One in 10 people consider their workplace toxic, according to September data published in MIT Sloan School of Management’s journal.
In a previous report, published in January, researchers Charles Sull and Donald Sull found that a toxic workplace was the main cause of turnover in their survey sample. This tracks with a Ten Spot study, wherein half of respondents said they “have a manager or a team lead that makes them want to quit their job.” In that same study, 81% of respondents who were managers said they had a boss that made them want to quit their job.
As is apparent from the ongoing Great Resignation — so far unabated by recession talk, although that tide may be shifting — workers are “sending a clear signal," said MIT Sloan Senior Lecturer Donald Sull. "They will no longer tolerate disrespect, exclusionary behavior, abuse, and other toxic behaviors.”
HR leads have two options, in his opinion: “detox their corporate culture” or fail to retain talent. (For context, the January report suggests that a toxic workplace is more than 10 times as likely to drive workers away than poor compensation.)
So, what can HR pros do to detox their workplace?
Charles Sull and Donald Sull outline three areas of improvement worth tackling: leadership, social norms and work design.
In the September report, researchers underscored the importance of leadership – and how bad bosses were directly tied to workplace toxicity. Managers, however, “cannot improve corporate culture unless they are willing to hold themselves and their colleagues accountable for toxic behavior,” the pair wrote.
Social norms are directly tied to this conversation. Bosses either reinforce or undermine norms through their actions, researchers said. In turn, the norms that make up the fabric of a company determine which employees get to move up to leadership positions.
Along with social frameworks and increased accountability, HR execs should reassess work design, they said.
Conflicting job demands and inordinately heavy workloads are two factors to consider. Donald and Charles suggested cutting down on “nuisance work,” particularly tasks that are part and parcel of “unclear roles and responsibilities” or provide “no tangible benefits” to employees. This type of work is directly related to high levels of worker stress and burnout, researchers noted.
Naturally, clarifying roles and responsibilities helps, they said — and so does giving employees more autonomy over their work.
An unusual nugget of advice included in the MIT Sloan detox guide was to ensure workers get enough sleep. Acknowledging the relationship between stress and insomnia, researchers painted the image of a vicious cycle. Sleep-deprived bosses create hostile work environments and are likely to operate more unethically; toxic workplaces prevent employees from getting quality sleep.
In short, the researchers’ counsel is that HR folks should do a top-to-bottom sweep of workplace mental health, wellbeing and overall psychological safety.