Culture shift: The impact of ignoring toxic behavior on your team
By Ashleigh Petersen Galen Emanuele
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Culture shift: The impact of ignoring toxic behavior on your team

Today’s topic is one that I’m presenting to leadership on behalf of every employee in the entire universe.

This conversation was inspired from a recent discussion with a colleague about a quote that I had seen, which was, “Tolerating a problem has the same consequences as not being able to identify it.” Of course, context is everything when applying wisdom in business. In this case, specifically when it comes to employees and performance or behavior, I think that the consequences of tolerating the problem are actually far worse.

As a leader, when your employees observe you being aware of or tolerating a problem, and doing nothing about it, it damages not only your relationship with those employees but also your reputation, and the morale of the entire team.

When an employee sees that from their leader, there only are a few reasonable interpretations that they can make of why you won’t take action to correct it:

You’re a coward.

Harsh language, I know. But also, to be fair, having challenging conversations with difficult people is hands down one of the hardest things you have to do as a leader. Many leaders (and really most humans for that matter) do everything they can to avoid these uncomfortable situations at all costs. Employees may assume that you’re afraid to have a challenging conversation with that person and hold them accountable.

You don’t know how.

Another reason that employees could assume that you won’t have that conversation with the problem employee is because you don’t know how. That you don’t have the capability or possess the skills to effectively have a conversation like that with an employee. Conversations like that are hard, and they require the right skills and language and approach. No one is born with those skills, but there are a bajillion resources, books, courses, blogs, videos, etc. that exist to gain those skills that are readily available to anyone.

You don’t care.

This is the worst of them all and a reasonable assumption to be made on the part of another employee. Tolerating toxic behavior and poor performance can give the impression that it’s just not that ‘bad’ to you, isn’t a big deal, or is not worth addressing. This has the same impact on your best employees as you are endorsing it with a hearty thumbs up. It’s a bad look for a leader to hold and maintain a low bar and neglect to holding bad actors on teams accountable.

All of those things are pretty damaging to you and the team. The relationships and reputation that you’re impacting negatively are the ones that you have with your best employees, who don’t understand why leaders tolerate unacceptable behavior or performance.

It’s morale-destroying because co-workers can’t hold their teammates accountable in the way that someone in a leadership position can. They can’t fire that person or have those kinds of conversations. If a toxic person is allowed to continue to behave poorly, the only recourse your great employees have is to suffer or leave.

It falls solely to leadership to take responsibility by either removing people from the team or coaching them up into greatness.

I know that it’s hard to be a leader and to deal with all the dynamics of human behavior. But this topic is non-negotiable. It falls to leadership to have the skill, capacity, and the courage to address those types of situations immediately and make moves to create a healthy, positive environment that teams can thrive in, especially your best, most dedicated and engaged employees because they’re the ones making your company successful.

Ashleigh Petersen

Ashleigh PetersenAshleigh Petersen

Ashleigh Petersen is the digital communications manager for Rental Management. She writes news and feature articles, plus coordinates the monthly Safety Issue and several sections in the magazine. Ashleigh loves spending time with her husband and young son, baking, gardening and listening to true crime and comedy podcasts.

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