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How can organizational leaders dismantle toxic work environments?

“No one cares and they’re not going to do anything about it.”

I have lost track of how many times I’ve heard this phrase from my clients and coworkers when I ask, “why don’t’ you speak up?”

At some point in our careers, we’ve all run into companies that exude toxicity from the CEO all the way down to the janitor. Long-term employees grumble and gossip, new employees come and leave, and everyone knows there is a problem, but does nothing about it. Matter of fact, some companies have even built a reputation around town of “you don’t want to work there!”

Before diving in, can we agree on a few key points?

➡ Unhappy employees are inefficient.

➡ Turnover costs money.

➡ Disgruntled employees can tarnish company brands.

➡ Toxic environments can cause a company to stay stagnant and never reach its full potential.

So, if we know the harm of toxic environments, why do so many exist? And why on earth is no one doing anything about it? Simply put, it’s the fear of change and all that change can bring.

➡ Change takes work.

➡ Change takes open communication.

➡ Change requires action.

As a change management advocate, I strongly believe in the necessity and the power of change. Below are 4 ways organizational leaders can dismantle toxic work environments.


Ever notice how people tend to shy away from problems or look the other way in hopes that it will just “go away!” Yup, I’ve seen many CEO’s, VPs, HR Managers, and Mid-Management staff participate in this behavior.

I specifically remember voicing my concerns during an exit interview to the CEO. He asked me why I was leaving. I gave examples of harassment and verbal abuse from a senior leader. I also remember the CEO telling me, “I know, she treats everyone like that… it’s hard, we just don’t talk about it and ignore it.”

What type of message are you sending to staff when you do not openly admit there is a problem?

Let me help. You are directly telling staff that you know there is a problem, but simply put, YOU DON’T CARE!

Admitting that there is a problem lets employees know that you are aware. It validates their feelings and most of the time, increases their level of respect for you as a leader. Following it up with action steps gains even more respect (we’ll get to that later!)

You’re probably wondering… how can we avoid getting into this type of predicament in the first place?


➡ It’s all in who you know, right?

➡ Align yourself with the right people and you can move up.

➡ The longer you stay, the higher your chances are of moving up, correct?

Again, this is something that we’ve all heard in forms of advice or best practices for climbing the ladder at an organization. Unfortunately, these words of wisdom are true and they can backfire and create a toxic work environment for staff.

The organization that I referenced earlier consisted of executive staff who had been promoted based solely on their longevity and ties (and favors owed) to certain people in the organization.

◉ Their skill level wasn’t a factor.

◉ Their emotional intelligence (lack of) didn’t matter.

◉ Management experience wasn’t a requirement.

◉ Being a team player wasn’t required.

◉ Their problematic behavior from the past wasn’t even mentioned.

Do you see where I’m going with this? If you want to avoid creating a toxic environment (or add to it) stop promoting staff based on longevity, friendships, and alliances. Lift up and recognize the staff members who help others, have positive relationships, exhibit a positive attitude, and have the skills to bring people together.


➡ “I’m too scared to say anything, I don’t want to get fired!”

➡ “If I tell on them, they will make my life a living hell.”

➡ “Who do I even go to? How will I bring it up?”

As an employer you should not want any of your staff uttering these phrases. If they are, you are in trouble, but good news, you can turn this around.

Employees should feel empowered, safe, and protected when it comes to sharing their experiences. Front-line employees all the way up to management should have a safe space for addressing their concerns.

Employers (HR Staff) need to implement policies and programs that require each employee to share their experience either anonymously or in person with a group of staff members who will assist in raising their concerns with discretion and care.

◉ I always recommend organizations assign mentors/advocates for staff during onboarding. This gives each staff member a go-to person (who they feel comfortable and safe with) to vent to and honestly share their experience. The mentor/advocate can lift up the employee’s voice or even accompany them (for support) when they share their concerns with the designated department and/or team.

◉ Anonymous portals can also be utilized where staff can submit concerns to HR.

◉ Implementing a “tell me about your experience with the organization” during annual reviews can also assist managers and staff with opening up the conversation.

Once you implement these practices, the final and most important step to dismantling toxic work environments is following through with action.


➡ “No one cares, they won’t do anything about it anyway.”

No one should be saying this in your organization. If you’ve come this far (implementing the steps to decrease the toxicity in your organization) and staff are still saying this… something has gone terribly wrong!

If you are serious about creating change within the culture of your organization, you must follow through by implementing accountability.

Toxic leaders, staff, and front-line workers need to be held accountable for behavior that goes against the desired environment.

If that means a write up, performance improvement plan, additional training, or dismissal, you have to follow-through.

Yes, it’s extra paperwork. Extra steps. Extra time.

But your employees will thank you for it. Your loyalty will increase. Your environment will be positive.

◉ Happy employees contribute.

◉ Satisfied employees promote your organization.

◉ Fulfilled employees drive initiatives that help your company thrive.

Happy, satisfied, fulfilled, positive, and loyal employees are worth it!

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Hey there!

Chelsea Jay Resume Writer & Career Coach

I'm Chelsea Jay

As your coach, I'm here to remind you that you can redefine your career at any point in time & for any reason.

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