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Toxic Culture - is it a Millennial thing?

Hascombes Business Consultants Insights

Language in the modern era of society and work is changing. We hear phrases and words like snowflake, millennial, woke (I am still not entirely sure what this means), hot-desking, biophilia, the list goes on and on. It is quite common for folk to jump on the trendy bandwagon and spray these words around when describing the positive and negative aspects of work. In this era of new commercial self-consciousness, workers are more likely to express their critical thoughts on the establishment now too – taking aim at its culture.

Nobody can claim the idea of workplace culture being a new phenomenon. Organisations, groups, religions, families, even whole societies have been corralled and engineered into cultural systems in one way or another, for millennia. But what of this ‘toxic culture’ we hear and read about? Is it another modernist term for the afflicted to use to describe their torment of being forced into what for most people might be a completely normal and acceptable working practice? Or is there more to it?

The terms itself refers to the damaging affect of behaviour or practises on people or the business integrity. There are plenty of other descriptions but this sums it up, sufficiently.

This is of course not a new problem nor is it a new term in its own right, but it is a term that is being used often to describe some result of behaviours and practices of our workplaces. The link to poor mental health and wellbeing at work due to poor leadership and toxic cultures is established and irrefutable. We do however face a problem that mainly due to ignorance or failure to accept one’s own responsibility regarding this issue, problems such as poor mental health are being seen as the new millennial sickness, or as I often hear; ‘the new bad back’.

In a perverse way, the more we raise the profile of problems or awareness of things, the more desensitised we become to it. Our minds and thoughts move on to other things and occasionally those who are not willing to let go of what could be (and often is) a tangible problem, can be viewed as fundamentalists or preaching.

The truth about toxic cultures is that they are more prevalent than we expect. Bullying and harassment in the workplace continues so too does the burdening of people with too much work – just two common problems that have a great and lasting impact on those suffering from them. Take a look at some of the latest research from the CIPD and you will see these problems are not going away.

It’s not easy to admit our workplaces are causing others harm but we cannot ignore it. People are crying out for positive intervention at work, yet, unless businesses are prepared to foster cultures of respect, value of others, caring and nurturing, we will continue to see the results of this poison on our colleagues, family and friends. The positive news is that these are human-made problems that can be resolved by human intervention. It doesn’t need to cost a great deal of money or require huge resource, and the benefits reach further than the individual.

Business should therefore be aware of the ramifications of ‘toxic cultures’ and see them not as a hollow expressive term used by millennials, but something that can and does affect everybody regardless of their age, race, gender or position within a company. A challenge that can be overcome.

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