Early Warning Signs of a Toxic, Sexist Workplace (like Apple?)

September 27, 2016 3:18 pm Published by

Apple has recently come under bombastic attacks as a result of recently leaked emails describing a less-than-healthy work environment.   The behaviors described almost seem from an era from the last millennia, rather than in a company that has been viewed as a leader into the 21st century.

Outsiders may wonder: Are these reports really true?  How could these types of attitudes grow and exist in the context of progressive, well-educated professionals working together?

The answers? Probably, and easily.  Just like mold can grow rampantly in a high tech, green, newly constructed physical work space (when the conditions exist and continue for a period of time), so can toxic relational work conditions can grow rapidly when certain factors exist within work groups.

In researching what characterizes toxic workplaces and how to survive them , we found core components that (if left unchecked) will deteriorate into an unhealthy work environment for employees:

  1. A structurally “sick system” characterized by poor communication patterns, lack of clearly defined responsibilities and boundaries, and inconsistency of holding individuals responsible for their decisions and behaviors.
  2. A smattering of “toxic leaders” spread throughout the organization.  Note: these leaders do not have to be at the top of the organization — they may be division managers, department leaders, or front-line supervisors. But their key characteristic is that they are solely focused on what is good for them , not the organization, not the customers, and clearly not their colleagues.
  3. “Dysfunctional colleagues” whose way of communicating and behaving creates challenges for all around them.  How?  By blaming, making excuses, not fulfilling their responsibilities and figuring out ways to be rescued by someone else.  (Inhale for the next set of traits.)  Through indirect communication, withholding information, giving misinformation, and setting up scenarios where they create conflict between others while looking like they are an innocent bystander.

What do you do if you see these characteristics in your workplace?

First, do a self-assessment.  Take a honest look at how you may be contributing to some of the factors (it is rarely “everyone else”).  Are you direct with others?  Do you take responsibility when you are late with a project? Is most of your communication with others comprised of complaining and gossiping?  You may want to take a simple assessment that identifies how toxic your workplace is, the top 3 areas contributing to the toxicity, and some resources to help.

Secondly, commit to taking some simple first steps:  a) don’t join in the negative communication with others (criticizing, cynicism, gossip); and b) proactively communicate positive messages to others — this can be as easy as being thankful for what a beautiful day it is, or as our other research has shown: communicating appreciation for your co-workers can have a tremendous positive effect on workplaces.

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September 27, 2016 3:18 pm

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