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Toxic workplaces can transform if leaders follow a formula

By Kace O'Neill | |6 minute read
Toxic Workplaces Can Transform If Leaders Follow A Formula

Toxicity in the workplace is a rampant issue across a number of industries. If leaders adopt a certain science, they can reverse this problem and instead build a supportive work environment.

In work environments, no matter the industry or the business, toxicity can run rife. Toxic workplaces in Australia can be a real issue, where a complete breakdown in the way employers and employees interact can destroy productivity.

Workplace and leadership expert Dr Brenda Jamnik argued that employers who adopt the “science” will be far better placed to build a supportive work environment that prevents problems from happening in the first place.


“COVID-19 totally changed the work dynamic in Australian organisations. Employees like to work, and they like to be in an environment where they enjoy coming to work and doing a good job,” said Jamnik

Working from home has become a contentious discourse throughout workforces and can be a starting point for toxic opinions and conflict between employers and employees. Jamnik said working from home can work for both parties, but only if the arrangement is established fairly.

Jamnik stressed that if employers do not establish that fair arrangement, then bringing employees back to the office would be a fruitless endeavour, especially if employees are unhappy with the process.

Having unhappy employees may not only reduce productivity but also destroy the very corporate culture that can make a company great.

When employees are unhappy, conflict can arise, which, in turn, creates a toxic environment that companies want to avoid. This can be avoided by investing in psychological safety.

Organisations must tackle psychosocial safety by understanding the workplace and setting a culture with genuine preparedness to listen and act on what employees are relaying. This means having those conversations that include things like stress, overload, lack of resources, or even issues like harassment.

Having that understanding and connection with the issues that employees really care about is crucial to setting a positive culture and staying away from that of a toxic workplace environment.

“Having a workplace free from physical, social and psychological hazards increases the ability for the employee to be more productive and achieve better outcomes as they can focus on what needs to be achieved,” said Jamnik.

“The solution isn’t radical. You can measure, through an online survey, the level of happiness of employees and identify what needs to be done to create a happy environment.”

Jamnik gave five ingredients that can create employee happiness in the workplace:

  1. Employees need to be heard. They know that the employer can’t always agree with them or make all that they ask for happen, but they need the employer to listen and hear what they can contribute and what they request.
  2. Trusting employees and allowing them to think about what they need to do and how and to get on with their work with self-determination and without micromanagement; quality and productivity will improve.
  3. Having a leader who recognises that mistakes happen and that they are an opportunity for learning and system improvement, not for blame.
  4. Fostering an adaptive environment where incremental improvement is the norm and innovation is encouraged.
  5. Encouraging collaboration and a mutual understanding of needs, rather than a cookie-cutter approach, to build skill and knowledge development through relationships, information sharing and vicarious learning.



Your organization's culture determines its personality and character. The combination of your formal and informal procedures, attitudes, and beliefs results in the experience that both your workers and consumers have. Company culture is fundamentally the way things are done at work.

Kace O'Neill

Kace O'Neill

Kace O'Neill is a Graduate Journalist for HR Leader. Kace studied Media Communications and Maori studies at the University of Otago, he has a passion for sports and storytelling.