"Experience Investigators" crane logo
Eager to get started? Call us at 312-676-1315.

Contamination Alert! How to Purify a Toxic Workplace Culture

(A Best of 360Connext post)

Ever walk in on a couple who is in the middle of a fight? It’s human to want to back away slowly, hoping they don’t see you. It’s awkward and uncomfortable. We don’t like it.

Organizational culture can reveal itself to customers in the same awkward and uncomfortable way. If your culture is toxic, that toxicity permeates through to every interaction a customer may have. If your culture is toxic, that toxicity permeates through to every interaction a customer may have.

If your culture is toxic, that toxicity permeates through to every interaction a customer may have.'Click To Tweet

Do you think your culture might be toxic?

Toxic workplace culture

Here are a few warning signs:

  • Just before answering a customer call, the rep may be commiserating with a peer, complaining of work conditions or grumpy bosses. He or she then tries to turn on the charm like flipping a switch, often coming across as insincere or distracted to the customer.
  • When leadership provides updates to the team, they share knowing glances and an attitude of “oh this again.” They know nothing will change and refuse to be inspired.
  • Human resources, now inundated with complaints and issues, doesn’t see things changing, either. They start advising people to move around within the organization instead of solving the problem where they are.
  • Product development teams have ideas backlogged for months at a time. They have permission to create ideas, but are not empowered to execute on them.

Sound familiar?


Nobody likes to work in a place like this. That’s why it’s crucial to be an enlightened leader and assess the situation realistically. Here are a few ideas for how to address a toxic workplace culture, or even help prevent the disease from spreading!

1. Ask for feedback.

Share it openly. Keep asking and share both the raw feedback AND what’s being done about it. Show your teams that they are heard and action is being taken, even if the action is “we can’t do that because…”

2. Bring your entire team on stage.

If the C-Suite is the only group getting recognition or sharing ideas, it’s easy to feel unheard and unimportant. Ask your superstars to share what they are hearing from customers. Invite your customer service reps to a commercial shoot. Help those who work very hard each day feel like they are part of the bigger team.

3. Answer questions publicly.

Don’t hide behind press releases or edited newsletters. Derrick Hall, CEO of the Arizona Diamondbacks, hosts a monthly chat with employees and fans. Anything goes! Recently, they stared sharing this chat on Periscope so more people could be included.

4. Invite customers into the process!

It doesn’t have to be formal every time. If your next customer advisory board session or focus group isn’t scheduled for months and you feel out of touch, invite a few customers in to see what’s next or try out a new idea. Staying close to customers is a key part of success.

5. Celebrate the successes.

In any extraordinary culture, you see this pattern repeated again and again. Zappos is known for having in-office parades. Rackspace rewards great customer service reps with a straight jacket to recognize their fanatical customer support. Find ways to celebrate. Catch your people doing right!

Toxic cultures are not successful cultures.

They kill ideas and innovation. They prevent people from doing their best. They protect bad leadership. Take a look around. How toxic is your culture? Is it slipping? Start the toxic cleanup today.

About Jeannie Walters, CCXP, CSP

Jeannie Walters CCXP CSP small square photoJeannie is an award-winning customer experience expert, international keynote speaker, and sought-after business coach who is trailblazing the movement from “Reactive Customer Service” to “Proactive Customer and Employee Experience.” More than 500,000 people have learned from her CX courses on LinkedIn Learning, and her insights have been featured in Forbes, The Chicago Tribune, The Wall Street Journal and NPR

Get Jeannie’s insights in your inbox each week by subscribing to The Weekly Win and follow her on LinkedIn, Instagram and YouTube.

Insights in Your Inbox

Subscribe to The Weekly Win and join thousands in our community receiving insider perspective from our Founder and Chief Experience Investigator, Jeannie Walters, CCXP.