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The Elephant in the Middle of the Room

Addressing the Impacts of

"Toxic" Leadership & Culture upon Workplace Stress 

"A toxic corporate culture is by far the strongest predictor of industry-adjusted attrition and is 10 times more important than compensation in predicting turnover. Our analysis found that the leading elements contributing to toxic cultures include failure to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion; workers feeling disrespected; and unethical behavior. In an upcoming article, we will dive deeper into each of these factors and examine different ways managers and employees can spot signals of toxic culture. For now, the important point is that a toxic culture is the biggest factor pushing employees out the door during the Great Resignation."

Source: MIT Sloan Management Review, January 11, 2022. 


E&C Professionals are uniquely equipped as leaders in educating all stakeholders regarding the ethical imperative to include addressing chronic workplace stress properly and holistically as an essential aspect of the organization's overall business strategy, particularly during times of internal and external change.

To avoid accusations of hypocrisy and "not walking their [Code of Conduct] talk" leaders at every level must ensure this doesn't occur and lead to Reputational Risks during a time when it's becoming more difficult and costly to try and "get away with it." This is achieved and sustained by modeling an everyday workplace behavioral identity habit of embodying inwardly and reflecting outwardly their organization's stated core values in all their actions, and not just by dropping the "right" new managerial "trendy buzzwords" and "motivational poster" platitudes to give an appearance of honorable conduct and integrity. There no exceptions for "situational ethics" or giving certain individuals a pass for engaging in unethical and/or disruptive and disharmonious behaviors that divide and pollute the organization's interconnected and interdependent cultural ecosystem. 

This doesn't not just apply to those at the top of an organization, or in defined leadership roles. Each one of us has a sphere of influence, and therefore we are all leaders - not just at work, but everywhere. Each one of us is responsible for doing our part in building and sustaining a culture of integrity through leading by ethical example.


Applying the five HQP Principles to the organizational risks resulting from unaddressed/improperly addressed workplace stress caused by harmful human behavior or inhumane systems and processes helps to counteract an individual's knee-jerk reactions of defensiveness, justification, excuses, etc. It simply upholds "how we do - and don't - do things around here."

While it's often easier to ignore, dismiss and deny the adverse effects of unethical leadership and unchallenged unhealthy workplace behavioral norms upon employees and all stakeholders, it's become nearly impossible to push aside the realities of the risks inherent in doing so. By both transparently modeling the organization's stated values and applying the core principles of ECI's High-Quality Ethics & Compliance Program (HQP), Ethics Professionals are equipped with a high standards framework they can apply to bring into the open stress-inducing behaviors and norms everybody knows about yet nobody has dealt with, often out of fear. Left unchecked, this perpetual dynamic creates a constant level of anxiety throughout teams, departments and the entire organization. If organizations are going to successfully make their way through both an ongoing stream of current internal and external changes, as well as navigate their way through unforeseen future challenges like COVID-19 with equanimity, their Readiness, Responsiveness and Resiliency will be buoyed by using HQP to underscore their commitment to integrity in every situation and interaction, without exception. 

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Psychological Safety is a core workplace cultural framework contained in our Readiness, Responsiveness and Resiliency Toolkit that supports a fearless speak-up culture, and ensures that no one is punished in any way for speaking up about their concerns - including regarding toxic leadership and unhealthy cultural stress-inducing "elephants in the middle of the room" behaviors. Workplace Racism and Discrimination must be effectively addressed as part of a Psychologically Safe environment. Adaptive Leadership includes Psychological Safety, Mindful Awareness and Operational Resiliency skills, and taking care to regulate distress in effective, but not necessarily easy ways, as it upholds high standards of cultural integrity.
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