THE HIGH COST OF A TOXIC WORKPLACE CULTURE
H O W C U LT U R E I M PA C T S T H E W O R K F O R C E — A N D T H E B O T T O M L I N E
F O R E W O R D
We have reached a cultural tipping point in the workplace, driven by public attitude shifts on employment policies, blurred lines between work and home life, and gen- erational differences in the expectations of work itself. It is no longer “enough” for employers to satisfy customers or appease shareholders; they must also become and remain good corporate citizens. Nowhere is it more important for employers to be good citizens than in the workplace itself, and there is no greater lever than the rela- tionship between “People Managers” and their employees.
As working Americans challenge organizations to manage and lead differently, those that don’t will fi nd themselves left behind. It is time for all organizations to become more
In July 2019, SHRM commissioned a survey of the U.S. workforce to better understand the importance of workplace culture and its profound impact on employees. What be- came clear is that a bad workplace culture can derail an organization, creating a toxic atmosphere that leaves employees frustrated and produces a very real
We urge all
Johnny C. Taylor, Jr.
President and CEO, SHRM
38% of American workers are “very satisfi ed” with their current job.
49% have thought about leaving their current organization.
1/5 have left a job due to workplace culture.
76% say their manager sets the culture of their workplace.
36% say their manager doesn’t know how to lead a team.
$223 B is the cost of turnover due to workplace culture over the past 5 years.
S G N I D N I F Y E K
S O C I A L O P E R A T I N G S Y S T E M
Culture is the heartbeat of an organization. It is the social operating system that shapes organizational values, defining how people work and determining how successfully. Of course, because workplace culture is dependent on the people establishing it, culture is active and always changing. While the fluidity of culture leads to difficulty sustaining strong workplaces, that fluidity also presents the opportunity for perpetual improvement. It is never too late for an organization to reform its culture from within, turning a negative into a positive.
This is especially important in today’s environment, one defined by a rapidly changing workforce. American workplaces are more diverse than ever before, prompting organizations to focus not only on diversity but also on inclusion— conceptualizing what that means and putting it into practice. At the same time, technological advances have changed the ways the workforce communicates. Because of social media and other platforms, virtually all employees are brand ambassadors with a megaphone and an audience, posing strong reputational and, ultimately, financial risks for organizations.
Only by building a strong workplace culture can organizations hope to mitigate those risks and keep their employees satisfied at work. Great workplace cultures are associated with low employee turnover and high engagement, making these organizations more innovative, productive, and profitable. Bad cultures, on the other hand, leave employees dissatisfied and un-
Failing to build a strong workplace culture is not only detrimental to employees; it is also bad for business. Therefore, it is imperative for workplace
1SHRM July 2019 Omnibus, Bureau of Labor Statistics, and the Center for American Progress. 2SHRM July 2019 Omnibus, Bureau of Labor Statistics, and the Center for American Progress.
T H E L A N D S C A P E O F C U LT U R E
Employees may leave a job for numerous reasons, and workplace culture is chief among them. From a lack of personal autonomy to the feeling of not be- ing appreciated by superiors, any organization’s workforce is susceptible to fluctuating morale. People Managers, in partnership with HR professionals, must nurture employee morale on a daily basis so high levels are maintained and low levels can be reversed. When morale dips low enough, it can lead to high turnover and workplace instability.
In today’s competitive labor market, one of the leading reasons for high turnover is the emer- gence of a toxic atmosphere at work. Employees often leave bad workplace cultures in search of healthier environments, where they may feel more fulfilled on the job. Fierce competition for labor only amplifies the need for organizations to build strong workplace cultures and fight off the competition.
A failure to do so negatively impacts the bottom line, and quantifiably so. Over the past five years, the cost of turnover due to workplace culture ex- ceeded $223 billion.3 That is a nearly
From the employee’s perspective, the respons- ibility of building a strong workplace culture—
and avoiding the cost associated with
Approximately 3 in 4 working Americans believe management establishes workplace culture, laying the foundation for them to succeed at work.4
Yet 1 in 3 U.S. workers claim their manager doesn’t know how to lead a team.5 In turn, nearly 3 in 10 employees lack trust in their manager to treat them fairly, while another 3 in 10 workers say their manager doesn’t encourage a culture of open and transparent communication.6 In such cases, employees are un- sure how to respond to certain situations at work, making it less likely that those goals are achieved. A breakdown in communication is perhaps the most common sign of a toxic at-
mosphere at work.
From employee uncertainty to the lack of trust in a manager’s ability, a toxic atmosphere of- ten forces workers to consider leaving a job, explore other options, and eventually pursue one of them. The workforce traces those signs of toxicity back to management, which is a representation of the broader culture in the workplace. Indeed, nearly 60 percent of employees claim People Managers are the reason they leave their respective organiza- tions.7 Managerial deficiencies are often the precursors to employee turnover.
Never has it been more important for People Managers, alongside HR professionals, to root out toxicity in the workplace and establish a culture that breeds employee satisfac-
tion. Organizations simply cannot achieve their goals without employees who are engaged, productive, and fulfilled at work, and management is the critical touch point.
3SHRM July 2019 Omnibus, Bureau of Labor Statistics, and the Center for American Progress. 4SHRM July 2019 Omnibus. 5SHRM July 2019 Omnibus. 6SHRM July 2019 Omnibus. 7SHRM July 2019 Omnibus.
“A BREAKDOWN IN
COMMUNICATION IS PERHAPS
THE MOST COMMON SIGN OF A TOXIC
ATMOSPHERE AT WORK.”
T O X I C I T Y A T W O R K
At any organization, a strong workplace culture transcends the traditional char- acteristics of a “good job.” It doesn’t necessarily matter how much an employer pays or how many weeks of vacation are offered when a workplace culture is toxic. Toxicity can manifest itself in many ways, including sexual harassment and discriminatory treatment such as ageism.
Unfortunately, toxicity is rampant in the work- place. Almost
Digging deeper, nearly 40 percent of HR pro- fessionals claim there have been more com- plaints of sexual harassment and discrimina- tory treatment in the last two years than in the two years prior.10 A similar number of
Age discrimination, an act whereby employ- ees are treated unfairly on the basis of age, is another sign of a toxic workplace environment. Under U.S. employment law, only workers
ages 40 and above are protected from
Workplace cultures like these have
Additionally, spillover commonly occurs when employees bring their work stress home.16 Nearly 3 in 10 Americans (28 percent) say their workplace culture makes them irritable at home And nearly half of working Americans have postponed important things in their personal life (e.g., family, friends, and life milestones) due to the demands of work.17
When they’re part of a strong workplace culture, employees feel inspired to go to work, seeking out new opportunities to succeed in the work- place. A toxic culture, on the other hand, leaves them uninspired and unwilling to push them- selves at work. Employees may even choose to skip work altogether, in an attempt to avoid toxicity. About 1 in 4 working Americans dread going into work, while 1 in 5 call in sick when they don’t feel like going to work.18
At U.S. companies, the cost of productivity loss due to unplanned absences comes to approximately $431 billion per year.19 Up to $86 billion of this lost pro- ductivity can be attributed to workers calling in sick when they don’t feel like going to work.20
8National Association of Plan Advisors. 9National Association of Plan Advisors. 10SHRM July 2019 Omnibus. 11SHRM 2019 Employment Culture Survey 12SHRM January 2019 Omnibus 13SHRM January 2019 Omnibus 14Harvard Business Review, December 2015. 15SHRM July 2019 Omnibus. 16SHRM July 2019 Omnibus. 17SHRM July 2019 Omnibus. 18SHRM July 2019 Omnibus. 19SHRM July 2019 Omnibus, SHRM/Kronos survey, and the U.S. Census Bureau. 20SHRM July 2019 Omnibus, SHRM/ Kronos survey, and the U.S. Census Bureau.
“TOXICITY IS RAMPANT IN THE
WORKPLACE, AND OFTEN MANIFESTS ITSELF AS SEXUAL HARASSMENT AND DISCRIMINATORY TREATMENT.”
A V E R A G E I S N ’ T E N O U G H
In terms of productivity loss, the negative impact of a toxic workplace culture is clear. However, simply building an average culture can still have serious conse- quences for an organization.
Employees expect a lot of their employers; they expect a workplace culture that is better than just “average.” After all, nearly half of U.S. workers have thought about leaving their current organization, and not all of those organizations are toxic.21 Many are just “more of the same,” failing to differentiate themselves as better than average.
An average culture still doesn’t maximize employees’ motivation on the job. Work- ing Americans who describe their organization’s culture as “average” still think about leaving and aren’t likely to recommend that organization to others as one worth joining. More than 85 percent of American workers who say their organiza- tion has a strong workplace culture admit they talk positively to others about their organization outside of work, compared to just 57 percent of those who say their organization has an average culture.22
Workplace culture is a critical business asset. And organizations seeking to stand out from the crowd should treat it as such.
21SHRM July 2019 Omnibus. 22SHRM July 2019 Omnibus.
B U I L D I N G C U LT U R E
The key to a successful organization is a strong workplace culture, one based on disseminating strongly held and widely shared beliefs that are supported by strategy and structure. When a strong culture is built, it generally produces three outcomes: Employees understand how management wants them to respond to any situation, employees believe the expected response is the proper one, and employees know they will be rewarded for
demonstrating the organization’s values.
This requires continuous, open communica- tion between People Managers, supported by HR, leadership, and other members of the workforce. Lack of communication is a leading contributor to the culture issues facing many workplaces. Nearly 4 in 10 working Americans say their manager fails to frequently engage in honest conversations about work topics.23 Sim- ilarly, 1 in 5 Americans are uncomfortable en- gaging in such conversations with their man- ager, suggesting many People Managers fail to foster an environment of trust and comfort.24 When employees don’t trust or feel comfort- able around their managers, they grow alien- ated from their workplace and that workplace grows more toxic.
In this way, People Managers play an outsized
role in shaping what a culture looks like on a daily
tures often begin with “values
The philanthropic fashion company Toms is one example of a communica-
Strong workplace cultures like Toms’ promote policies that represent the needs of the work- force and reflect the character of the organi- zation. Examples of such policies can range from pay equity and workforce development programs to paid maternity and paternity leave
People Managers therefore become the messengers of workplace policies and the organizational character they reflect.
W O R K P L A C E C U LT U R E
I S A S H A R E D R E S P O N S I B I L I T Y
Historically, building a strong workplace culture has been considered an HR task. But it is a team effort. The best workplace cultures are built on the partnership of
Great employees deserve great managers, and great managers cul- tivate great workplace cultures where organizations and employees thrive. Even more, great managers free up HR professionals to fo- cus less on people issues and more on driving business results. This is why SHRM is launching new learning and development programs for People Managers in 2020, including a People Manager Qualifi - cation (PMQ) to aid new managers in developing soft skills, leader- ship skills, and the emotional intelligence needed for building high- performing teams. Far too many organizations promote great employees to management roles without providing the training and skills necessary for management success.
SHRM’s new learning and development programs will also assist human resources departments in unlocking human potential across their orga- nizations, empowering HR professionals to become strategic leaders in workforce development and social responsibility. In the end, People Man- agers and HR professionals will lead the way in building and sustaining workplace cultures that put the employee fi rst.
True culture change occurs when it becomes a shared responsibility among People Managers, HR professionals, and other workplace deci-
In today’s world, the best workplace culture wins. Shared responsibility is the blueprint to
TO A SUCCESSFUL ORGANIZATION IS A STRONG WORKPLACE CULTURE.
M I S S I O N
SHRM, the Society for Human Resource Management, creates better workplac- es where employers and employees thrive together. As the voice of all things work, workers, and the workplace, SHRM is the foremost expert, convener, and thought leader on issues impacting today’s evolving workplaces. With 300,000+ HR and business executive members in 165 countries, SHRM impacts the lives of more than 115 million workers and families globally.
S TA R T T H E C O N V E R S AT I O N :
M E T H O D O L O G Y
The 2019 SHRM Omnibus Survey was conducted from July 25 through July 30, using the AmeriSpeak Panel®, NORC at the University of Chicago’s nationally represen- tative,
“TRUE CULTURE CHANGE OCCURS
WHEN IT BECOMES A SHARED
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