4 Tactics To Repair A Toxic Work Culture

Lead, Communicate, Empower, Recognize, Repeat

Congratulations! You are now a new manager. Upon arrival in your new role, while you are learning how to navigate it quickly, you suddenly make an important discovery: you are stepping into a toxic team culture. You immediately recognize all the tell-tale signs: employees are disengaged and absent often; they avoid voicing their opinions and perspectives; they seem scared during meetings, fearing public reprimanding; they focus on tasks and do not feel empowered to think about the big picture; everyone\’s looking for new jobs. These are symptoms of a toxic work culture, and you must make it your number one priority to take action to repair it before you can deliver products or services to customers. A toxic culture at work is bad for employees and customers alike and ultimately hurts business. This article offers 4 tactics managers can use to decrease toxicity and rebuild a winning culture for their teams.

1. Lead By Example

Be The Change You Want To See

A toxic workplace culture often stems from poor leadership. Leaders set the tone for the entire organization, and their behavior significantly influences how employees interact with one another and their work. To repair a toxic culture, leaders must be willing to take a long, hard look at themselves and make meaningful changes.

Practice Self-Awareness And Reflection

As a leader, you must start by cultivating self-awareness through self-reflection [1]. This means acknowledging your own role in perpetuating a toxic culture, whether through micromanagement, favoritism, or a lack of empathy. Self-reflection can be a powerful tool for growth, and leaders should be open to team feedback.

Set A New Standard

To repair a toxic culture as a leader, you must set a new standard. This involves modeling the behaviors you want to see in your employees, such as open communication, respect, and a commitment to fairness. When employees witness their leaders actively embracing these values, it becomes easier for them to do the same.

Empower Employees

Toxic cultures often arise from a lack of empowerment. As a leader, you should trust your teams, delegate responsibilities, and provide opportunities for growth. When employees feel valued and trusted, they are more likely to take ownership of their work and contribute positively to the culture.

2. Communicate With Openness And Transparency

Effective communication is at the heart of any healthy workplace culture. Toxic cultures often fester in environments where information is hoarded, rumors run rampant, and employees are kept in the dark. To repair a toxic culture, organizations must prioritize open and transparent communication.

Set Clear Expectations

Ambiguity can breed toxicity. Leaders should communicate clear expectations, both in terms of job responsibilities and behavioral standards. When employees know what is expected of them, they are more likely to meet those expectations.

Listen Actively

It\’s not enough for leaders to talk; they must also practice active listening. Encourage employees to share their thoughts, concerns, and ideas. Actively listen to their feedback and take it seriously. When employees feel heard, they are more likely to engage positively with their work and colleagues.

Address Conflicts Promptly

In any workplace, conflicts are bound to arise. However, in a toxic culture, conflicts are often unaddressed or handled poorly. Leaders should have mechanisms in place for addressing conflicts promptly and fairly. This can include mediation, coaching, or simply creating a safe space for employees to voice their concerns.

3. Cultivate A Compassionate Work Environment

Toxic cultures thrive in environments devoid of empathy. When employees feel that their leaders and colleagues lack understanding and compassion, they are more likely to become disengaged and resentful. Repairing a toxic culture requires a concerted effort to cultivate empathy at all levels of the organization.

Invest In Empathy Training

Organizations can invest in empathy training for leaders and employees alike. This training can help individuals develop the skills to understand and relate to the experiences and emotions of others. According to research by McKinsey [2], when empathy becomes a core value, it can significantly improve workplace relationships.

Support Mental Health

Recognize that employees have lives outside of work and may be dealing with personal challenges that affect their performance. Create a supportive environment that acknowledges the importance of mental health and offers resources for seeking help when needed.

Recognize And Celebrate Achievements

In a toxic culture, accomplishments are often overlooked while mistakes are magnified. Leaders should make a point of recognizing and celebrating their teams\’ achievements. This not only boosts morale but also encourages a culture of support and appreciation.

4. Foster Accountability

Repairing a toxic culture requires a commitment to accountability. Toxic behaviors often go unchecked because individuals are not held responsible for their actions. To transform the culture, leaders must be willing to enforce consequences for toxic behavior and reward positive contributions.

Define Values And Expectations

Clearly define the values and behavioral expectations of the organization. Make sure that these values align with the culture you want to create. When everyone knows what is expected, it becomes easier to hold individuals accountable.

Zero Tolerance For Toxicity

Be consistent in applying consequences for toxic behavior. This might involve counseling, coaching, or, in severe cases, disciplinary actions. The key is to send a message that toxic behavior will not be tolerated.

Reward Positive Contributions

It\’s equally important to recognize and reward the positive contributions employees make to the team and the workplace to deliver outcomes. This can be done through formal recognition programs, promotions, or even simple expressions of gratitude. When employees see that their efforts are appreciated, they are more likely to continue contributing positively to the culture.


Transforming a toxic workplace culture into a healthy and positive one is no easy feat, but it is a vital journey you must undertake as a team leader at any level in your organization. By focusing on leadership, communication, empathy, and accountability as a leader, you can create an environment where employees feel valued, engaged, and motivated to do their best work. Remember, change takes time, patience, and a collective effort from all members of the organization. With a commitment to these strategies, any organization can repair its toxic culture and pave the way for a brighter, more productive future.

Further Reading:

[1] Don’t Underestimate the Power of Self-Reflection

[2] Leading Off: Essentials For Leaders And Those They Lead


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