Toxic Workplaces

May 3, 2018

If your workplace is toxic, can you change it? In this episode of HBR’s advice podcast, Dear HBR:, cohosts Alison Beard and Dan McGinn answer your questions with the help of Nicholas Pearce, an associate professor at Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. They talk through how to transform a toxic culture, whether you’re a junior employee, a manager, or in charge.

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Listen to more episodes and find out how to subscribe on the Dear HBR: page. Send in your questions about workplace dilemmas by emailing Dan and Alison at

From Alison and Dan’s reading list for this episode:

HBR: Recognizing Employees Is the Simplest Way to Improve Morale by David Novak — “One question I loved to ask is, ‘What would you do if you had my job?’ Maybe the response will be a useful suggestion, in which case you should acknowledge it and implement it if possible, to prove that these conversations aren’t just for show. Even if you don’t get any great ideas, such discussions can still have a huge impact, as long as your staff sees that you really thought about their suggestions.”

HBR: Changing Company Culture Requires a Movement, Not a Mandate by Bryan Walker and Sarah A. Soule — “The dominant culture and structure of today’s organizations are perfectly designed to produce their current behaviors and outcomes, regardless of whether those outcomes are the ones you want. If your hope is for individuals to act differently, it helps to change their surrounding conditions to be more supportive of the new behaviors, particularly when they are antithetical to the dominant culture.”

HBR: Manage Your Emotional Culture by Sigal Barsade and Olivia A. O’Neill — “In our interviews with executives and employees, some people have told us that their organizations lack emotion altogether. But every organization has an emotional culture, even if it’s one of suppression. By not only allowing emotions into the workplace, but also understanding and consciously shaping them, leaders can better motivate their employees.”

HBR: The Leader’s Guide to Corporate Culture by Boris Groysberg, Jeremiah Lee, Jesse Price, and J. Yo-Jud Cheng — “Much like defining a new strategy, creating a new culture should begin with an analysis of the current one, using a framework that can be openly discussed throughout the organization. Leaders must understand what outcomes the culture produces and how it does or doesn’t align with current and anticipated market and business conditions.”


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