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Toxic Water, Toxic Air, Toxic Culture - Everywhere?

Toxic culture has cost U.S. Employers nearly $50 billion per year in employee turnover. In a study of 1.3 million Glassdoor reviews, in 500 companies and 40 industries, employees criticized their employers for risk aversion, excessive bureaucracy, and narrow-minded, impersonal, and disrespectful behavior. These attributes, not salary, have been named as causation for attrition.

As leaders, these behaviors are correctable. For example, in employee performance reviews, respect is mentioned 30 times more often than equity, yet most of the latest articles on toxic workplaces are written about bias and inclusivity. Inclusion is important too, as other comments on employee evaluations included, "clubby, and cliques." But, respect rises to the top of complaints both individually and in aggregate for what matters most in toxic cultures which leads to attrition and cost. The cost stems from several areas, but the most profound expense occurs in human resource budgets. Often, toxicity left unchecked translates into employee pain and elevated levels of stress leading to physical illness, and the cost flows directly to the bottom line. "Gallup estimates that the cost of replacing an employee who quits can total up to two times their annual salary." How many employees, can you stand to lose before you take corrective action? One senior leader could pay for the entire program to augment and elevate employee morale. And, some employees never begin, as they withdraw from the interview process. Seventy-five percent of job candidates research culture before coming on board. The negative publicity of attrition impacts your ability to hire your next employee, and all future employees. And, due to technology and social media, employee feedback is easily found, whether it be good or bad. This is one of those things you want to get right.

Employees stated that when they join an organization, they expect inclusivity, respect, ethical behavior, and collaborative work styles which ironically align with most corporate core values. In most organizations' top core values, integrity is ranked first, and collaboration second. In the absence of delivery on core values, employees seemingly react with disappointment. Disappointment escalates to disengagement, stress, and low productivity. In addition to attrition which accounts for 20%, other costs stem from disengaged employees who are 20% less productive. The net result is a 40% loss to the bottom line.

What can leaders do? The initial step is to accept that there are areas of toxicity within the organization. Leaders need to dig a little further to discover more specifically which departments or divisions are impacted. The top 5 attributes to look for in a Toxic culture include:

  1. Disrespect - defined as lack of consideration, courtesy, and dignity for others

  2. Noninclusive - inequity for LGBTQ, disabilities, racial, age, gender, cronyism, and nepotism

  3. Unethical - dishonesty, unethical behavior, and non-compliance with regulatory procedures

  4. Cutthroat - backstabbing behavior and ruthless competition

  5. Abusive - bullying, harassment, and hostility

Establishing a zero tolerance for the top 5 attributes of toxic culture is a beginning, but then the organization needs a turn-around; a reset. Employees don't just show up less stressed, and more engaged the following Monday, once a zero tolerance policy is implemented.

Active listening to employees, and establishing shared time for well-being creates healthy systems of support. I realize, your immediate objection is time; however, if you do not have time to do it; hire someone who can take the time to listen and coach. Most of the disrespect, and inclusivity is a lack of employee self-awareness, which is coachable. Also, cutting out a few meetings frees up time, and enhances productivity and collaboration. According to MIT, Sloan Management Review, "when meetings were reduced by 40% (the equivalent of two days per week), productivity was 71% higher because employees felt empowered, rather than being pinned down by a schedule. Satisfaction increased by 52%, and the risk of stress declined by 57% which improved psychological well-being. In addition to well-being, 44% also reported that they worked harder and felt more engaged.

One employee commented, "I can check things off my to-do list!" This alone gives all of us immediate gratification. Which steps will you implement for your team? How will you begin? What will it cost you if you don't?


Admission Network, LLC and Eckstein Executive Coaching Institute, Empowers Executives and Educates Students to create success. We work with teams and senior leaders to develop workplace culture, alignment, mission, vision and SUCCESS.


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