How One Toxic Person Can Destroy Company Culture

toxic photo - poison

I saw someone once write on a social media post: as an employer, it’s hard to find someone who actually wants to work. No matter how much you praise them or do nice things for them they aren’t loyal to you in the end.

When I first read their comment, I cringed. As an employee, I wouldn’t want to work for someone with that type of mindset because I believe it sets them up for failure as an employer. If my employer believes I will not be loyal to them, no matter what they do, it makes me think they won’t do anything out of the ordinary to keep me around, which makes me feel less loyal to them. But, from an employer perspective, if you feel like you’ve been good to your employees and they leave anyway, how could you not feel this way?

On the other hand, as an employee, why is it so easy to remember the bad things (the bad bosses, the bad work situations, etc.) and so hard to focus on any of the good (or even okay) things?


What if I told you there is scientific evidence backing up why our brains focus on the negative aspects of employment more than the positive? By no means is this breaking news; in an article published in 2001, titled “Bad Is Stronger Than Good,” researchers describe how humans and other animals may be evolutionarily wired to react this way:

From our perspective, it is evolutionarily adaptive for bad to be stronger than good. We believe that throughout our evolutionary history, organisms that were better attuned to bad things would have been more likely to survive threats and, consequently, would have increased probability of passing along their genes.

stacked papersTo make a point, the authors reviewed over 230 studies on the following topics: relationships, emotions, learning, neurological processes, child development, social support, information processing, memory, stereotypes, forming impressions, self-concept, feedback, and health to name a few.

The consistent factor between these 230+ studies revealed the impact of bad things is significantly worse than the power of good things. In other words: when one bad thing happens, five good things must happen to counteract the bad thing.

happy night - umbrella with lightsThe research suggests our desire to get out of a bad mood is stronger than our desire to get into a good one. Bad interactions, ones that feel unfriendly or conflictual, are interpreted in a stronger way. These bad interactions have bigger effects than equally friendly, nice, or harmonious ones. Thus, the bulk of our emotion regulation is directed at escaping from bad moods and negative emotions because bad moods and negative emotions have a stronger effect than good ones.

How does this apply to employees, bosses, managers, and organizations?

crazy papers flying

One bad apple can ruin it all. Bad things like negative emotions, abuse, dysfunctional acts (like intentionally slacking off), hostility, destructive relationships, and incompetence can ruin organizations striving to incorporate civility, competence, effort, and other kinds of “goodness” into their environment and culture. What can we do about this?


As an employee, we must try to focus on the positive. Increasing our number of positive interactions will help us defeat the negative interactions. The researchers suggested it is possible for good to triumph over bad by sheer numbers. Many good events (at least five) can overcome the psychological effects of a single bad event.

happy gratefulUsing techniques from positive psychology, such as expressing gratitude can help us focus on positive interactions and experiences. Remember: a little kindness goes a long way.

We must also be self-aware. When employees are not self-aware, conflict in the workplace can be toxic and destructive. We need to take a conscious look at how we express ourselves at work and how we interact with others.

QuestionMost of the time, conflict is based on some underlying fear and is an issue of interpersonal, psycho-emotional dynamics. If we are self-aware, we can ask ourselves why we react a certain way, and if this reaction is supportive or limiting to our team, department, and organization. If we are honest with ourselves, this self-awareness and insight will allow us to view and improve the way we communicate and interact with others.

When we are self-aware, and those we work with are self-aware, workplace conflict can be minimal and constructive.

Bosses, managers, and organizations:

As someone in a leadership or management position, we must try to overpower the bad with good. This involves expressing gratitude to our employees on a regular basis and constantly assessing and evaluating our employees’ level of engagement.

When it comes to stopping a bad apple or a toxic employee, the first obvious thing to do is not hire them in the first place. However, this can be hard to do even with multiple rounds of interviews.

guard & protect

Dr. Robert Sutton gives a few suggestions on how we can defeat the toxicity in his article, “How a Few Bad Apples Ruin Everything.”

  • Screen employees in realistic job conditions. Bring candidates in for a day or two and give them a short job to accomplish. Watch not only their technical skills, but also their personality. How do they deal with setbacks? Do they know when to ask for help and to give others help? Is the candidate the kind of person they want to work with? Candidates with interpersonal weaknesses may be screened out using this process.
  • The best organizations make explicit their intolerance for bad apples; they spell out which behaviors are unacceptable in the workplace and act decisively to prevent and halt them.
  • There are times, of course, when an organization can’t—or won’t—remove a destructive personality. Maybe the person is a star as well as a bad apple, for instance, or is otherwise crucial to the operation. In such cases, leaders might try to use coaching, warnings and incentives to curb the toxic employee’s behavior. Another tactic is to physically isolate the bad apple.
  • Beware: Leaders who believe destructive superstars are “too important” to fire often underestimate the damage they can do.

Connecting the dots - 2
Connecting the Dots

Scientific evidence shows we are wired to focus on the bad instead of the good, which is why it is so easy for one toxic person to ruin a company’s attempt at instilling and promoting a culture of engagement.

From an individual standpoint, we should try to consciously focus on the positive and increase our self-awareness. From a managerial or organizational perspective, we need to openly value our employees and we should not tolerate toxic behavior. We need to clearly spell out unacceptable behaviors and their consequences, and we need to be willing to fight the bad so we may protect our employees from its destructive properties.

Thank you for taking the time to read my post! If you’re looking for ways to increase your organization’s level of employee engagement, please review my services here and contact me here.

This was originally posted on LinkedIn on November 9th, 2017. See the full post here.

How to Increase Engagement: Treat Your Employees like They Matter

Employee Engagement: Teamwork

People don’t quit their jobs, they quit their bosses.

You’ve likely heard this saying before. Thinking back over the jobs you’ve held through the course of your life, what made you want to quit each job? Did your boss or manager play a role?

The following individual’s response is typical of many employees: “Almost every job I’ve quit had to do with reasons associated with those who were supposed to manage or lead. I can also say I’ve never felt like I’ve had a great boss. I’ve had mediocre bosses who did not make my life miserable, but I’ve never had a boss who motivated or inspired me to do great things. In short, I’ve never felt truly engaged as an employee.”

Happiness at work

Employees who feel engaged? Just 15% worldwide.

According to Gallup, a research-based, global performance-management consulting company, only 15% of employees worldwide feel engaged at work. Employees in the US are about twice as engaged, landing at 33%.

There are many different definitions of employee engagement, and they all revolve around a common theme: emotional commitment and attachment to one’s workplace and fellow employees. Engaged employees feel a profound connection and commitment to their company; they work with passion, they are loyal, and they are willing to go the extra mile.

Brent Gleeson says engaged employees “enthusiastically invest in their work and take on responsibilities outside of their job description. They are generally more likely to become emerging leaders and will stay with an organization much longer than non-engaged employees.”

disengaged employee67% of Employees Worldwide are Not Engaged and 18% are Actively Disengaged.

If 15% of employees worldwide are engaged, where is the remaining 85%? Almost 70% of employees are considered “not engaged” and 18% fall into the “actively disengaged” category. “Not engaged” employees are the hardest to identify because they are often relatively happy/satisfied in their role. They do the bare minimum and are not invested in their company’s mission, values, vision, or goals. Gleeson describes these team members as both a threat and a great opportunity. With the proper approach, employees who fall under the “not engaged” category could be transformed into engaged employees who thrive in an organization. With the wrong approach, they could become actively disengaged; transforming into negative and toxic employees, spreading toxicity throughout an organization.

Increase numbers of employee engagement

How can the numbers of engaged employees be improved?

Companies need to invest the time and energy into developing and implementing a program to provide managers with the knowledge and tools necessary to increase engagement within their teams. According to Gleeson, 70% of organizations fall significantly short of meeting their company goals when it comes to engagement. This is usually because the process takes longer than mangers, leadership, and organizations expect. Engagement is not something that will happen overnight, and change is hard. Engagement should improve with time and dedication from all levels of an organization.

workplace trust and communicationTrust and Communication.

I believe it is the responsibility of an organization and employer to create a culture and environment committed to employee engagement. If I had to offer one piece of advice to someone wanting to create a culture and environment of engagement, I would say this should be done by establishing trust and communication.

If employees don’t feel like they can sit down with their boss and openly talk about concerns, nothing will change. Leaders should communicate with their team frequently and create a safe and open environment where everyone is comfortable approaching their leaders with any concerns they may have. As I’ve discussed in previous articles, psychological safety is critical to the success of a team and the organization in which teams function.

empathy and listeningEmpathy + Listening.

Leaders should not assume they know what their employees want. In order to fully engage employees, leaders need to ask employees directly and then listen. Feedback from employees can be used by leaders to understand how to best meet their employees’ needs. Empathy helps leaders relate to those they serve – their employees. Sit down and talk with your employees. Listen to what they have to say. When your employees feel like their opinions and efforts matter to you and the organization, they are more likely to be invested in their jobs and the success of the company.

Engagement Quiz

The Engagement Quiz

In their article, Is your team engaged? Here’s a short, easy way to find out, Chester Elton and Adrian Gostick provide the Engagement Quiz. This eight-question quiz helps leaders assess their team’s engagement. Elton and Gostick suggest, “if you are a manager, ask your employees to give their honest feedback about their experience at work. (If they won’t, that should tell you something.) If you are an individual contributor, answer for yourself.”

☐ There are excellent opportunities to grow or learn new things around here.

☐ My leader regularly talks to us about our futures/career progression in positive ways.

☐ We are regularly recognized for our good work.

☐ My boss understands what drives me and gives me assignments I find motivating.

☐ We feel well-informed about organizational changes.

☐ We are free to speak up and give feedback without fear of reprisal.

☐ We feel our efforts make a difference every day.

☐ We understand the bigger mission and values of our organization.

Connecting the Dots

Connecting the Dots.

Employee engagement is low worldwide, and people don’t quit their jobs, they quit their bosses. The first step to increasing employee engagement is through empathy and open, honest, genuine/authentic communication. Employees should feel comfortable and safe approaching their leaders with concerns.

Ask your team some questions from the Engagement Quiz, and see what types of responses you receive. If you still aren’t sure where to begin, start by treating your colleagues well. Listen to them and give them room to grow. Treating your employees like human beings rather than production machines will begin to change their perceptions of you as a leader and of the organization as a whole.

Thank you for taking the time to read my post! If you’re looking for ways to increase your organization’s level of employee engagement, please review my services here and contact me here.

This was originally posted on LinkedIn on October 31st, 2017. See the full post here.

4 Reasons Why You Should Express Gratitude Both In & Out of the Workplace

Exploring world with gratitude

You might be wondering, “Why, should I express gratitude in the workplace?” It could be difficult, especially if you do not feel appreciated by your manager, coworkers, or company as a whole. However, there are four significant benefits of expressing gratitude both in and out of the workplace.

Gratitude builds resilienceBenefit #1: Gratitude improves your well-being and resilience.

Researchers reviewed 139 studies on gratitude and well-being. The research reviewed indicates expressing gratitude improves both physical and psychological health. Researchers describe gratitude as a part of a wider life orientation toward noticing and appreciating the positive in the world, and this orientation is different from optimism, hope, and trust. These same researchers define well-being through psychopathology, general emotional functioning, existential functioning, and humanistic conceptions.

happiness and wellbeing


A study published in the Journal of Research in Personality revealed those who express gratitude are more resilient. Increased resilience helps individuals better manage stress and experience fewer negative or toxic emotions.

According to a study published in the Clinical Psychology Review, high levels of gratitude and thankfulness were inversely correlated to depression, generalized anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), phobias, nicotine dependence, alcohol dependence, drug abuse or dependence, and bulimia nervosa. Thus, as gratitude and thankfulness increase, the risk of the psychopathological conditions described above decrease.

high level of positive emotionsEmotional Functioning

High emotional functioning is comprised of three things: high levels of positive emotions, low levels of negative emotions, and high satisfaction with life. Gratitude appears related to mood and life satisfaction; as gratitude expression increases, so does mood and life satisfaction.

Existential Functioning and Humanistic Conceptions

Expression of gratitude may increase an individual’s feelings of personal freedom and free will, and is related to the pursuit of meaning and purpose (existentialism). Expressing gratitude may increase our feelings of personal freedom, free will, meaning, and purpose, which may then increase our resilience to psychopathologies (such as depression) later in life.  Expressing gratitude may also increase authentic living (behaving in a way consistent with one’s own personal beliefs and values) and decrease self-alienation (lacking a sense of identity or not knowing oneself). These are considered humanistic conceptions.

gratitude improves health

Benefit #2: Gratitude improves your health.

Research revealed gratitude leads to decreasing levels of stress over time. Stress is considered a major contributor to almost all physical health complaints. If stress can be decreased through the expression of gratitude, physical health may improve as well.

Gratitude may also improve your health by improving your sleep. According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, sleep deficiency can raise your risk for chronic health problems and affect how well you think, react, work, learn, and get along with others. Researchers describe how gratitude was related to total sleep quality, sleep duration (both too little and too much), sleep latency (abnormally long time taken to fall asleep), sleep quality, and daytime dysfunction (due to insufficient sleep). In each case, gratitude was related to sleep through the mechanism of pre-sleep cognitions. Negative thoughts prior to sleep are related to impaired sleep. On the other hand, positive pre-sleep thoughts are related to improved sleep quality and quantity. People expressing gratitude experienced less sleep harming negative thoughts, and more sleep promoting positive cognitions, resulting in better overall sleep.

positive relationships with others3. Gratitude improves your relationships with others.

Results of several scientific studies describe how gratitude appears related to a range of social outcomes and positive relationships. Researchers reviewed many studies and found gratitude is related to: perceived quality of relationships, willingness to forgive, and low narcissism. Expression of gratitude promotes relationship formation, and strengthens established relationships through connection and satisfaction. Gratitude may also promote helping behavior and conflict resolution. According to a 2012 study conducted by the University of Kentucky, individuals who show gratitude experience less aggression, a decreased desire to seek revenge, and an increase in sensitivity and empathy toward other people. This may help promote psychological safety

ripple effect

Benefit # 4: Gratitude has a ripple effect.

Researchers from Princeton University showed how cooperative and altruistic behavior can spread from one person to another. Expressing gratitude may inspire other people to do the same. If you find yourself in a workplace lacking gratitude, consciously expressing gratitude may result in increased gratitude by your team members, and possibly even your organization as a whole.

Connecting the dots.

Although you may feel like you have little to be grateful for, especially in the workplace, consciously working to express gratitude will have long-term positive effects on your health, well-being, and relationships. While consciously and intentionally expressing gratitude might change your outlook for the better, it will likely overflow to those around you as well.

How can you begin practicing gratitude?

  1. Make yourself a promise. According to Robert Emmons, a leading scientific expert in gratitude, research shows making a promise or vow to perform a behavior increases the likelihood the action will be performed. Write your own gratitude vow and post it somewhere where you will be reminded of it every day.
  2. Say “thank you” more often. Be specific, tailor your thank-you, and be consistent. Read more here.
  3. Keep a gratitude list or journal. Taking the time to write down what you are grateful for can help reinforce positive thoughts. This may counter the brain’s natural tendency to focus on what goes wrong. In the journal article Bad is Stronger than Good, researchers describe why the brain tends to focus more on the negative than the positive.
  4. Remember the challenging times. According to Emmons, it is helpful to remember the hard times you once experienced so you may be grateful in your current state. Remembering the difficult times compared to where you are presently helps create a contrast. “This contrast is fertile ground for gratefulness.”

Interested in learning more? Check out my article 3 Ways Gratitude Promotes a Culture of Engagement in the Workplace. I describe the ways gratitude may promote a culture of engagement in the workplace and I give three tips on how to show genuine gratitude in the workplace.

Thank you for taking the time to read my post! If you’re looking for ways to increase your personal expression of gratitude, or the expression of gratitude in your workplace, please review my services here and contact me here.

This was originally posted on LinkedIn on October 19th, 2017. See the full post here.

3 Ways Gratitude Promotes a Culture of Engagement in the Workplace

Thumbs up - gratitude

Have you ever worked a job where you rarely, if ever, felt appreciated or were personally thanked for the work you performed? Unfortunately, you are probably not alone. Expression of gratitude in the workplace has many benefits.

Thanking the people we work with is something we all can do, whether you have a boss or are the boss. Expressing gratitude and appreciation is free, does not require a significant time investment, and the many benefits of gratitude are backed up by scientific research.

What is gratitude? Gratitude is the quality of being thankful. Gratitude involves having appreciation for what an individual receives, whether it is tangible or intangible. Researchers describe gratitude as “an emotional response to a gift. It is the appreciation felt after one has been the beneficiary of an altruistic act.”

In the workplace, leaders might send a message of, “you should be grateful you have this job!” instead of, “I am grateful for your hard work.” This message is not typically received well by employees, who, instead of feeling grateful for having a job, think their boss should be grateful they are willing to come to work in the first place.

Both parties tend to think about how unappreciated they are, which leads to neither the boss nor the employee wanting to express a little gratitude first.

According to a survey conducted by the John Templeton Foundation, work is the last place Americans are likely to express or feel gratitude. When survey respondents were asked how grateful they were for a variety of things, “your current job” tended to rank dead last. 70% of respondents would feel better about themselves if their boss were more grateful and 81% said they would work harder. Even though employees are eager to have a boss who expresses gratitude to them, 74% never or rarely express gratitude to their bosses. Both parties tend to think about how unappreciated they are, which leads to neither the boss nor the employee wanting to express a little gratitude first.

If leaders want to improve workplace engagement, their first step should be expressing genuine gratitude toward their employees. Why?

Below, I describe three reasons leaders should take the first step in implementing gratitude as a part of organizational culture.

increase productivityGratitude increases productivity.

Researchers examined how gratitude in the workplace affects productivity. The study, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, described how employees working as university fundraisers were used to explore how perceptions about our feelings of being valued at work (in this case, by managers) impacts behavior on the job. Why fundraisers? Fundraising is often considered a thankless job, which may trigger rude feedback and regular rejections. The control group of fundraisers did not receive any intervention. They showed up to work and began making fundraising phone calls.

The experimental group received a “thank you” from a director of annual giving before heading to work. This experiment showed when managers expressed appreciation for the employees’ work, productivity went up significantly. The group of fundraisers who received the pre-work “thank you” made 50% more fundraising calls than their peers who were not thanked.

happy at work

Gratitude increases job satisfaction.

A study from the University of Melbourne in Australia found gratitude was linked to job satisfaction. When employees feel appreciated, they may begin to show/feel appreciation for what they have (their job, etc.), and they are more likely to be happy and feel satisfied with their jobs. The study suggests organizations aiming to increase job satisfaction among employees can do so by incorporating gratitude into workplace culture.

psychologically safe at workGratitude may increase feelings of psychological safety.

The Harvard Business Review described a massive two-year study by Google. The results of the study linked psychological safety to high team performance. What is psychological safety? Believing one won’t be punished when one makes a mistake; feeling safe to take risks and be vulnerable in front of team members. How is psychological safety related to gratitude? A study in the Journal of Research in Personality revealed those who experience gratitude are more resilient. Increased resilience helps individuals better manage stress and experience fewer negative or toxic emotions like resentment and envy. According to a 2012 study conducted by the University of Kentucky, individuals who show gratitude experience less aggression, a decreased desire to seek revenge, and an increase in sensitivity and empathy toward other people.

connecting the dots1

Connecting the Dots

If workplace culture is to change, buy-in and modeling from leadership is a must. Employees will look to their superiors first. Feeling appreciated by those in leadership positions will help create a culture of thankfulness at all levels. Lack of appreciation from the top trickles down, and is revealed in different ways (e.g. lack of appreciation of coworkers, decrease in workplace morale, and higher staff turnover).

Gratitude is a basic building block for engagement from all parties in an organization, and it can be easily integrated into workplace culture. Gratitude is something we can all express. From a leadership or management perspective, gratitude does not cost anything than maybe a few seconds of your time, and it can help improve workplace happiness, morale, and engagement.

How can you begin to improve workplace engagement with gratitude? A simple, genuine thank-you is a great place to start.

  • Be specific. An organization might provide generic and impersonal “thank yous” (e.g. a mug, given to everyone during the holidays, with “thank you” printed on the side) which do not come off as heartfelt. When thanking someone, be specific. “Thanks for your help,” feels less genuine than, “Emily, thank you for your help on the design project this weekend.”
  • Tailor your thank you to the person. Some people do not like public recognition – in these cases, an email or handwritten note to show your appreciation may be enough. Others may want more public recognition, such as a thank you during a meeting.
  • Be consistent. Consistently thanking and appreciating people for the work they do will help build positive relationships, and make them feel valued. Your employees will become more engaged, which will build trust and appreciation into your workplace culture, making you a more effective leader.

Thank you for taking the time to read my post! If you’re looking for ways to increase your personal expression of gratitude, or the expression of gratitude in your workplace, review my services here and contact me here.

This was originally posted on LinkedIn on October 11th, 2017. See the full post here.