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C-Suite Insider

Are Your Managers Creating a Toxic Work Environment?

Running a successful company requires all areas of the business to fire on all cylinders. Smart CEOs strive to create a high performance corporate culture that resonates with employees and reduces expensive turnover. However, at times the organization’s own leadership may unknowingly contribute and encourage a toxic workplace for the sake of success.

Proactively addressing a toxic workplace is paramount for a company to succeed. According to the Society for Human Resources Management’s (SHRM) 2019 literature review on the costs of toxic workplace cultures, the estimated cost of turnover due to workplace culture is $223 billion over the past five years.

When the factors contributing to a poor work environment come from the top, the impact is even more devastating. It’s said that people quit managers, not companies – and a recent SHRM study backs it up. It found that 58 percent of those who left a job due to culture stated their manager as the main reason for leaving.

Before a CEO can improve the work culture, they need to understand what exactly creates a toxic environment. Toxicity can be challenging to define because it exists on a spectrum. On one end, a toxic workplace is any work environment that doesn’t provide the proper resources, experiences, and support for an employee to advance and thrive. On the other end, it can be as evident and nasty as bullying, discrimination, and lack of inclusion.

There are four ways that leaders unconsciously contribute to a toxic work environment. 

Emotionally Unintelligent

According to research by Norwhich University, employees are four times less likely to leave a company when leaders and managers demonstrate emotional intelligence (EQ). Yet, according to Businessolver’s 2021 State Of Workplace Empathy, 68 percent of CEOs fear that they’ll be less respected if they show empathy in the workplace. They couldn’t be more wrong.

Good managers recognize employees as human beings. Managers with high EQ know how to connect with individuals personally and professionally, and that’s key to forging long-lasting relationships. A manager with high EQ supports their direct reports and values their contributions, professional and personal growth.

Bias for On-Site Staff

The pandemic changed the office place, ushering in the era of remote work and distributed teams. According to Global Workforce Analytics, 25-30 percent of workers will work from home multiple days per week by the end of 2021, creating challenges in addressing a toxic work environment.

In hybrid work environments, leaders must treat all workers, remote and in the office, the same. Employees working from an office receive more face-time with their managers, encouraging a stronger bond compared to people on video or conference calls. In-person communication can accelerate collaboration.

For leadership, leveling the playing field for both remote and on-site employees starts with cultivating a consistent and strong human connection. Consider recurring weekly or biweekly video meetings to foster human interactions. The meetings should cover areas that are top of mind and heart for employees, how they are feeling about work, and any challenges they may be encountering.

Not Valuing or Encouraging Feedback

CEOs and other leaders must not be afraid to solicit feedback from their key stakeholders including employees and peers. While no one enjoys criticism, it’s worse to let toxic behaviors go unchecked.

Leadership at times can be isolated from the majority of the office and relies on middle management’s perspective for a pulse of the work environment. It’s even more difficult if leaders don’t proactively invite constructive feedback about themselves or the company. Opening oneself up is hard but it can pay dividends to improve work relations.

Most leaders who seem to have a talent for calming angry clients and a knack for getting along with everyone know the value of being an active listener. Leaders’ key stakeholders want to be heard, and the most effective leaders know this. Being a sounding board for stakeholders, empathizing with their troubles and showing you care – whether you have a solution or not – is a very effective strategy in creating a more trusting environment.


Micromanagement can create distrust in people’s abilities, experiences, and skills. In a Trinity Solutions survey, 85 percent of employees stated that micromanagement negatively impacts their morale, and 69 percent had or were considering switching jobs because of it. Despite micromanaging being so damaging to work culture, 79 percent of people surveyed said they had or were currently in a job with a micromanagement problem

CEOs and leaders need to be confident in the people they hire and give them enough space to do the job they were hired to do. This style of leadership inspires workers to problem solve, think critically, and be creative.

It’s important to note that micromanagement has a role in the office, just be sure you communicate why you’re micromanaging. For example, if it’s an inexperienced employee, let them know they’re working more closely with you to ensure they learn the ropes and can rely on you as a mentor. If it’s an employee on a performance plan, let them know you care about their performance and you’re dedicated to their success.

Cultivating and sustaining a  work environment that fully engages the hearts and minds of employees free of toxicity is a significant challenge that plagues the most innovative and successful companies worldwide. The work environment is comprised of human beings who face pressure in their personal and professional lives while navigating a world full of change and uncertainty. High-pressure workplaces at times  foster survival environments rather creating a space for people to thrive.

CEOs can create high performance work environments by leading with EQ, fostering an inclusive environment for those to communicate their ideas and challenges, opening themselves up to constructive feedback, and enabling and empowering all employees to succeed.

Written by Alicia D. Reece.

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CEOWORLD magazine - Latest - C-Suite Insider - Are Your Managers Creating a Toxic Work Environment?
Alicia D. Reece
Alicia D. Reece, Founder and CEO of the Reece Group, Certified Executive Coach, Talent Strategist, and Author of Driven to Thrive. Alicia brings 20 years of global diverse experience working with Fortune 500 and enterprise clients such as KPMG, Cisco, LinkedIn, Gilead Sciences, Kite Pharmaceutical, Lyft, FedEx, Salesforce, and Warner Brothers.

Alicia D. Reece is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. You can follow her on LinkedIn. For more information, visit the author’s website.