How To Avoid a Toxic Culture

by | Jul 7, 2021 | Personnel Management

A Healthy Company Culture Is Essential To A Thriving Company

The most elusive trait of a company is an outstanding culture. We always hear about culture from books, podcasts, and speakers. Everybody knows how important it is but very few companies attain it. How to avoid a toxic culture is something all managers should know. Culture is essentially the company’s personality, comprised of the sum total of all employees’ personalities.

For example, say that five friends were having dinner one night. There would be six personalities at the table – the personalities of the five friends and the sixth being the table’s personality. The table personality would change drastically if you removed or added just one person. Say the funniest person had to leave early to pick up his kids; the table would instantly feel less joyful. Even worse, one friend shows up late and complains the whole time about how much he hates his boss… most people will be looking for the check as soon as possible. The reality is that company cultures are significantly more challenging to manage than a table full of best friends. I am still learning lessons about culture, most of which have been learned the hard way.

Here are five lessons I have learned to combat toxicity in the workplace:

1. Do not hire people with negative attitudes.

Sounds simple, but it is not. I usually try to flush negativity out during the interview with questions like “Tell me why you left the last company.” If their answer smells like a complaint, then it is only a matter of time before they complain about my company.

2. Fire negative people immediately.

Negative people inevitably slip through the interview process. It is also possible you are fully aware of how negative they are, but you ignore them or hope they will get better. The only solution I have found is to let them go quickly before they leave a trail of bodies behind them, or even worse, they pollute the company culture. This is especially difficult if they are talented with great production results, but in my experience, their talent is never a net gain. Firing people is challenging but not firing them is even worse. See a previous post about why you shouldn’t wait to fire them.

3. Pay attention to who reports bad news.

This is not always the case, but true winners do not like to play the “victim” or the “witness.” They handle things themselves. If someone is telling you bad news, they want you to solve the problem instead of taking ownership. Additionally, if they share negativity with you, they are likely to share it with their co-workers. This becomes difficult to address if the bad news is true and needs to be handled. However, you must handle the news and the reporter’s attitude as separate issues. 

4. Pay attention to turnover trends.

If you are not tracking who is leaving your company, you aren’t paying attention—track turnover trends by manager, department, shifts, or crew. In reality, thoroughbreds dislike being around donkeys, and vice versa.  So, if there is a donkey among you, they will run off all the thoroughbreds. The real question is, “Am I hiring bad people who don’t fit into a good culture?” or “Am I hiring good people who don’t fit into a bad culture?”.

5. Pay attention to who gathers with whom.

Do you think “Bob” is toxic, but you know “Sally” is cheerful? Schedule a company breakfast and watch the gathering trends like you would a high school lunchroom. Birds of a feather flock together and so do attitudes. I have often seen two or three employees huddled off to the side talking about something you know is negative.

A version of this article appeared in the Harness LLC Blog, A company that I was previously an owner of. If you are looking for a good grading contractor I would highly recommend contacting them.