Open the Door and Expose Toxic Workplace Cultures

Last week I had the absolute pleasure of attending NASHRM’S 2024 Spring Workshop supporting my team member Lorrie Coffey. She gave an energizing presentation on Handling Toxicity in the Workplace, complete with getting knocked upside the head with a Horizon Point lightbulb stress ball. So, what does a toxic workplace look like? Let’s open the door and expose toxic workplace cultures.

Lorrie started off by giving the definition of toxic and said that it’s an extremely harsh, malicious or harmful quality. She went on to give examples from social media of people talking about their current workplaces. One employee said, “I’ve literally been berated and to a point, what I could consider verbal abuse” another described their situation by saying that their anxiety was through the roof. So, what creates a toxic environment and causes people to leave?

According to Career Plug, the percentage of employees in 2022 that have experienced a toxic workplace by age group are: 88% (18-34 year olds), 90% (35-44 year olds), and 79% (45 + years old). Notice the fact that 45 and up didn’t have as much experience with a toxic culture or did they? Lorrie pointed out that it could be that most CEO’s are in that age range, and who wants to report that they are experiencing a toxic environment when they are the one in charge?

There are tell-tale signs of a toxic culture including increased negativity, turnover, dysfunction, stress, gossip, and competitiveness. On the other hand, there is a decrease in morale, productivity, attendance, trust, health, and feedback. Who then creates this toxicity?

Why should leadership care? Big picture, it impacts the bottom line. During the middle of the presentation one of the participants asked, but what if the toxic person is a leader? If it the toxic person in question is a leader, you have tools to use:

  • Set boundaries
  • Constructively confront them
  • Keep emotions in check
  • Document, document, document
  • Recommend external leadership training/executive coaching 
  • Terminate (them or you)

How do you improve a toxic culture? Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is what Lorrie recommends.

  • Work-life balance
  • Teamwork & Communication
  • Work on psychological safety
  • Feedback & recognition
  • Respect
  • Fairness & consistency
  • Growth opportunities
  • Leadership & staff training

Check out Lorrie’s presentation in full on our What’s Up page.


Emily Collins