Skip to main content

“A toxic work environment can destroy morale, undermine productivity, and threaten the success of the organisation.”

– Howard Schultz.

Unfortunately, we have all experienced or witnessed a toxic working environment at some time in our working lives, and we have seen how negatively an organisation’s toxic behaviours and practices can impact those within the business. As Talent Specialists, we have an open view into many organisations, and the recruitment process can tell you a lot about whether your organisation has a toxic working environment.

An employee can be triggered to leave the workplace for various reasons: direct conflict with a line manager, contradictory company values, inconsistency in the remuneration framework, and not having a formalised structure for career development. Any of these reasons on their own are not necessarily toxic in nature but can easily turn toxic when dealt with in a divisive manner or used to manipulate an employee’s performance.

Toxicity in the working environment is more than just negative or bullying behaviour. It is transmitted through other aspects of the organisation, such as its leadership and the translation of company values, and is evident through its recruitment process.

What we see as Talent Specialists

Our day-to-day interaction with candidates and placed employees as Talent Specialists gives us unique insights into when a culture turns toxic.  We have noticed that there is often misalignment between what the company, specifically management, thinks is happening within their business and what employees, in fact, experience in the same business. If an employee is experiencing any pain point (whether it’s bullying, career stalling/blocking, or the genuine need for a salary increase) and they feel that they cannot make use of resources that the company has put in place, such as HR or a mentor, this will breed discontent within the employee. This could happen for a variety of reasons: the potential risk that addressing the problem could ruin an already fragile relationship with their line manager, or they see no hope since many of their colleagues have pursued this route and it was fruitless, leaving them with no perceived choice but to leave the organisation. Either way, this is not a good position for the company as employees no longer trust the systems and processes put in place to protect them.

When employees lose trust in their employer and decide to leave, and the company is repeatedly recruiting to fill vacant replacement roles, we start to witness the first signs of a toxic culture. Having a high employee turnover hinders the growth of the business because the employees themselves do not have an opportunity to grow in their line of work and excel in their career and, therefore, miss an opportunity to contribute towards the business. This hinders the the growth of the business because employees do not have the experience and knowledge base that they would have had should they have been retained within the organisation. Employees can only grow to be great when they feel secure in the organisation they work for and are aligned with its values. This empowers them to freely represent these values during client interactions and to excel in their role. To achieve this synergy, employees must believe that they could have a long-term home in the business, enjoy healthy manager interactions, and feel supported to grow as employees.

Now, how do you stop losing top talent to a toxic culture?

Creating a positive culture in the workplace

It all starts with management putting its ear to the ground, being up to date with current employee needs, and trying as best as possible to respond positively to them. Factors such as having an attractive fixed salary, learning and career development opportunities within the workplace, a healthy work-life balance, and visible and established company values all contribute to employee satisfaction, which, in turn, contributes to a positive work culture.

It is important to make sure that company leadership is fully equipped with the skills to lead a team of competent individuals, as sometimes the problem lies in something other than the organisational benefits received.  It may lier within the direct line of communication between leadership and the team.  Is management able to handle conflict by creating a safe space for healthy discussions while still being able to empower their team? Is poor communication and an unrealistic workload that cause stress for employees? To counter these issues, organisations should provide training to upskill their leadership team and contribute to a positive work culture.

In conclusion, one must remember that removing toxicity within an organisation is a constant exercise that has no end date. As talent is replaced or promoted, new challenges or areas of weakness will emerge and become prominent depending on the individuals impacted. The organisation must keep an eye on potential problem areas and environments where there is potential for toxicity in order to have a healthy, vibrant working culture that attracts employees.