Use Stay Interviews to Fix Your Toxic Culture

BY Kathy Crosett
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Have you ever worked for a manager who pitted employees against each other by assigning the same project to both of them? The manager usually goes on to declare a winner and gives the winner a raise or a bonus. This kind of activity does not foster healthy competition. Instead, this behavior is a sign of a toxic work environment. In a recent Inc. column, Marcel Schwantes uses expertise from Ray Williams to identify and discuss ways to fix bad management practices.

Besides forcing employees to compete with each other, managers may show little concern for the work-​life balance of their team members. In organizations of all sizes, especially during recessionary times, managers may turn their attention to the bottom line. When they forget to treat employees as valued members of the team, they risk losing them. To avoid that fate, roll out strategies suggested by Williams.


If you’re not sure how employees perceive your organization’s culture, find out by conducting a survey. Remember that employees might not be forthcoming about what they see as organizational or managerial problems, as they might fear backlash. You may be able to get at the truth by hiring an outside agency or consultant to help with the process of conducting a survey that should be kept off your company’s internal document system.


Once you have honest feedback, take concrete steps. Acknowledge in company-​wide meetings and communications that you’re concerned about culture and that you plan to take concrete steps to improve the atmosphere now that you’ve identified specific problems. Show team members that you mean what you say by scheduling coaching for everyone who works in a supervisory capacity. You may even need to terminate an employee who refuses to change behavior that involves disrespecting employees. That type of action reinforces your commitment to a new culture.

Stay Interviews

You can also show your commitment to a new culture by establishing stay interviews. Exit interviews are a well-​established corporate strategy to review the reasons an employee has decided to leave an organization. If you want employees to stay, have your managers, or your human resources folks, set up regular discussions designed to help team members identify what is troubling them about the organization. Use this information to make visible changes to your cultural problems and you’ll find employees sticking around for the long term.