Managing Wellness

How Ethical Leadership Can Prevent Toxic Environments at Your Workplace

  • Toxic workplaces can cause issues in productivity, retention and performance
  • Managers can eliminate problems that lead to office toxicity with ethical leadership
  • Ethical leaders manage with sensitivity, a superior moral compass, and instill core values
Posted by December 24, 2019

Backstabbing, gossiping and the undermining of peers—all the making of a toxic workplace culture. No one wants to be employed at a place where things like this happen. With the right ethical leadership, you can keep this hostile atmosphere out of your workplace.

In fact, research has shown that managers who demonstrate two-way communication, positive reinforcement and emotional support can prevent a toxic office culture from developing, all while saving employees from the stress that such environments create.

What Is Ethical Leadership?

According to a study by the Institute of Leadership & Management, 63% of managers say they’ve been asked to do something contrary to their own ethical code. Though it isn’t always easy, being an ethical leader means leading with moral principles, while also being sensitive to how different employees handle conflict.

It’s a little bit of meeting in the middle, and a whole lot of setting the bar. Ethical leaders demonstrate appropriate work conduct through their personal actions and engage employees by discussing work-related worries and emotions. Additionally, ethical leaders help employees respond positively to negative situations and offer resources that prevent toxic cultures from bubbling up.

Ethical considerations include diversity, pay equity, transparency, social responsibility, sustainability, inclusion—the list goes on and on. By practicing a brand of sensitive management where supervisors lead by superior moral example, it can prevent a culture of toxic behavior from ever forming in your workplace.

Spotting Toxic Culture

Toxic workplace culture often stems from unclear policies. If a rule, job description, assignment or company-wide process can be easily called into question, it can ultimately be responsible for producing conflict. The more clear these things are, the less chance there is of developing a toxic culture from their resulting employee conflicts.

Taking fuzzy language, unclear policies and vague principles and clarifying them is one of the best ways to both spot and prevent a toxic workplace culture. Processes that usually need clarifying include performance evaluations, raises, promotions, work schedules and employee recognition efforts.

What’s more, ethical leadership doesn’t just help your business avoid poor decision-making or scandals, it can also inspire employee productivity. And it can have positive effects on employee retention.

How to Implement a High Standard of Ethics

Employers who want to implement a culture of ethical leadership at their office can start by clearly defining their company’s core values and ethics. Next, develop a comprehensive code of conduct.

Look over your procedures and processes for any vague or subjective language. Can anything be misinterpreted? Employees should know exactly what their job description says, so they can ensure they’re doing what is required of them. Without this clarity, acts of recognition can seem random and rooted in favoritism.

Ambiguous language like, “Be a team player,” or, “Go the extra mile,” isn’t specific enough. Start with a list of primary tasks and the standards for how each task is evaluated. Embed ethical integrity into goals, performance evaluations and daily expectations. Focusing on workplace ethics can help your company retain top talent and should be a part of the hiring process, too—from recruiting and interviewing to onboarding.

Lead by example to create an honest work environment and reward employees for doing the same. Make it clear to them that you value ethics by holding training on ethical workplace behavior. From time to time, it’s good to reevaluate how you handle ethical dilemmas and modify procedures and platforms. But make sure you involve employees in the discussions.

Leading by example can make your office a better place to work. Just by following these leadership practices, employers can positively affect retention and performance while also promoting a culture that’s free of toxicity.

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