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Is your organisation toxic?

Posted on by from Buckinghamshire New University

Do you have toxic people damaging your workplace?

A toxic organisation is one which has behaviours which are poisonous: disruptive, manipulative, exploitative and damaging; which are persuasive and tolerated. These behaviours can exist amongst any staff grouping – leaders and teams. Is your organisation doing enough to manage “toxic” behaviours? The consequences of not could be greater than you may think.

A recent Harvard Business School study calculated the cost of a toxic worker to be $12,489 (approx. £8,820). This included the cost of replacing additional staff who leave as a result of the presence of toxic workers but excluded the cost of litigation and reduced staff morale.
Toxic leaders and workers can sap the energy out of organisations. We may recognise this type of dysfunctional behaviour when we see it, or it can sometimes be a lot more subtle.

Toxic individuals may display the following:

•    Overconfidence in their own abilities:
•    Conceit;
•    Having little concern for another’s real interest;
•    Seeking praise/self-promotion;
•    Blaming others for their own mistakes and criticising others,
•    Lacking empathy

Toxic people may promote manipulation, hypocrisy, deceit and even sabotage in order to meet their objectives, which centre around self-gain, control and/or inflating their ego.
The symptoms can be; unethical behaviour in organisations, poor health and wellbeing, employee conflict, staff turnover, low morale, dissatisfaction and negative emotions (anger, frustration, aggression, pessimism). The organisational consequences can also be; reduced customer service, lost customers and reduced productivity.

The irony is that toxic workers can excel in their individual work performance, which may explain why they remain in organisations. Yet, the long term price can be steep.

What can HR do?

There are a number of actions which HR functions can take, including:

1)    Help managers understand that the consequences of tolerating toxic individuals can be damaging and counterproductive;
2)    Consider toxicity outcomes when recruiting and use psychometrics in order to identify toxic characteristics;
3)    Build organisational toxicity into leadership and employee development programmes;
4)    Encourage ethical behaviour and promote positive organisational values;
5)    Work with leaders to screen and progressively remove toxic individuals. 
Toxicity is a real issue in some organisations with real consequences. Let’s not underestimate or downgrade its relevance, importance and effects.


Tejal Fatania

By Tejal Fatania

Buckinghamshire New University

Tejal is a senior lecturer in human resources management at Bucks Business School at Buckinghamshire New University. He has held senior HR roles at EY, Eon and Capgemini.

Buckinghamshire New University

Buckinghamshire New University

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