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3 predictors of a toxic work culture and how leaders can defuse it

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Halloween is just around the corner, but America’s workforce isn’t running away from zombies, werewolves, and vampires. They hop on a ship in groups to escape their spooky workplaces. What’s scarier than ‘productivity paranoia’? A toxic work environment with managers breathing down your neck and watching your every move to make sure you’re productive with a knife. Researchers at MIT have identified a toxic work culture as a major factor in high resignations. This is ten times more influential than a low-paid man.

Fed up with burnout, rudeness, lack of diversity and inclusion, and unethical behavior, employees continue to quit en masse or “quietly quit.” According to Gallup, “quiet quitters” make up at least 50% of the U.S. workforce, and likely more. Also, U.S. employee engagement levels dropped significantly in the second quarter of 2022, with his percentage of engaged employees remaining at 32%. This trend has been attributed to multiple factors such as burnout, poor management and lack of communication.

Tolerance clock ticks

More than 90% of North American CEOs and CFOs believe that improving company culture will improve financial performance. Most leaders recognize that their organizational culture isn’t as healthy as it should be, but they don’t know where to start. But time is running out. “Toxic workplaces are all too common,” says Donald Sul, senior lecturer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Sloan School of Management and co-founder of CultureX. Seeing the culture as toxic and sending a clear signal: They will no longer tolerate disrespect, exclusionary behavior, abuse, and other harmful behaviors.Organizational leaders detox their corporate culture. You are faced with two options: to buy or lose the talent war.”

Based on previous research, Donald Sull and CultureX co-founder Charles Sull identified three of the strongest predictors of toxic behavior at work. MIT Sloan Management Review:

  1. toxic leadership
  2. toxic social norms
  3. Toxic work design.

By identifying and addressing these three factors,, Researchers claim leaders can dramatically improve the employee experience, minimizing unwanted turnover, disengagement, negative word of mouth, and other costs associated with a toxic workplace. doing.

Detox your tissue

Based on a survey of over 1,000 studies, CultureX founders have published a credible, evidence-based framework managers can use to implement a cultural detox within their organizations. This includes interventions against her three major factors of toxic culture.

  1. leadership. Leaders cannot improve corporate culture unless they seek to hold themselves and their colleagues accountable for toxic behavior. CEOs can keep cultural detox on the agenda by tying improved culture to bottom-line benefits such as lower turnover. Middle management is 2.5 times more important than company-wide factors in predicting employee misconduct.
  2. social norms. Social norms are defined as expected and acceptable behaviors in everyday social interactions, exist within organizations, specific teams or departments, and form subcultures within companies. Toxic social norms make even good people more likely to behave badly. Promoting uncooperative employees to management positions can foster a ruthless subculture that ultimately hurts bottom lines. Toxic leadership can negatively reshape social norms, influence behavior well beyond the tenure of one jerk her manager, and persist through multiple changes in leadership.
  3. work design. Over a century of research has identified several elements of job design, such as overall workload and conflicting job demands, that consistently predict important outcomes, including harmful behaviors. There are many factors involved in the design of , but some are particularly important in predicting employee stress. When rethinking work design, consider ways to reduce employee stress, such as reducing tedious tasks, clarifying job descriptions and responsibilities, giving employees more control, and reducing stress and improving sleep. It’s best to focus on the elements of work that are known to influence.

Avoiding the Productivity Paranoia Trap

Spooky season is upon us, but whatever the season, there’s nothing scarier than having your boss closely monitoring your productivity. Pat Petitti, founder and CEO of Catalant, argues that employee monitoring tools and managers focused on them measure busyness, not productivity, and there’s a crucial difference between the two. claim. He believes that monitoring employee productivity and performance goes against building a successful business. “Companies that use these tools and practices don’t have productivity problems,” he asserts. “They have a cultural problem.” Leaders should not fall into the trap of monitoring productivity, but how to build trust with employees and avoid productivity paranoia. .

Carthey Van Dyke, VP of Customer Success and Head of Culture at, believes that successful HR initiatives and business outcomes stem directly from a collaborative, empathetic and inclusive work culture. By taking away the space for employees to work comfortably and maintain autonomy, organizations can face real productivity problems.

Donald Sal agrees. “Cultural change requires a holistic approach that incorporates multiple interventions and a long-term sustained focus,” he concluded. “Without top team commitment, organizational-wide cultural change, including cultural detox, is doomed to failure.”