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How to Build and Sustain a Healthy Workplace

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Toxic Organizational Cultures and Leadership: How to Build and Sustain a Healthy Workplace

Are you sure that your values are lived in your organization? Why are people leaving your organisation? Are you promoting and retaining the right people and talent? Do your people policies and processes support your values and your organizational culture? How can you promote a healthy workplace culture?

Research shows that workplace cultures can engage people, strengthen corporate reputations and determine success.  It takes time for organisations to become ‘toxic’ – yet most people who have worked in an organisation will have experienced some degree of dysfunctional behaviours. The definition of a toxic organisational culture is based on a culture causing or sustaining harm over a period of time.

Unfortunately, there is overwhelming evidence of toxicity in organisations. At a micro level, this toxicity may start within a team or unit. Tolerating dysfunctional behaviours causes harm and becomes absorbed by the culture as the ‘way to get things done’ and can spread rapidly.

At a macro level, this book shows how performance pressures drive cognitive dissonance and the normalization of deviance over time resulting in a ‘toxic’ organizational culture. You can work in such a culture alongside people that you respect and trust, however there will be a disconnect between your own values and the cultural values and focus of the organisation. You may for example be directed to reduce costs even when you may know that it will cause potential harm say in the environment or to others. A few individuals may choose to leave but they will be replaced by others to carry out the task. A toxic organisational culture is one of apathy, hubris and omnipotence.

This is the first book to show how toxic cultures emerge over time. There are four distinct stages that embed a toxic culture into an organization. This is a unique proposition drawn from extensive and emerging research. Corporate culture is enduring and dynamic; it is not static as defined by previous management notions of ‘unfreeze and freeze’.[i] Rather, cultures need continuous management, assessment, and support. Toxic cultures, this book argues, are embedded by two drivers: 1) accepting the unacceptable or the Normalization of Deviance; and 2) believing rhetoric over reality or Cognitive Dissonance. The four stages reveal how HR practices and processes can unwittingly embed these drivers over time, from selecting ambitious leaders, condoning and promoting dysfunctional behaviours, implementing short-term incentives, and obsessively focusing on short-term performance measures – all under the guise of transformational change that promotes and embeds toxicity.

There are seven key levers that need to be orchestrated to provide a remedy for toxicity. We call this our RESPECT framework.

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Toxic organizational cultures and leadership have led to major reputational failures, with the greatest impact felt by the people who dedicate their careers to working for these organizations. And yet organizations do not become toxic overnight. They do not consciously set out to break rules and regulations, nor do they actively seek wrongdoing. This book defines toxic culture, explains how toxic cultures emerge over time, and provides practical approaches supported by in-depth research for overcoming a toxic culture at the individual, team, and organizational level.