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Toxic Culture Is Driving the Great Resignation

Prompted by the many workplace issues that the COVID pandemic and crisis created, MITSloan Management Review brought into the open what had been ignored for way too long:


"Toxic culture, as we reported in a recent article, was the single best predictor of attrition during the first six months of the Great Resignation — 10 times more powerful than how employees viewed their compensation in predicting employee turnover.1 The link between toxicity and attrition is not new: By one estimate, employee turnover triggered by a toxic culture cost U.S. employers nearly $50 billion per year before the Great Resignation began.2

"While most everyone agrees that toxic workplaces are bad news, there is much less consensus on what makes a culture toxic as opposed to merely annoying. Scholars have proposed multiple, sometimes conflicting definitions of toxic culture, and a quick review of blog posts and managerial articles surfaces dozens of warning signals of toxic culture with little overlap across them.3 In Glassdoor reviews, employees criticize their corporate cultures for hundreds of flaws — including risk aversion, excess bureaucracy, insularity, and an impersonal feel, to mention just a few."

Data From the MIT Sloan studies of more of than 1.3 million Glassdoor reviews from U.S. employees of Culture 500 companies includes a sample of large organizations from 40 industries:

The Toxic Five Culture Attributes


"We grouped closely related elements into broader topics and identified what we call the Toxic Five attributes — disrespectful, noninclusive, unethical, cutthroat, and abusive — that poison corporate culture in the eyes of employees. While organizational culture can disappoint employees in many ways, these five elements have by far the largest negative impact on how employees rate their corporate culture and have contributed most to employee attrition throughout the Great Resignation."


Our comments:


The physical health impacts of chronic stress are just as important to understand as the behavioral ones – and both can make employees vulnerable to justifying and rationalizing unethical conduct and decision making if they aren't fully aware and informed regarding how they can respond to stressors with appropriate corresponding actions. Ethics professionals - regardless if they work for one organization, or as independent advisors and skills trainers - are ideal educational leaders and champions during times when organizations are facing changes coming at them from all angles. Our dedication keeps us on the front lines of continually bringing knowledge, tools and best practices to foster and strengthen workplace integrity by addressing root causes and discovering effective ways to navigate organizational rough waters with equanimity, regardless of their origin.


Additionally, proactively acknowledging the adverse effects of workplace stressors upon employee health, performance and productivity (including contributing factors within the organization's leadership and culture itself) that can prompt unethical behavior can be preventative and also provide a sense to employees they are genuinely cared about. This improves morale, contribution and collaboration, particularly when psychological safety is supported and adopted by leadership that has the resiliency skills to artfully adapt and the mindset to respond (and not react) to stresses prompted by internal and external change. Integrity is upheld when trust is transparently communicated and consistently modeled. Building an inclusive, harmonious workplace culture also must have an effective DEIB and Anti-Racism and Discrimination awareness + actions training program that visibly and proactively champions and supports equitable contribution, collaboration, and innovation and breaks through the status quo of tolerating the intolerable.

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