The Cost of The Toxic Workplace

A toxic work environment is an environment that negatively impacts the viability of an organization, and describes a place of work that is marked by significant personal conflicts between those who work there.  Such infighting can often harm productivity.  Toxic workplaces are often considered the result of toxic employers and/or toxic employees who are motivated by personal gain (power, money, fame or special status), use unethical means to psychologically manipulate and annoy those around them; and whose motives are to maintain or increase power, money or special status or divert attention away from their performance shortfalls and misdeeds.[i]

Almost nothing is more counter productive, more damaging, and more demoralizing to people than having to work with or under unprofessional, inefficient, abrasive people who treat others badly.

Everyone can name a teacher, coach, manager, boss or co-worker who was a prickly, condescending, unpleasant, disrespectful jerk.  The following is an example of the kind of people who create toxic work environments.

I was 18 and working as a receptionist [and] the youngest in the team.  I was the one responsible for the computer stuff.  My Assistant Manager was over 75 years of age and had recently come out of a 15-year retirement as a receptionist.  She refused to learn basic computer skills, stating that she had others who could do it for her – namely me.

One day, she asked me to print two files sent via email.  One was an .mp4 (video) file.  When I asked if that’s what she’d really meant she said, “Isn’t that what I asked?  A monkey could do your job, and probably better at that.”  When I tried to explain that you can’t ‘print’ a video, she said, “Don’t try and teach me, don’t forget I did your job for 20 years and now, I could have you fired.”

Suffice to say, the employee spent about 5 hours saving screen shots of the video into Word and then brought the Assistant Manager a 100-page printout – exactly as she’d been instructed to do.

The next day she was called in to HR and accused of wasting company time and of not complying with Management.  She related what had happened and showed them the Assistant Manager’s abusive emails to her and to other employees.  In those emails the Assistant Manager had used ‘descriptive’ words to insult other employees, including the HR representative querying this individual.

The Assistant Manager was fired soon afterwards.[ii]

Schadenfreude notwithstanding, however, not every such person gets their comeuppance.  Not surprisingly, toxic workplaces also encourage people to quit.  In fact, toxic work culture is the number one factor that drives resignations.[iii]

People who don’t use pleasantries, or who don’t deal with people civilly or respectfully, make life hell for those around them.  In addition to wreaking havoc on company morale, they cost their businesses untold amounts in wasted time, resources, and expense.

It all boils down to basic common-courtesy, professionalism, and ensuring and maintaining a pleasant work and corporate culture.   If an organization has a toxic culture then management is obligated to address and correct it.  In some jurisdictions that’s now required by law[iv].  According to Forbes Magazine:

“Leaders can’t just say they are going to do it. They need to initiate the shift and actively work to put what they say into action.  Without knowing what is or what isn’t working, leadership won’t be able to achieve real change.”

As Albert Einstein said, “Identifying the solution is easy, it’s identifying the problem that’s difficult.”

Luckily, Creative Organizational Design can help you to identify the problem.  Many assessments exist that are designed to measure things like employee morale and corporate climate.  Some target leadership, some address employee concerns, and some focus on the organization.  They include tools like:

  • Recognition Practices Inventory – which measures how managers practice various types of recognition and a second form assesses how employees perceive the recognition that they receive.
  • Organizational Culture Inventory® – which measures the attributes of organizational culture (above and beyond company culture, workplace culture, and corporate culture) most closely related to the behavior and performance of members. It reveals what members collectively believe is expected of them and how those behavioral norms influence their engagement and effectiveness.
  • Organizational Effectiveness Inventory® – which provides valid, reliable, and usable “climate” data on the structures, systems, technologies, and skills/qualities that shape your culture and how they can be modified and developed to improve long-term effectiveness at the individual, group, and organizational levels.
  • Organizational Climate Workbook – which enables managers to rate the climate they experience and the one they believe they create, and then reflect on the impact they have on their team. It’s a companion piece to the Leadership Styles Workbook
  • Leadership Styles Workbook – (formerly the Managerial Style Workbook) is an optional companion piece to the Organizational Climate Workbook, that measures leadership style and give managers a chance to understand their own managerial style, reflect on whether it suits the situations they face, and make appropriate changes.

A toxic workplace is no fun for anyone.  It contributes to higher turnover, increased expense, inefficiency, low morale and often, a damaged reputation.  To do nothing only exacerbates the problem and telegraphs to employees that management either doesn’t care or simply isn’t minding the store.  A proactive approach is required to effect meaningful change, and tools like the ones above can help employers target where change is needed and how to address existing problems.


David Towler is President of Creative Organizational Design, a firm offering nearly 40 years of expertise specializing in employee assessments and which has over 2000 different product titles available. Creative Organizational Design has 100s of assessment tools designed to help employers screen out other people’s rejects, assess skills, aptitude, attitude and ‘fit’ within an organization. For more information about the options available and help selecting the best tools for your needs please contact us.  Please send comments about this article to



[ii] “A Monkey Could Do Your Job”: Karen Manager Orders Employee To Print A Video File, Gets Fired –



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