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5 warning signs of a toxic workplace, according to reviews on Glassdoor

Posted by Deepshikha Shukla

April 19, 2022

Background:

A toxic work culture was the No. 1 predictor of employee attrition during the first six months of the Great Resignation, according to a recent study published by MIT Sloan Management Review. What’s more, the study found that a toxic work environment is 10.4 times more important than compensation as a predictor of employee turnover

To conduct the study, a team of MIT researchers analyzed 1.3 million Glassdoor reviews from U.S. employees to home in on the warning signs of an unhealthy workplace culture. When an employee submits a Glassdoor review, they rate their work culture on a five-point scale and describe their employer’s pros and cons. The researchers assessed the language employees used to describe their employers, then used text analysis to drill down to the words and topics that led to the largest reduction in a company’s culture score. 

What makes a culture toxic for employees?



Company culture can disappoint employees in myriad ways. But the researchers found that the five characteristics in particular had an outsized negative impact on how employees rated their work culture and contributed the most to attrition during the Great Resignation.

The top predictors of a toxic work culture, ranked in descending order of influence, were:

1. Disrespect.
2. Lack of diversity and inclusion.
3. Unethical behavior.
4. Ruthless competition.
5. Bullying.

Defining the red flags 



• Disrespect

Companies where employees used the word disrespect in their review had the largest negative impact on an employee’s overall corporate culture rating. Such workplaces scored 0.66 lower on the five-point scale.

• Lack of inclusivity

– Excluding or not fully including LGBTQ employees not only causes businesses to miss out on talent, but it also lowers their average culture rating by 0.65. Unequal treatment of individuals with disabilities or racial minorities lowered a business’s average culture rating by 0.59 and 0.58, respectively.

Other types of discrimination that hurt work culture ratings were age discrimination at 0.44, gender inequality at 0.40 and nepotism.at 0.40.

“Collectively, this cluster of topics is the most powerful predictor of whether employees view their organization's culture as toxic," the researchers wrote.

• Unethical behavior

Dirty dealings in the name of getting ahead do not go unnoticed by employees. Unethical behavior pushes a company’s culture rating down by 0.62. Employers that failed to comply with the law saw their culture ratings drop by 0.44.

It is worth mentioning some of the most commonly used words and phrases used by reviewers to describe such employers. They include scathing terms such as shady; cheat; deceive; mislead; false promises; lie, and smoke and mirrors.

• Ruthless competition

Some 10% of employees grumbled about uncooperative teammates or a lack of coordination across organizational silos in their reviews. Employees who described backstabbing and cutthroat competition lowered their employers’ work culture scores by 0.61 on average.

• Bullying

– Some employees wrote about abusive managers who exhibited hostile behavior such as yelling, public shaming, belittling and verbal abuse. When employees’ reviews mentioned abusive managers, it depressed the company’s culture rating by 0.50 on average. 

Organizational costs



In today’s tight labor market, employers can’t afford to overlook the significance of Glassdoor reviews since it’s one of the first places prospective employees will go to vet your workplace. Further, beyond a general lack of enthusiasm and poor working relationships, a toxic work culture brings other less obvious — yet potentially more damaging — consequences that can chisel away at productivity, including:

Triple the risk of depression –

A study published in The BMJ shows that working in a toxic environment takes a toll on employees’ mental health. Working for a business that doesn’t prioritize employee well-being increases their risk of depression by 300%.

Higher attrition

– Some 20% of employees have left a job because of its poor company culture, per SHRM. The cost of replacing an employee who quits can cost companies up to twice the employee’s annual salary, according to Gallup.

Makes it harder to attract talent

In the age of online employee reviews, companies with a toxic culture will not only lose employees. They will also struggle to replace workers. Over three-quarters of job seekers apply to a company only if its corporate culture aligns with their values, according to Glassdoor.

Disengaged employees

- Nearly half of the employees who felt disrespected admitted to decreasing their effort and time spent at work, research from Harvard Business Review found.

Increased employee health care costs

Research suggests employees who experience injustice in the workplace are 35% to 55% more likely to suffer from major diseases. This in turn increases health care expenses paid by the employer.

Takeaway

: Left undetected, a toxic work culture can spread throughout the company, hurt workers and hurt profits. It can also drive out your top performers. Changing course starts with an honest appraisal at the top and requires replacing harmful conditions with safer ones.

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