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15 Ways Managers Actively Sabotage Workplace Culture


In recent years, there has been a lot of talk about creating and maintaining a positive workplace culture. Management has a heavy influence on this culture and can make a positive—or negative—impact, depending on how they operate.

An ineffective manager’s lack of leadership can halt the productivity of a business and contribute to an environment in which employees are unhappy and unmotivated. Below, members of Forbes Business Council shared some things managers do that can actively sabotage the workplace culture, and how they can course-correct.

1. Lacking Gratitude For Employees

One of the quickest ways to sabotage the workplace culture is to have a lack of gratitude for the employee and their efforts. Even if the employee’s work is subpar, if you lead with disappointment and are antagonistic, it will hurt the culture. If you will lead with gratitude by genuinely finding some aspect of the work to be thankful for, the employee will be more receptive to correction. – Kevin Clayson, Done For You Real Estate USA

2. Tolerating Bad Behavior

As a leader, it is your role to establish and enforce a team culture that promotes the values your organization stands for. Too often managers tolerate bad behavior. They confuse results with performance, and this can lead to toxic workplace culture. Root out bad actors quickly—otherwise, the damage that they can cause will drag down the entire team. – Lee Shapiro, 7wire Ventures

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3. Blurring The Lines Between Management, Leadership And Coaching

Leaders too often blur the lines between management, leadership and coaching. Each plays a critical role and there is a time and place for all three. But they’re also very distinct. Managing an employee (to-do lists, numbers) at a time when what they need is coaching (listening, collaborative goal-setting, providing feedback and motivation) can very quickly disengage a valuable employee. – Mike Esterday, Integrity Solutions

4. Selling Up Instead Of Supporting Down

Micromanaging, empire-building, selling up instead of supporting down and generally being egocentric in your leadership approach creates a toxic culture. Leaders should build up their teams for success, be there to support them, flex their leadership styles depending on individual needs and know when to get out of the way. Above all, show empathy and gratitude to your team. – Gabriel Smith, Pricefx

5. Failing To Establish Clear Roles

One of the most insidious things managers can do is fail to establish clear roles and then blame staff for not stepping up. This is endemic in the world of innovation, where staff are encouraged to have fingers in every pie but are held to a “demonstrating impact” standard. It results in a toxic culture of insecure staff who lack an in-organization identity and politicking to gain status. – Tam Thao Pham, DryShield

6. Sacrificing Core Values For Bottom-Line Returns

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Ineffective leaders that sacrifice the core values of the firm for bottom-line returns sabotage employee engagement. Employees that cannot trust a leader to stand by their expressed values take on a transactional engagement with their employer. They trade time for money and will go to where their time is paid more. Objective and immutable values engage employees beyond the transactional job. – Christopher White, Eques, Inc.

7. Behaving Unpredictably

The number one thing is unpredictable behavior. Employees like to know what to expect. If one day you are yelling and upset about everything and then the next day you are chill and patient, it makes the team feel like they are on a layer of ice. It’s unhealthy, kills meaningful communication and impacts retention. – Tyler Martin, ThinkTyler Business Coaching & Consulting

8. Not Having A System In Place To Drive Accountability

A leader’s ability to actively sabotage an existing culture is only possible if there is no system to define, measure, manage and drive accountability around the company’s optimal culture and associated business practices. To sabotage anything requires a leader to deliberately attempt to destroy, damage or obstruct how other leaders drive the culture. How? You promote what you permit! – Dr. Donte Vaughn, CultureWorx

9. Demonstrating A Lack Of Integrity

Demonstrating a lack of integrity in any way undermines an individual’s ability to lead. Leadership is not conferred by a title or having a certain number of direct reports. Leadership is earned every day by taking responsibility, owning up to your mistakes, listening to your team members and above all else, behaving with the highest ethical standards. Actions speak louder than words. – Richard Steel, Parsec Ventures

10. Failing To Adapt Or Change

“This is how we’ve always done things” comes from a place of complacency, but it just kills innovation. It kills the spark that engaged employees bring and it stifles the company from evolving. From this point, the culture deteriorates because there’s no room for improvement for the company or for individual employees. Perspectives can change, but if they don’t, it’s time to part ways. – Alex Argianas, Arginias & Associates

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11. Assuming The Role Of Executor

Ineffective leadership has a tendency to weave itself in the fabric of the company. In doing this, managers may often assume the role of an executor of this style, flowing it down to team members. Instead of being a rudder for good management despite poor top leadership, managers continue on without implementing what they know to be right. It is a fine line. They are often concerned about their roles as well. – Paul L. Gunn, KUOG Corporation

12. Ineffectively Listening

Ineffective listeners make ineffective leaders. Everyone wants to be seen, heard and valued for their ideas, contributions and opinions. When a leader doesn’t listen, it stifles problem-solving and collaboration. When employees feel unheard, they stop sharing ideas, bringing up problems and begin to actively disengage. Ineffective listening sabotages workplace culture. – Kerry Siggins, StoneAge

13. Gossiping Or Undermining Employees

One thing I’ve noticed about good leaders is that they say what they mean and they mean what they say. They don’t share stories or gossip between members of the team, which might undermine one employee and minimize their roles. Leadership embraces and encourages both the diversity and uniqueness of all team members. – James Langabeer, Yellowstone Consulting, LLC

14. Failing To Communicate

Communication is key. In order to have a healthy and productive workplace, employers need to encourage open lines of communication between both themselves and staff and between staff members. When issues are not resolved in a timely manner, they fester and become more serious. Having an “open-door policy” and welcoming employees is the best thing you can do to ensure healthy workplace culture. – Ari Chazanas, Lotus West Properties

15. Micromanaging

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The managers who don’t provide clear direction and then get out of the way are the ones who fail. They are the managers who great employees abandon. Managers should go through leadership training just like employees do training for their jobs. Having a continuous pulse on their tone, temper and style is important as one negative person can have a detrimental impact on a business. – Emilia D’Anzica, Growth Molecules

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