Don’t Let a Toxic Workplace Spread Into Turnover

The saying “people join companies but leave managers” has many applications and often rings true. Toxic managers destroy morale, performance and retention.

A toxic worksite refers to a workplace environment where there is a negative or hostile organizational culture fueled by disrespect, mistrust, discrimination, harassment, bullying, and other unethical behaviors.

This leads to high levels of stress, anxiety, depression, burnout, and low morale among employees.

Common signs of a toxic worksite include high turnover rates, frequent employee complaints, lack of collaboration, poor communication, micromanagement, and no work-life balance. The toxicity permeates relationships and corrodes the structures and processes that are meant to support a functional, productive workplace. Ultimately, a toxic worksite creates psychological and emotional damage for employees, hurting their well-being and negatively impacting their ability to thrive in their roles. Transforming a toxic worksite requires rebuilding trust, accountability, empathy and installing proper policies and procedures to foster a healthy, ethical and caring organizational culture.

Warning signs of a toxic workplace culture include:

  • Bullying, threats, intimidation or belittling
  • Favoritism and bias in decisions
  • Harassment or discrimination without consequences
  • Resistance to diverse perspectives and collaboration
  • Self-serving leaders taking credit for team wins
  • Obsession with rigid hierarchy and controlling information 
  • Lack of work-life balance or accommodation
  • Discouraging dissenting opinions and concerns

Drawing from our combined expertise in organizational culture, we can tell you that a toxic workplace is one marked by abusive behaviors that degrade employees, destroy morale, and breed distrust. This can happen from any level.  Management can be toxic, but more often we see staff and line employees who create a toxic atmosphere for others.  Of course, this often stems from poor management that allows the grip of toxicity to take hold.  Once rooted, toxicity spreads quickly.

Prevention starts with modeling respectful behavior from the top-down. Leaders must nurture psychological safety by inviting input, acting with integrity, and caring for employees as humans beyond roles. Hiring managers should assess values alignment, not just skills. Formal training builds empathy and emotional intelligence at all levels.

Managers need to practice consistent and effective coaching and progressive discipline. 

Don’t allow the little things to slip by you without confronting them.  An employee’s poor attitude, disrespect, or rudeness to others is never ok to ignore.  Not even once. 

It shows other employees that it is not important to you.  Use good HR techniques for corrective action and coach bad attitudes up… or out.

Reversing entrenched toxicity requires systemic change, not quick fixes. Based on established best practices, crucial steps include:

Bringing in independent human resource consultants can help to surface the true culture versus stated values. Surveys, focus groups, and interviews collect unbiased data.

Creating psychological safety for those reporting issues. Protect them from retaliation and ensure anonymity if desired.

Imposing consequences for inappropriate conduct, especially involving those in power. Failure to act signals acceptance.

Establishing clear, enforced policies on expected behaviors and reporting channels. No room for gray areas.

Increasing transparency around decisions, finances, and metrics to rebuild lost trust.

Providing mentors and peer support systems for victims of past toxic behaviors.

Seeking input at all levels on desired culture changes. People support what they help build.

Corporate culture reflects leadership priorities. Nurturing an ethical, inclusive workplace requires constant modeling of desired behaviors. But bringing light into dark places lays the foundation for positive change.

Left unchecked, toxic culture permeates the entire company. Employees under toxic management will leave at the first opportunity, increasing turnover. A healthy culture supports diversity, inclusion, growth, work-life balance and mutual respect.

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