A lesson on toxic leadership and work culture
Feedback has shown that your employee satisfaction is at an all-time low, where do you start with the rectification? Why not start with the leaders in the company and the culture in general?
One of the biggest yet perhaps underrated factors in emotional health and well-being is our workplace environment. Given Singapore’s cultural emphasis on prioritizing work, not to mention financial necessity, the workplace has become essentially a second home to a lot of us. So when relationships in the workplace become a source of stress for people, that stress can take a larger toll than we initially realise. A workplace structure that emphasizes positive mental health practices and emotional support is crucial. Unfortunately, most workplace culture is lagging in terms of awareness or prioritisation of these essential wellness issues. Oftentimes, leadership is one of the most important factors in setting the tone for a workplace’s emotional culture.
What then are some behaviours and characteristics that should be avoided by leaders to prevent a hostile working environment? The following traits are a few examples and warning signs that a leader or boss may be dangerous to an employee’s mental health.
1. Obstinate and unwilling to listen to feedbacks: Leadership is about leading people, this includes listening to those across different functions and levels of management. Some leaders, unfortunately, are obstinate and will only insist on having things done their way. Not being receptive to suggestions provided by the ones working with them can lead to growing concerns and problems gone unheard. This at the heart of a workplace can lead to conflicts and unhappiness proliferating exponentially.
2. Excessive self-interest: It is important for leaders to provide guidance and clear goals to their employees. This, however should never be at the expense of the company or any of the team member for their own self-advancement. Employees will know when they are viewed more as a pawn than an equal working member of the team. Acting only in one’s self-interest will always only be detrimental to the company and the environment.
3. Rewarding incompetence and practicing favouritism: One of very important responsibility of being a leader is to have the knowledge and awareness to assess and understand the situation in the workplace and among employees. If a leader is seen rewarding bad behaviour knowing or unknowingly, every other employees’ morale will be affected. This will directly encourage bad performers to continue and discourage actual performers from giving their best.
4. Lack of general support and mentoring: Another important aspect of being a leader is the ability of one to provide the needed support and mentoring that every team member needs. Being in a position with such authority will not only require a leader to perform but to groom and nurture the ones under them to help develop their own career tracks or path for future development. Employees who feel stagnant will not be able to realise their full potential, which will indirectly affect the performance of the team and company.
5. Bullying and harrassment: In the worst-case scenario, employees have reportedly experienced an unfortunate but wide variety of abusive leaders. From sexual harrassments, belittling employees, attacking using foul language or theats. As much as this sounds intolerable, there are still many workplaces and employees experiencing such ‘leaders’. Any organisation should not condone such behaviour and should act immediately when discovered.
To summarise this, leaders should always be held to a high level of standard because they are responsible not only for themselves but also for the people working alongside them. They are always the ones with the authority to influence positivity and improve dynamics in the workplace. Such positivity can in-turn generte positive results and enhance the overall environment of a workplace. For those who see or have experienced signs of a toxic leader/culture, it may be worth taking action by reporting such actions to a person of a higher authority. Or in some extreme cases start looking elsewhere for opportunities.
Hopefully, a greater awareness of workplace mental health issues and the types of healthy leadership can help foster a better workplace for everyone.
*Credits to Jean Kim for her insight on Psychology Today