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What Steps Can HR Leaders Take to Avoid a Toxic Workplace Culture?

Posted by Kanika Sinha

November 30, 2023

Learn strategies to nip toxicity in the bud and create a happy work culture.

A toxic workplace culture not only gives a bad name to any organization but also comes at a considerable cost. A study by the Society for Human Resource Management reveals that even before the Great Resignation, turnover triggered by toxic culture cost US employers almost $50 billion yearly. 

Besides, higher healthcare costs hurt the employer’s bottom line. MIT Sloan Management Review reports employees who experience unfair treatment at the office are 35% to 55% more likely to suffer from serious diseases. In the US, incremental healthcare costs from toxic workforces in 2008 were $16 billion.

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These costs, over time, can be devastating for small businesses. Recognizing these challenges is crucial, and it’s necessary to take proactive steps to prevent toxicity from seeping into your organization — for which HR can play a pivotal role.

Here are six things HR leaders can do to avoid workplace toxicity.

1. Hire the right people

Strategic and mindful hiring can help prevent bringing on individuals who may contribute to a toxic work environment. 

What HR should do:

  • Select employees with a good attitude and fit your company culture.
  • Establish a comprehensive and welcoming onboarding process to set the tone for a positive employee experience from day one.
  • Ensure that you put people in roles that help them do the best work of their careers.

2. Put people first

People-first organizations are always considered great places to work. Organizations that embrace this approach are rewarded with productive teams and better business outcomes.

What HR should do:

  • Ensure structures and decisions are made with people as the top priority. 
  • Facilitate regular employee check-ins to help managers learn about their team’s fears and insecurities.
  • Run regular surveys to gauge employee satisfaction.
  • Take proactive steps to ensure all employees are happy and taken care of.
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3. Establish a zero-tolerance policy against toxicity

Enact a zero-tolerance policy for unacceptable conduct. Set clear expectations and consequences for toxic behaviors, including bullying, abuse, harassment, and microaggressions.

What HR should do:

  • Be explicit about the organization’s stand, especially regarding intolerance for toxic behaviors.
  • Create a code of conduct outlining expected behaviors and ensure all employees read and understand it.
  • Develop educational content that helps employees identify the warning signs of toxicity and take steps to correct the situation.
  • Provide training programs on conflict resolution, emotional intelligence, and practical communication skills for managers and their teams.

4. Create safe reporting mechanisms 

Implement a user-friendly incident management system that’s easily accessible to all employees in your organization.

What HR should do:

  • Establish a confidential and impartial reporting system for employees to report toxic behavior.
  • Provide necessary training to your staff on how to use your safety reporting system.
  • Ensure there is protection against retaliation for those who report incidents. 

5. Ensure fairness and transparency in performance management

Transparent and fair performance management systems help organizations build a culture of honesty, respect, and collaboration. At the same time, it can help mitigate feelings of bias and resentment.

What HR should do:

  • Refrain from using a forced distribution of performance ratings as they contribute to toxic behaviors.
  • Adopt a holistic approach to performance reviews by utilizing systems like 360-degree appraisal and the Behaviorally Anchored Rating Scale. 

6. Provide support mechanisms

Implement supportive measures for employees to help them maintain a healthy equilibrium between their professional and personal lives. 

What HR should do:

  • Ensure that the workforce enjoys a healthy work-life balance.
  • Provide access to counseling services for those facing difficult situations.
  • Facilitate mentoring or a buddy system to foster positive relationships and support networks.
  • Encourage employees to utilize their vacation time and other corporate benefits.

The final word

Organizational cultures don’t start off being harmful or toxic. They get that way when people don’t feel seen, heard, appreciated, and invested. 

Remember the guidelines above to foster a collaborative and healthy work environment where employees are happy, motivated, and engaged.

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Want to know more about setting up HR for startups? Since 2006, Escalon has helped thousands of startups get off the ground with our back-office solutions for accounting, bookkeeping, taxes, HR, payroll, insurance, and recruiting — and we can help yours, too. Talk to an expert today. 

This material has been prepared for informational purposes only. Escalon and its affiliates are not providing tax, legal or accounting advice in this article. If you would like to engage with Escalon, please contact us here.


Kanika Sinha
Kanika Sinha

Kanika is an enthusiastic content writer who craves to push the boundaries and explore uncharted territories. With her exceptional writing skills and in-depth knowledge of business-to-business dynamics, she creates compelling narratives that help businesses achieve tangible ROI. When not hunched over the keyboard, you can find her sweating it out in the gym, or indulging in a marathon of adorable movies with her young son.

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