5 examples of toxic corporate behavior


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Suffering has become a hallmark of the modern workplace. In my work as a coach and consultant, I’ve listened to employees talk about coercion, being forced to betray themselves for the “good of the organization,” and the sinking feeling of being dismissed and devalued.

This suffering takes the form of seemingly small betrayals. For example, not being able to speak the truth because of fear of losing one’s job, or not speaking up in meetings for fear of being publicly humiliated or yelled at by their boss.

Over time, these small betrayals add up until the weight of them becomes overwhelming.

We shouldn’t be surprised that studies have shown job stress costs companies more than $300 billion annually, that most employees trust total strangers more than their boss, and that workplace practices are now as harmful as secondhand smoke.


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The stories I hear from clients illustrate the toxic behaviors that are making everyone in the workplace miserable. Here are five behaviors I hear about most often. I share a blueprint for transforming toxic corporate culture into vibrant, cutting-edge organizations that prioritize love over fear in my book The Evolved Executive: The Future of Work Is Love in Action.

Image Credit: Benjamin Child on Unsplash.

1. Secrecy

Secrecy is rooted in the need for power and control. It puts everyone in the organization on edge and creates a distrust of leaders who dictate directions to workers.

Tell me if this scenario sounds familiar:

You walk into work on a Monday morning and feel a palpable animosity in the air. Management has once again started off Monday with a closed-door meeting. You notice they’re careful not to speak until the door is closed and the shades are drawn.

Everyone in the organization knows performance goals are set at the Monday morning meeting, but no one outside the meeting is “authorized” to know what they are.

Management choreographs secrecy and weaponizes information against you.

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2. Competition

Competitions that produce a winner and loser are symptomatic of an unhealthy organizational culture, as this scenario illustrates:

Your new manager pits you against another colleague for the sake of “healthy” competition. She gives you both similar assignments, telling you she wants to see who comes up with the best results in the shortest period of time.

Rather than feeling motivated or open to sharing, you feel intense stress slide into destructive behaviors without meaning to, hoarding information and working to sabotage your colleague’s progress so you don’t end up the “loser.”

When you suggest working with your colleague next time instead of against him, your manager says it will take too much time and make you lazy

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3. ‘Just fire him’

Toxic workplaces do not have an open, free flow of communication. Here is an example that, while almost too extreme to believe, actually happens in workplaces:

In a meeting to discuss an individual about to be promoted to a senior position, it comes to light that the individual hasn’t signed yet due to a few outstanding  questions.

The CEO simply says, “If he’s going to ask questions, fire him.”

Others around the table are shocked. Why can’t we just answer a few questions?

The CEO repeats, “If he’s not going to sign, just fire him,” and the individual is let go.

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4. Golden handcuffs

Have you ever felt trapped in your job because you are well paid, but continue to sense a sinking feeling that you are growing more and more miserable in your career? This is precisely the ‘golden handcuff” phenomenon. You find that your boss offers you attractive bonuses, but requires you to make a painful tradeoff. More often than not the bonus requires you to give up important aspects of your life to get the work done.

Golden handcuffs cause you to miss children’s birthdays and ballgames. Time you could’ve spent with your spouse is missed, and all for what… a $10,000 bonus?

Fear-based organizations often use money in ways that contradict their corporate values, and over time, offer more and more money to convince people to sacrifice their values, too.

This takes a huge toll on our souls and on our ability to live fulfilling lives.

Image Credit: Pixabay.

5. Fake feedback

Many corporations like to say they have “feedback-rich environments,” where they both give feedback freely and welcome feedback from others. That sounds like a positive and healthy situation, but behind the talk, there’s often dysfunctional dynamics.

Feedback comes down from leaders, but when employees share feedback up the chain of command, they get shut down. Worse yet, managers disrespect  employees, call them immature and ignorant, or reprimand them for speaking up.

No matter what kind of feedback a company says they’re comfortable with, their actions make their true intentions very clear. Actions always speak louder than words.

This article was syndicated by MediaFeed.org.

Image Credit: rawpixel on Unsplash.


Heather Hanson Wickman

Heather Hanson Wickman is an executive coach and the author of The Evolved Executive. Previously, she successfully climbed the corporate ladder in healthcare before charting a new path to support senior leaders in evolving their leadership and building soulful organizations. She specializes in organizational change and executive coaching, through which she has coached leaders on evolved business practices, deep self-awareness, and leadership development. You can learn more about her at http://www.untetheredconsulting.com/.