Workplace Culture Matters

Toxicity is rampant, and it hurts employees and company profits.

By Alexander Alonso, SHRM-SCP November 26, 2019
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Workplace Culture Matters

Have you ever woken up with sheer dread thinking about your workplace? It might come as a surprise, but 1 in 4 U.S. workers say they experience that feeling every day, according to the Society for Human Resource Management’s latest research report, The High Cost of a Toxic Workplace Culture: How Culture Impacts the Workforce—and the Bottom Line. The fact is that toxicity in the workplace is more rampant today than ever before, and its impact reaches well beyond the day-to-day work life of most Americans.

SHRM's report confirms what many employers are seeing every day: There's a strong correlation between workplace culture, satisfied and engaged employees, and business productivity and profits. When an organization's culture is toxic, everyone loses.

Toxic workplaces are a primary reason why workers quit their jobs. Employees in toxic cultures dread going to work; don't feel that they can be honest with their managers; and are more likely to witness or experience sexual harassment, age discrimination or political-affiliation bias. They often hold their managers responsible for creating the toxicity, which cannot be ignored. Poor managers and toxic workplaces lead to dysfunctional work cultures. The impact is felt so deeply that business leaders must pay attention.


Bad workplace cultures are a powder keg of toxicity, and they lead to myriad difficulties for employees and employers. Most jarring is the impact that toxic workplaces have on the economy: U.S. employers have spent nearly $223 billion over the last five years dealing just with the turnover associated with toxic workplace cultures and poor people management. Put in context, there are only six enterprises on the planet that report annual earnings greater than that figure. This statistic leaves no doubt about the importance of getting your organizational culture right.

A lack of communication between managers and workers is a leading contributor to the culture challenges facing many organizations. Managers are in a prime position to build strong and positive workplaces by listening to employees, holding workers and leaders accountable for their actions, setting well-defined expectations and clarifying essential information. Eliminating toxicity will not only help your organization's sustainability, but it is also central to forging a world of work that works for all.

Alexander Alonso, SHRM-SCP, is chief knowledge officer for SHRM.

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