Yesterday, we looked at how incivility in the workplace can impact productivity and turnover. Today, we will look at how organizations respond to, contain and train toxic behavior.
Containment and Training
Toxicity can spread like a virus. It may start with one person behaving badly, but what happens over time is that the people who work around that individual begin to behave differently. The people in the organization begin to believe the organization has a high tolerance for toxicity and that they won’t do anything about it.
One thing organizations should not do is allow a problem employee to be transferred internally, because then it spreads. Training, clear expectations and accountability can help.
Many organizations teach employees how to interact in a respectful and constructive manner, in some cases holding employees financially accountable.
The type of training varies based on the industry and profession, with doctors getting sent to charm school to brush up on interacting with patients, sales people being sent to negotiation classes and attorneys to anger management training.
Leaders Need to Lead
In some organizations, incivility and toxicity is caused by those at the top. Research shows that about 60 percent of the time the offender has higher job status than the target does. Leaders set the tone. After all, people tend to look up to see how those at the top behave in hopes that if they mimic their behavior, they’ll get ahead too.
In a survey of more than 1,200 employees regarding the narcissistic tendencies of their immediate supervisor:
- 31 percent reported that their boss is prone to exaggerate his or her accomplishments to look good in front of others;
- 27 percent reported that their boss brags to others to get praise;
- 25 percent reported that their boss had an inflated view of himself or herself;
- 24 percent reported that their boss was self-centered; and
- 20 percent reported that their boss will do a favor only if guaranteed one in return.
Having a narcissistic boss creates a toxic environment for virtually everyone who must come in contact with this individual. The team perspective ceases to exist, and the work environment becomes increasingly stressful. Productivity typically plummets as well.
But managers claim they don’t realize how they are being perceived, in part because the higher individuals are in an organization, the less feedback they receive. However, some executives push back, saying that employees are not thick-skinned enough and that they don’t have time to be nice.
Most organizations simply do not consider the adverse effects of narcissistic bosses on worker productivity and stress. In fact, many companies encourage it since narcissists are often seen as outgoing and confident — traits considered necessary for success in any managerial role. However, there is a fine line between self-confidence on the one hand and selfishness that negatively affects others on the other.
It is important for executives to think about how good behavior can fit into “each piece of the human resource cycle,” from the company’s mission statement, to its recruitment and training policies. There should be a thread of civility through everything a company does.
To create a civil workplace, leaders should:
- Set zero tolerance expectations.
- Look in the mirror to be sure they are role-modeling the right behavior.
- Weed out trouble before it enters the organization.
- Teach civility.
- Train employees and managers to recognize and respond to early signals.
- Put their ear to the ground and listen carefully.
- Hammer incivility when it occurs.
- Take complaints seriously.
- Refrain from excuses for powerful offenders, even if they’re rainmakers or protégés.
- Conduct exit interviews.
Behavioral values and expectations should be clearly spelled out in advance and employees held accountable — for compensation purposes — at a level equal to the level of importance placed on work output. When values are clearly identified, reinforced and documented it’s easier for organizations to fire an otherwise productive but toxic individual, thereby making it clear that the organization takes its values seriously.