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Steering clear of toxic culture: your path to a healthier workplace

Discover how to identify and address toxic cultures in the workplace and explore the advantages of fostering a positive work environment.

A 2022 study conducted by MIT’s Sloan School of Management found that toxic workplace culture was the number one reason people left their jobs. In fact, it was found to be over 10 times more influential in workforce reduction compared to issues concerning pay and benefits.

The pandemic may have reignited, or in some cases started, conversations around worker mental health and well-being.

In many cases, people are now prioritizing finding new workplaces that feel right for them—places that are more ethical, pleasant, and aligned with their values.

A key first step in confronting a toxic workplace is being able to identify it. The challenge is that toxic environments can present in many ways, and they apply just as much to hybrid and remote working setups as in-person ones.

How to recognize toxic workplace signals

A productive way of approaching a solution is to recognize the signs that can signal a declining or ongoing toxic work culture.

Some common indicators can include:

• Changes in team behaviour, people being unfriendly to one another
• Increased work-related stress and absences
• Lack of employee engagement
• High staff turnover
• Low-quality performance or failure to complete tasks on time
• Reduced desire to collaborate with others
• Conflicts, lack of willingness to cooperate, and bullying
• Increased frequency of incidents or errors
• Few or no opportunities for worker growth and promotion

Of course, recognition then prompts the question: how can you create the right conditions at work to eliminate any sort of toxic culture?

Leadership sets culture

Having a clear understanding of your organization’s cultural goals, expectations, and policies is crucial. The best results come when this is led from the top.

You are more likely to reap the benefits of an engaged workforce in your organization if you maintain a regular and open dialogue with people to encourage positive attitudes and behaviour.

Leadership that clarifies unacceptable behaviour and encourages accountability when standards are not met will help establish clear mechanisms for reporting and investigating any incidents that violate company policies.

Listening is key

Getting frequent and meaningful feedback from employees on their satisfaction with work, as well as what workplace initiatives might benefit them most, can bring many advantages.

Proactive employee engagement can mitigate against the risk of well-intentioned worker rewards or additional benefits falling flat because they do not address employee concerns or desires.

Your employees are likely to appreciate the feeling of having a voice that is respected and being able to contribute to their own work culture.

Building a balanced culture

Your organization is much more likely to thrive if you strike a balance between workplace demand, remuneration, and positive cultural attributes geared towards the overall well-being of your employees.

This was confirmed by a recent report on Mental Health and Well-being in the Workplace released by the U.S. Surgeon General, emphasizing work-life balance, worker appreciation, and growth opportunities as essential elements of workplace mental health and well-being.

At BSI, we are committed to promoting a world where worker well-being is understood and valued for its positive impact on organizations and their people.

Read about our Prioritizing People Model for practical advice on the future of the work environment.