What leads to a toxic workplace?

9 out of 10 Americans believe that their workplace is toxic.

Toxic work culture is a reality. Whether in India or globally, there have been multiple cases reported of a toxic work culture. In fact, as per a survey conducted by MIT Sloan School of Management, about 30 million Americans agreed that they had a toxic work culture. This means that every nine out of 10 Americans was part of a toxic work culture.

In India, the situation is not much different. In one of his posts, a social media influencer talked about the toxic work culture in the PR, media, fashion and music industries. The post was flooded with over 20 thousand reactions and more than 500 comments. Many shared their stories. 

Similarly, a PR consultant shared how toxic her boss was who kept his team overloaded with work and kept shouting at people. Even a brand consultant working in a fashion designing firm shared about an employee who kept creating confusion in the team, pinning colleagues against each other and bitching about people in the office. An editorial head also shared how the management made the team work overnight and refused to even pay any extra money for the same.

Such instances of workplace toxicity exist in most organisations. There are many reasons which lead to such toxicity at the workplace. What leads to this toxicity at work?

Social Norms

Toxic social norms take shape in the organisation on their own. Majorly they are led by the top leadership, managers and leaders in the organisation. For example, if a leader finds it okay to come late for a meeting, other employees will also start following the norm. This way, people will not respect each other’s time. Another example could be shouting during discussions. If it becomes a social norm and people are okay with it, things will become toxic. Moreover, research also suggests that these toxic norms are not dependent on leaders who started it. It persists even after they leave the company.

Toxic Leaders

Leadership does not necessarily mean being at the top. Leaders in middle management also play a part in developing a culture in the organisation. In a multinational company, many teams and departments have sub-cultures which are created with middle management leaders. Abusive language, shouting, gender biasness, favoritism and more can lead to such toxicity. Such behavior displayed by leaders creates toxicity.

Workplace Policies

There are various policies in an organsiation that can lead to toxicity. One such policy can be a sandwich leave policy where, if a person takes a leave round a weekend, the weekend holidays are also added to the number of leaves taken by the employee. For example, if an employee takes a leave on a Friday, then Saturday and Sunday will also be counted as a leave. This policy was designed to discourage people from taking long weekends. Similarly, if the company is following a strict punch in policy to look for reasons to cut salaries, this can also lead to toxicity. 


Some managers tend to micromanage their teams, i.e., get involved in every aspect of their processes and tasks. This undermines the employee’s autonomy and flexibility, which makes them feel less empowered. Due to this, it is likely that employees will feel dissatisfied, leading to a toxic work environment. 

Job Design

Many times, jobs are not properly designed and employees are confused about what they really have to do. They remain confused about what their real duties are and how they are adding value to their organisation’s growth.

Poor Work-Life balance

Work-life-balance is one of the most desired things at this age. Young people want to have time for their passion and want to have a life outside work. If employees do not find that work life balance in the company, it will definitely lead to negativity. Working late hours is something that no one likes to do.

Less Recognition & Appreciation 

Many employees are not happy with their appraisal. And few get promoted at work. So how would you keep the employees motivated? Peer to peer recognition, perks and rewards above the salary can keep employees happy. Anything above the salary is appreciated by employees and you can get this engagement through digital engagement platforms.

In a small organisation, toxicity becomes evident whereas in a large organization, it might exist in small pockets, making its diagnosis more difficult.

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Kartikay Kashyap is a former journalist and a feature writer who carries more than 3 years of experience in covering HR and employer-employee relationship issues amongst the corporate in India for digital and print media. Currently, he is part of the content and marketing team at Advantage Club as a senior content writer.