HR Strategy

HR pros can train managers to combat workplace toxicity

Remember when Glenn Sturgis from ‘Superstore’ tried to address toxicity in the workplace—and made it worse? Experts offer HR pros strategies to help managers avoid a similar fate.
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Superstore/NBC via Giphy

· 3 min read

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You may know The Office’s Michael Scott, but do you know Superstore’s Glenn Sturgis? Both are equally comical managers in a workplace TV series who find themselves in precarious situations with coworkers.

NBC’s Superstore is set in a megastore where Sturgis is the general manager. In season four, when two of his employees have a public breakup, he gathers his team in the breakroom for a toxic workplace meeting that goes off the rails and, ultimately, creates a more toxic situation.

During times like these, HR pros can step in to train team leaders to address (and even avoid) toxicity in the workplace.

Train role models. J. Cole had “No Role Modelz,” but that doesn’t mean managers have to follow suit, especially with HR’s help.

“Toxic bosses are going to model toxic behavior, which then is picked up by their team members and their employees,” said Leslie Hammer, a professor at Oregon Health & Science University and codirector of the Oregon Healthy Workforce Center.

Hammer told HR Brew that it’s important for HR pros to teach managers that modeling “appropriate, caring behavior” can lead to positive employee behavior and a supportive workplace environment.

Supervisors shouldn’t turn a blind eye to employees, she said. Start with simple tactics, like checking in with employees, developing a rapport, and creating an environment of psychological safety.

Provide emotional support. HR pros can teach managers to discuss mental health with and provide emotional support to employees. This includes, “knowing your team members, recognizing if somebody maybe isn’t doing well, or if somebody seems to have an off day and off week,” Hammer said.

“That helps to reduce some of the [mental health] stigma in the team,” she said.

Find your champions. HR teams can encourage managers to lean on each other for guidance and peer support.

“Identify a champion who’s excellent in providing emotional support, a champion who’s excellent in role modeling, and that champion can then model for other managers and supervisors,” Hammer said.

In Hammer’s latest research on workplace mental health training for managers, she said she’s found that “when we train the managers on [these] strategies, we actually see reduced levels of anger in their team members and their employees.”

“[Training] really does help improve and reduce the toxic environment of the team members,” she said.

If your real-life Glenn needs managerial help, get them trained to avoid a Superstore-like toxicity training IRL.

Quick-to-read HR news & insights

Our HR newsletter delivers need-to-know industry news and insights to HR pros every weekday for free.