4 Signs You’re Dealing With A Toxic Workplace

Now that we’re all paying attention to workplace culture, here’s the unfortunate news: It’s not always pretty. A workplace can be just as broken and dysfunctional as a rotten relationship. Like the couple in counseling, you don’t really know how bad it is until you’re focusing on it.

As a leader, you’re in a uniquely powerful position. You can turn it into a total win. But that’s only if you’re willing to do the work. First, you have to drill into your organization’s core values, and you may not like what you find. When the truth looks ugly, do you stop looking, and just return to business with blinders on? Is there a way to conceal it from the employees, fix it at some future date and hope they don’t notice? No. It’s already an elephant in the room, believe me. And your employees see it a lot more clearly than you do.

The first step to healing is facing the truth. Here are four key signs the workplace culture is toxic. If you own them and commit to fixing them, you’re heading towards a far better place for everyone.

  1. You churn like butter at the lower layers. Entry-level and lower-mid level positions are your canaries in the coal mine. If you can’t engage people as they come in, something’s missing. If your entry-level employees tend to leave before their one-year anniversary, there’s a problem. Further, given that you’re dealing with mostly millennials and younger generations at this level, there’s already a foot-out-the-door mentality. So, like climate change, the worse it is, the worse it will get. One key oversight is not supporting employees. Among key reasons to leave a job, millennials want to be given the chance and support to grow into leadership positions.
  1. There’s no line out the door to get in.There were 5.4 million job openings in the month of February, during what is still a turbulent labor market. For some fields, there are always more openings than talent to fill them. It’s not expected to change in 2016. Meanwhile, do a search for “great work environment” or “best place to work” and you’ll get some 82 million options. Listing great employers is trending, which means a great workplace will get noticed. And so will a bad one. From massive portals to tell-all blogs, no workplace is invisible.
  2. Everyone’s in a bad mood. Down in the trenches, what’s the air like? If everyone’s in a bad mood, note to self: That’s your workplace culture. Along with a general pissiness, you’ll probably find that employees feel undervalued, forced to compete with one another, distant from the company mission (if indeed that mission is even on their radar), can barely wait until the end of the day or resent the long hours, and are probably also going to embark on a job search if they haven’t already. (Two signs: clusters of gossip at the water cooler — digital or real — and a company’s browser history that’s glutted with visits on sites like LinkedIn.)
  1. Change is resisted, no matter what it is.Fear is an instant mute button in a toxic workplace. It’s also a giant monkey wrench for any kind of process. It can impose a status quo that resists changes, whether they would be better for the organization or not. A dynamic workplace is one in which the employees are willing to embrace change: They trust their best interests are going to be protected. They also see the point of thoughtful change, and may well agree with it. If they don’t, they’re not afraid to say so.

What we’re finding is that we know even less about our own organizational cultures than we think, though there are numerous ways to get a bead on it.

But it’s not a good time to overlook the challenge. If you’re not willing to do the work, you’re going to lose. It’s impossible to hide in this global, hyper-networked social economy. And there’s an added factor for leaders: To not fix a known problem could dump you into the churn, too.

A version of this post was first published on Forbes.

Getting Under the Hood of 21st Century Leadership

In our current society, noise rules.

We are told the more likes we have, the better life is.

We are told influencers rule. Get to know them and you can write your own ticket.

Some of our Outlook or Google calendars are filled with back-to-back meetings. We run from one to another, being busy and “working.”

And at the end of the day, we may feel exhausted (justifiably) and a little bit empty.

But we keep that newsflash to ourselves. On the outside, we are seen as successful and having the life everyone should aspire to have: the job, the income, the education, the possessions, the friends, and the picket fences.

We don’t dare to share our inner most feelings, sometimes, even with ourselves.

And that’s where we start our journey of exploring what is deep inside of us.

Buried like a lost treasure, we dig and excavate through the cobwebs of ourselves. Nothing that anyone prepared us for when they gave us the cookie cutter templates of our lives — go to school, make friends, be popular, dress fashionably, get degrees, find a partner, get a job, buy a house, decorate it well, buy a car, go on vacation, manage a career, have children, be professional, do volunteer work, follow the trends, dress well, eat well, save for tomorrow and oh yeah, have some fun while you are at it.

There are no manuals here. There is work. No one prepares us for this chapter in life when, at any age, we are ready to explore what is in our heart.

I have been witnessing the masks that some people around me feel they need to wear because they don’t want to appear weak. And underneath the hood, there is pain and shame they are walking around with. Some of it is very deep. You would never think they were hurting. They stay silent as they are supposed to be strong. But the cracks are starting to show and it is so important for us to acknowledge them. New conversations and mindsets can emerge to break the current molds of how life is supposed to be to encompass the new dreams that spark the imagination.

We live in a world where we are celebrating being vulnerable and authentic. And this just makes me wonder how we got here. To be human is to feel. To be human is to have faith. How do we learn if we don’t get in touch with our human vulnerability? Authenticity requires us to feel deeply and be in touch with our biggest dreams and fears.

All of our systems are starting to crack in front of our eyes and this is an opportunity; not a crisis. New mindsets need to architect a new way forward on a planet where every living being is connected in ways we never imagined. So much is possible.

We will have more 21st century leaders in the world when more of us take a journey into ourselves before we try to fix everyone else. No one needs fixing. No one wants to be fixed.

What we want and what we have the capacity to do is to be connected to people who care deeply about themselves, us and our planet. When was the last time you practiced this ancient technology that is making a come back? When was the last time you had an open two-way conversation where you can show up with whatever is in your heart; in life and in work? What makes you feel listened to?

Instead of being addicted to our busyness, what would happen if each of us reached out to someone and truly listened? What is possible when we break down the armor?

And so much is possible today with technology. We could be having so many conversations via video chats and staying connected to other people despite what the Outlook or Google calendar monsters tell us about who which meetings we need to attend.

21st century leaders are human. We understand that trust, community and relationships are the currencies that sustain life. We don’t need to talk about vulnerability or authenticity as we live the highs and lows of our humanity.

Our world needs each of us to stop needing to be right in making our arguments and points when we have conversations. Empathy, listening and connecting deeply are our opportunities in every aspect of life.

Like you, I am on this journey. I am exploring, excavating and connecting with the most heart felt people on the planet.

I send you an open invitation to take the first step and join us in co-creating a new path where people matter and we recognize that we are in the business of people.

Instead of liking, please feel free to reach out and spark a conversation with me.

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1996) offers us three suggestions: a brain, a heart, and courage.

1) A Brain

Dorothy: “How can you talk if you don’t have a brain?”
Scarecrow: “I don’t know… But some people without brains do an awful lot of talking … don’t they?”

2) A heart

Dorothy: “Goodbye Tinman. Oh, don’t cry! You’ll rust so dreadfully.”
Tinman: “Now I know I’ve got a heart ’cause it’s breaking…”

3) Courage

You have plenty of courage, I am sure,” answered Oz. “All you need is confidence in yourself. There is no living thing that is not afraid when it faces danger. The true courage is in facing danger when you are afraid, and that kind of courage you have in plenty.” ~ L. Frank Baum, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

A version of this was first posted on Medium.