts to have them change their behaviour may prove futile.
Human resources departments must understand that symptoms produced by toxic managers aren’t always in plain sight. Often such symptoms are less obvious, for instance, team members lead by a toxic manager may frequently leave the office early and there may be frequent conflicts in such teams. Members in such teams may take an unusually large number of leaves and attrition among its members may be high.
HR departments must formulate policies to deal with harassment. Such policies must be driven both by HR departments and an organisations leadership. Some stated policies should be non-negotiable. With a transparent code of conduct in place, toxic managers are less likely to display toxic behaviour. The creation of non-negotiable policies means the consequences of breaking them will swiftly lead to appropriate action. Toxic managers are less likely to thrive in such an environment.
In a nutshell, the responsibility of dealing with toxic managers lies with the team members, HR, and leadership. They should be dealt with systemically, and through developmental initiatives. And if all such efforts fail, some hard decisions might need to be taken.
JUST BECAUSE A TOXIC MANAGER IS PRODUCING STELLAR RESULTS IS NO REASON TO TURN A BLIND EYE TO THEIR BEHAVIOUR BECAUSE THAT WILL EVENTUALLY HARM THE ORGANISATION