Toxic behavior in the workplace seems more common than ever before. Last year, the Oxford English Dictionary famously elected “toxic” as its Word of the Year, calling out the ways that toxic behavior has infiltrated the world of business. In the last few months, numerous studies and surveys are confirming this phenomenon as well. In a recent survey of tech workers by the anonymous workplace app Blind, more than 50% of respondents said they were working in a noxious work environment. In another survey conducted by the RAND Corporation, Harvard Medical School and UCLA, nearly 20% of employees across industries said the same thing. Given that anywhere from 20-50% of employees believe they’re working in a toxic environment, is it fair to say that toxic workplaces have become the norm?
It’s certainly tempting to think so. If you subscribe to our newsletter, where we do a regular news roundup on how companies around the world are working to protect culture, you’ll find that almost every month there is yet another company in the headlines for a scandal related to toxic behavior. We’re not the only ones reporting on these phenomena either. According to the World Health Organization, burnout is now an official medical diagnosis, and that’s leading more and more people to resign themselves to toxicity as a natural state of the workplace. But in our tendency to resign ourselves, perhaps confiding in a trusted colleague or trying to leave for greener pastures, we forget that you can actually take steps to identify combat toxicity in your workplace—and the numbers prove it.
When you look past the figures on how much toxicity people are feeling and explore what the numbers have to say about who responds to HR-based interventions, you’ll see that with the problem may be far easier to deal with than you originally thought, and there are two reasons why. First, it turns out that even though many people believe they’re in a toxic work environment (and, according to our industry benchmark data, are spot on in their assessment), the individuals who might require training and intervention to change usually comprise about 10-15% of your organization. Second, the numbers show that the vast majority of employees who do exhibit toxic behaviors—up to 95% of them—can be addressed with proper identification and action.