How to tell if you have a toxic culture – and how to fix it

When it comes to voluntary employee attrition, the biggest contributing factor is a toxic corporate culture. It is the conclusion of a analysis of recent data conducted by CultureX and Revelio Labs, which used over 34 million employee profiles and 1.4 million employee reviews to examine what drove quits from April to September 2021.

A toxic culture is so detrimental, in fact, that it’s 10.4 times more likely to contribute to employee attrition than poor compensation. Other big contributors include job insecurity and reorganization, high levels of innovation and non-recognition of employee performance.

“We looked for topics that were super strong movers of a very low Glassdoor rating,” Charlie Sull, co-founder of CultureX and one of the project’s data analysts, told HR Dive. “These topics… don’t necessarily happen very often, which is a good thing. Disrespectful behavior only happens… between 1% and 4% of the time in large organizations. But every time it is mentioned, it has a very powerful effect. on driving a very negative Glassdoor rating.”

To conduct their analysis, the researchers developed an analytics platform seeded with hundreds of thousands of terms. “So, for example…our process for measuring respect would be to study the literature on respect, talk to leading industry experts who have written extensively on this topic, and from there…create a dictionary of seed… And then over the years you refine that dictionary, build on it, and use machine learning techniques to make it… more accurate,” Sull described.

Some key elements researchers found associated with a toxic culture included failure to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion; employees feeling disrespected; and “unethical behavior”.

Sull noted that workplace toxicity issues are not necessarily company-wide. “I think it’s more useful to think of it in terms of toxic microcultures,” he said. “So even if you have a relatively toxic organization, as you can see from Glassdoor’s reviews, chances are that toxicity isn’t pervasive everywhere.”

In other words, while the accounting department might be mired in misery and employee dysfunction, the marketing and communications departments might be performing well, potentially oblivious.

How do you know if a workplace is growing toxic microcultures? Keeping a close eye on feedback, both internal and external, is key, Sull said. Employee reviews on sites like Glassdoor and Indeed can be an instrumental canary in the coal mine for HR, with employees opening up on these sites in ways they can’t use through systems. internal feedback. Engagement and pulse surveys can also be helpful if employees are willing to open up with a foundation of trust and reassurance that their honesty is valued. “Solid listening” is key, Sull said.

Once HR has a clear idea of ​​where the toxicity is coming from, they can focus on the “pain points” within a given section of the organization. This can come from data already collected through surveys and reviews or from more robust conversations that happen later.

Often, toxicity comes down to individuals; even one person, especially if they are in a leadership position, can poison the morale of an entire department. “It’s not really about department or structure or geography or anything like that,” Sull said. “It’s mostly leaders who are in charge of these microcultures…they’re going to have a really disproportionate effect on whether the microculture is toxic or not.”

The good news is that usually, even when an organization has been infiltrated by toxicity, it still has a chance to turn the tide. “I wouldn’t think a toxic corporate culture is completely inoperable,” Sull told HR Dive.

Organizations can often remedy poor management styles that result in toxicity through coaching, learning and development, Sull said.

Sull’s advice aligns with previous research. Last summer, a Forrester study found that when those in leadership positions lack the tools to lead properly, they default to ineffective strategies that often frustrate employees, such as micromanaging, focusing on employee weaknesses and providing little or no feedback. Like Sull, the report recommended training leaders for success.

Sometimes the problem is more serious – for example, in cases where leaders exhibit abusive, harassing or other behavior. “Often, for more pronounced cases, it is necessary to make difficult personnel decisions,” Sull said. “But it’s addressable behavior.”

Sull and the rest of the team plan to write a follow-up article soon that will dive deeper into their findings on toxic culture, how to identify it within an organization, and how to deal with it. Until then, Sull was ending on a “hopeful note”.

“A lot of people think, ‘Oh, toxic culture is…that kiss of death. There’s no turning back,'” Sull said. “[But] there are some super actionable, super fast, super cheap things you can do to address maybe not all of the toxic behavior in the organization, but a really disproportionate amount. And [you can] make a huge difference…in just a few months.”

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