Exceptional workplace culture requires the presence of six key ingredients within an organisation.

In Workology Co’s white paper, we established those 6 key ingredients are:

When inappropriate behaviours occur within an organisation, there’s a misalignment between the organisation’s stated values, and how people actually behave.

Unchecked and continual misbehaviours also erode trust, which in turn precludes a sense of psychological safety.

Take away these two key ingredients and what do we have?


Not an exceptional culture, that’s for sure. Probably not a great, or even a good culture, either.

Let’s take a look at how and why.

The many faces of poor behaviour

What is this beast I call ‘inappropriate workplace behaviours’ (IWB)?

Bullying, sexual harassment and discrimination are three examples of inappropriate, nay, illegal workplace behaviours.

Back when I first started lawyering (when we relied on carrier pigeons to send messages), smoking was not yet illegal. On any given day, I could have walked into the staff lunchroom and been greeted by a thick cloud of cigarette smoke.

Nowadays, absolutely everyone, including smokers, knows that this can never happen in the workplace aside from a designated smoking spot hidden somewhere outside.

Not everyone is happy about this, but everyone accepts this is the law and complies accordingly.

Bullying, sexual harassment and discrimination are sadly not yet in the same accepted-without-question category.

Most organisations and the vast majority of leaders within those organisations understand on some level these types of inappropriate behaviours shouldn’t be happening.

However, there are always examples of  people like my relative, a business owner in the construction industry, who recently rang me to ask if he had done anything wrong in telling a female worker she looked fat in her work pants.

Spoiler alert: Yes. There absolutely b*#$@y is. Which he seemed to understand once I asked him ‘How would you feel if someone said this to one of your grand-daughters?’

Other versions of the story might include the ‘But no-one’s complained, so we don’t have to worry about it’ line or one of my personal favourites, ‘It’s all ok, that’s just the way it is in our industry’.

Spoiler alert again: it’s only ‘OK’ till someone complains. We’re talking a ticking timebomb. One it goes off, and it will, sit back and watch the proverbial hit the fan.

This blog is not the type of blog where I set out what the legal and financial implications might be for allowing/not dealing with inappropriate behaviours in your organisation. Or what the ‘vicarious responsibility’ is for those in the biz.

If you are after that kind of information, here is a helpful article.

Because even ex-lawyers like to share ‘war stories’

Instead, let me share a story with you from a recent bullying investigation Workology Co conducted for a client.

The investigation commenced when one person, let’s call him Jim (all names have been changed to protect the guilty), complained his manager, Jane, and most of the rest of their team had been systematically bullying him for years.

Allegations included:

  • Jane excluded Jim from team meetings and events
  • Jane continually rostered Jim on to perform duties others refused to perform (when the tasks where a shared responsibility. Or should have been)
  • Jane colluded with Jim’s teammates against Jim AND
  • Jane did not follow up on complaints of physical and verbal abuse Jim made against team members.

Jim’s complaint corresponded with counter-complaints made by Jane and several of his teammates, allegedly Jim misbehaved by:

  • Continually telling his co-workers how to do their jobs and interfering in the way they performed their duties
  • Being consistently negative and demeaning towards his colleagues
  • Disregarding authority, in particular ignoring Jane’s directions AND
  • Acting in a deliberately provocative way to cause team members to retaliate.

Both Jim’s allegations and those of his colleagues, included historical allegations that had never properly been dealt with. Some of those incidents were a decade or more old – talk about trouble brewing.

Our investigation took several weeks to conclude; and unsurprisingly we discovered there were many, many elements that had contributed to the unfortunate current circumstances.

Contributing factors included:

  • Jane and Jim had been peers before Jane’s promotion to team manager
  • Jane had not received training when appointed to team manager, and was prone to showing favouritism to members of the team whom she had been friends with prior to her promotion
  • Jim had a history of poor behaviour that had not been dealt with adequately as Jane was intimidated by Jim; after every unchecked instance of poor behaviour, his misbehaviour had escalated
  • No efforts had been made to address the broader conflict within the team when it first became evident, which allowed the tension to fester and evolve into competing silos or camps.
  • There had been no training within the organisation as to what was accepted standards of behaviour; upper management had generally been inconsistent in dealing with employee misconduct.

Lessons learned

Over two decades of experience has consistently shown me that the longer issues and conflict are left alone to fester, the bigger and more widespread the issues become; the more people that are affected, the greater the impact – and ultimately, the harder the issues are to resolve.

Sadly, in most instances the only way an entrenched situation like this will be resolved, is if one or more of the toxic team members exit the organisation.

Another effect of a scenario like this, is what I call the whirlpool effect. Or to bring us back to 2020 – COVID19 super spreaders.

The toxic behaviour of one department, if left unchecked for too long, will start to spread to other units within the organisation.

This is when your organisational culture is really at risk.

The infographic below illustrates some of the negative impacts of organisational wide toxic and dysfunctional behaviour:

Now that I have spread my message of doom and gloom, I’m guessing you are wondering what you should do to prevent the virus like spread of IWB in your business.

The short answer is: Be alert AND act sooner rather than later.

For the more detailed answer, watch out for our next blog. Or reach out via alison@workologyco.com.au or call 0400 019 599.