Woman at work holds her head in a toxic workplace as her coworkers crowd around her shouting
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Servant Leadership

There's more to leadership than driving a team to profit. In fact, there's a word for looking beyond self-interest to prioritize individual growth: servant leadership. Try this course for a quick breakdown of what that is, how it works, and how it can lead to organizational success.

Organizational Behavior and Leadership

Ever wonder what makes a great leader? Whether your role requires leadership or not, understanding organizational behavior is useful for your career. This course from GLOBIS Unlimited can set you on your way.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

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If only starting a company went as smoothly as every entrepreneur dreams it will.

Not only will investors come running and profits soar, but your employees will be happy! Yours will be the company culture to beat, turnover will be almost nonexistent, and motivation will be through the roof. Everyone will get along, and synergy will be synonymous with instinct.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Want to leverage Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs as a leader? Try this short course to see how the theory can be applied in practical work scenarios.

The reality of running a company is much trickier.

Toxic workplaces emerge when and where leaders aren’t looking—or sometimes because they’re looking too closely. Failing to trust teams to run things on their own can be just as toxic as letting them drown.

Here are six toxic workplace practices that threaten team psychological safety and doom turnover to an endless revolving door.

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6 Spooky Practices That Brew a Toxic Work Culture

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Crossing Work-Life Balance Boundaries

This one’s pretty simple: Are employees at your company expected to answer emails after hours? Work on the weekends without pay? Remain reachable on vacation?

If so, you’re facing one of the classic signs of a toxic workplace.

For the sake of employee mental health, you need to both communicate and respect where work boundaries start and end.

Bear in mind that, while some employees might “be OK with” answering messages after hours, these are probably your resident workaholics. It might help for the company to provide work-life balance advice to avoid burnout. But even with that, these individuals may need a gentle shove to log off.

Gaslighting

Bullying, harassment, emotional abuse—a workplace culture that allows these is as toxic as they come. And yet gaslighting remains a major threat to feeling psychologically safe in the office.

Gaslighting isn’t usually a one-off incident. It’s a prolonged form of emotional abuse that leads the victim to doubt their skills, instincts, memories—even sanity.

Here’s one scenario for how it might work in the office.

Someone (let’s say Kenny) raises a point in a meeting, and his coworker (Gary the Gaslighter) shoots it down, maybe even calls the idea stupid.

The next week, the boss brings up the same point Kenny did, but this time, Gary supports it—maybe even says he’s always supported it. Kenny reminds everyone that there were concerns about this idea last week. But to his surprise, Gary laughs and says, “Kenny, that never happened. In fact, wasn’t it you who didn’t like the idea?”

As Gary takes control to discuss next steps, Kenny’s left feeling embarrassed. Did he remember the meeting wrong? Or misunderstand what Gary said last week? Now he’s afraid to speak up at all, because what if he’s remembering other decisions incorrectly?

Kenny is being gaslighted.

Gaslighting is a red flag for psychological safety, but it also damages diversity of thought, inclusion, and teamwork. It’s an innovation killer, and it must be stopped.

Promoting Useless Leaders

Bad bosses are bad enough, but bad coworkers who become bosses will send people screaming for the nearest job search website. It’s right up there with nepotism.

Servant Leadership

There's more to leadership than driving a team to profit. In fact, there's a word for looking beyond self-interest to prioritize individual growth: servant leadership. Try this course for a quick breakdown of what that is, how it works, and how it can lead to organizational success.

Leaders must be vigilant about promoting the right people—and that can be tough. People love to suck up to the boss. The higher up a person gets in an organization, the harder it is to maintain clarity about who’s genuinely doing a good job.

Maybe the team leader who presents so eloquently is speaking for his whole team’s collective hard work. Or maybe he’s just a good presenter who didn’t actually contribute a thing to the results in his PowerPoint. Maybe his team managed to meet their KPIs in spite of poor leadership.

Organizations need to pay attention to who they’re promoting and ensure new leaders have a credible track record. That credibility means embracing a stakeholder capitalism approach: 360 reviews, anonymous feedback, and open forums give employees a say in who their future leaders are.

And board diversity with strong corporate governance can ensure your company is avoiding bias at the highest level.

Infographic showing 6 signs of a toxic workplace
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Toxic Positivity

Can a positive attitude be toxic? You’d better believe it can.

To create a psychologically safe environment, there needs to be freedom to express concerns and receive validation. But with toxic positivity, there’s a prevailing insistence that everyone should maintain a positive outlook no matter what.

Sales are down? Proposals are rejected? Resources aren’t provided to scale a project? Salaries are slashed? Just keep smiling!

Toxic positivity deals a major blow to psychological safety because it forces people to ignore, hide, or even feel guilt about negative thoughts. This is bad from the individual to the organizational level, since toxic workplaces hobble innovation for problem-solving.

Organizational Behavior and Leadership

Ever wonder what makes a great leader? Whether your role requires leadership or not, understanding organizational behavior is useful for your career. This course from GLOBIS Unlimited can set you on your way.

The Family Façade

Bonding with coworkers and creating a healthy rapport with bosses is one thing—insisting that every member of a team is “family” is quite another. Because here’s the truth: Your company isn’t your family. It’s your employer. And that power dynamic is entirely different.

Families don’t determine how much money you make, where you sit from nine to five, when you’re allowed to eat lunch, or how many days you can take to recover from the flu. Not to mention, families can’t fire you.

In short, the wide margin of companies that insist they’re “one big family” are kidding themselves.

Toxic work environments embrace this façade of camaraderie. Healthy ones create a culture based on reality.

Excuses for Failure

Failure happens. It’s a part of work and life. Toxic workplaces either scramble to place blame or ignore failures altogether.

This isn’t just a toxic practice—it’s a tragic lost opportunity.

The truth is, failure is good for success, and the best companies know that. They’re the ones who examine failure with curiosity and take it as a collective learning experience. The failure happened, but the point isn’t who was responsible. It’s a) what happened, b) why did it happen, c) how can we prevent it from happening again, and d) where else can we apply this lesson?

With this approach, everyone comes away stronger for the lesson learned, not weaker for being yelled at or threatened.

No Team Is Safe in a Toxic Workplace

Repairing psychological safety in the workplace can seem like a nightmarish undertaking. But without the effort, you’ll find the nightmare never ends.

On the bright side, many toxic workplace practices that threaten employee peace of mind are fairly easy to identify. Smart leaders will understand the importance of finding and eliminating them for a healthier work environment.

The rewards truly are worth it. Psychological safety comes with more diversity and employee engagement. It also creates an environment for workplace learning, innovation, and growth.

In other words, the dream of every entrepreneur.

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