An organization can be considered toxic if it is ineffective as well as destructive to its employees. This means detrimental to the business bottom line as well as overall well-being.

Toxicity can manifest in employees as well as leaders. Regardless of the source, it’s really up to the top rank to nip it in the bud and avoid any further issues of disengagement, attrition – or worse, legal trouble.

What does a toxic workplace look like?
1. Staff don’t feel valued, protected, or treated with respect and dignity

  1. Rampant discrimination and harassment
  2. Leaders using bullying and public humiliation as management tools
  3. Highly secretive and mistrustful leaders, resulting in an “us versus them” dynamic
  4. A culture of overwork that’s “very isolating”, “where people barely talk to each other”

The adversarial culture of the workplace, failures in management and People & Organisational Development (OD) functioning, and pressures related to workload are the most significant contributors to current well-being challenges.

Toxic culture in the digital age

An internal survey conducted in 2018 found Google employees saying that the level of respect in company-wide discussions had declined and that incivility on internal communication platforms was on the rise.

For Google, the toxicity was bred through internal employee mailing lists and messaging platforms that were hotbeds for harassment, particularly in discussions about diversity in the tech industry.

But there were also reported cases of doxing, a form of online bullying where perpetrators anonymously distribute the victim’s personal information, such as contact details and home address, across the internet to embarrass or invite others to harass the victim.

Is your workplace toxic?
A recent study by Paychex discovered that as an organisation grows, it becomes more susceptible to toxic behaviour. At crucial growth stages, leaders should thus consider keeping a closer ear to the ground.

The study found that companies with 500 or more employees have:

  • 70.8% likelihood of having staff spread gossip about each other
  • 70.3% likelihood of having poor communication between departments and workers
  • 70% likelihood of employees feeling overworked

One possible explanation for this trend is that as the number of employees increases, the more likely it is for different personalities to clash, the study noted.

Additionally, it found that companies often lose track of their foundational values faster as the business expands.

Leaders in larger organisations are also more prone to toxic behaviours. Companies with 100 or more employees have:

  • 57.9% likelihood of executives showing poor leadership skills
  • 52.6% likelihood of managers setting unrealistic expectations
  • 51.1% likelihood of leaders micromanaging their workers

How to combat toxic workplace culture
To combat toxicity, two industry experts suggested that leaders stay acutely aware of the work environment and take better control of the situation.

Once you identify the major problems by gathering information, develop a plan and follow through. It may mean training, moving or simply getting rid of bad bosses who are the root cause of toxicity in the workplace.

Show employees you care and are committed to improving their workplace environment. Your employees can be your greatest asset, but it all depends on how you treat them.

The day-to-day running of businesses is hard today. Everyone’s putting out fires all the time. But you need to step back and say, ‘okay why are we doing this? We need to set a priority for our business’. You need to make culture a priority.

Companies when asked about how they would have done things differently, most say they would have dealt with culture at the start and set a culture code when they were employee number 20, instead of when the company is at a headcount far larger.

For further advice & support contact EAP Assist.