Distinguishing Toxic Culture

According to a 2015 Harvard Business School research, nearly fifty percent of employees who encountered disrespect at work preferred to expend less effort and minimize their hours spent working. So how therefore can leaders verify their perceptions of their company’s culture? There are factors to consider when distinguishing an actual toxic work culture.

“Pinpointing the elements of toxic culture in an organisation can help leaders focus on addressing the issues that lead employees to disengage and quit.” MIT Sloan Management Review| Why Every Leader Needs to Worry About Toxic Culture| Donald Sull, Charles Sull, William Cipolli, and Caio Brighenti

The Toxic Five

The authors believe that while organisational culture can disappoint employees in a variety of ways, these five factors have had the greatest negative impact on employee perceptions of their workplace and have contributed the most to employee attrition during the Great Resignation:

Non Inclusive

  • Identity-related topics rank in the top strongest predictors of a toxic culture: gender, race, sexual identity and orientation, disability, and age. Reviews contain terms like “cliques,” “clubby,” or “in crowd” that indicate that some employees are being excluded without specifying why.


  • Respect toward employees rises to the top of the list of cultural elements that matter most whether you analyse culture at the level of the individual employee or aggregate to the whole organisation.


  • Employees often explicitly discuss their employer’s failure to comply with applicable regulations.


  • Employees talk about colleagues actively undermining one another describing their workplace as “dog-eat-dog” and “Darwinian” and talked about coworkers who “throw one another under the bus,” “stab each other in the back,” or “sabotage one another.”


  • The most frequently mentioned hostile behaviours are bullying, yelling, or shouting at employees, belittling or demeaning subordinates, verbally abusing people, and condescending or talking down to employees.

“Companies with a toxic culture not only lose employees, they struggle to replace workers. Extremely disengaged employees are nearly 20% less productive than their engaged counterparts because they put in less effort and miss more days on the job. Then there’s the reputational risk. Among U.S. CEOs and CFOs surveyed, 85% agreed that an unhealthy corporate culture could lead to unethical or illegal behaviour.”

In Australia, several recent Royal Commissions have revealed that the source of many disrespectful, deceitful and dishonest practices emanated from a culture that sustains this behaviour. To attain true success, you need to develop a supportive and sustained culture of performance. But it’s also about sustaining a culture that supports ethical, transparent and forthright behaviour and practices.

In distinguishing toxic culture, organisations are advised to get external consultants to provide expertise, empirically proven benchmarks and data analysis.

CPC can give you new perspectives, thinking, systems, technology, tools and concepts. We will help you use all those things to set you off to a path of greatness. Let’s discuss.