Brexit, poisonous campaigns, and the cultures we create

Poisonous, vitriolic, toxic. All words echoing in our ears around the campaigns to Remain in or Leave the EU later this week. And there’s an analogy here between the tactics we’re seeing in the media every day and the cultures we create for ourselves at work.

When we’re called in by companies after a tribunal case, or when reputational damage has been caused by bullying and harassment, or simply when people have got diversity and inclusion badly wrong, we tackle the presenting issue or behaviours. Of course we do.

Then the real work starts.

The event always tells a story about the culture of the company. It’s not ever only about a bad individual. It comes from somewhere and has been allowed to thrive, like bindweed. Great companies then go on to change the organisational culture so that the bad things are not repeated.

The analogy between the consequences of allowing a cultural and political discourse which demonises – and for stereotypes to thrive – and the terrible murder of Jo Cox is unmistakable. Just as the respective campaigns in the EU referendum have been labelled poisonous, now is a sobering time to reflect on the dangers of toxic cultures at work.

What happened in Doncaster was not only the action of one extremist, nor the result of one referendum. We need to renew our efforts – in companies, communities, schools, and governments – to ensure the politics of hate does not take hold.