Toxic Cultures, Negative Behaviors Prevalent In The Workplace

New report from EVERFI finds that negative stress, as well as high rates of toxic and negative culture, are common in the workplace.

Toxic¹ behavior, distrust, and resentment, as well as egregious conduct like harassment, discrimination, and bullying are prevalent in today’s workplace. However, a new survey from EVERFI, Inc. also reveals that workplaces in which employees live and support core organizational values, as well as utilize training that includes culture-building strategies and topics, tend to have more positive and non-toxic work cultures.

organizational valuesAccording to the research conducted by’s HR Research Institute, in partnership with EVERFI, workplace leadership struggle to create a positive culture. Only 50 percent of respondents agree that leaders uphold the stated values of their organization. Forty-four percent say their leaders become resentful when others disagree with them, and only 38 percent say leadership takes proactive steps to create a healthy workplace culture. Moreover, many organizations do not have plans to address workplace toxicity issues, now or in the future.

“The findings from this survey are startling. Toxic workplace cultures are pervasive and it is critically important that organizations address workplace toxicity, as failing to do so can have far-reaching impacts for an organization,” said Elizabeth Owens Bille, J.D., SHRM-SCP, Head of Impact, Workplace Culture, EVERFI. “Toxic cultures and harassment can lead to turnover, absenteeism, lost productivity, inability to recruit top talent, and the like, so the stakes are high for organizations to act to prevent these damaging behaviors from happening in their workplace.”

The survey shows that many organizations are not proactively building a positive culture, and it turns out this may be partly because management lacks the necessary skills. While 66 percent of respondents agree that managers will listen to employee concerns, far fewer agree that their leaders are good at preventing problems before they begin (20 percent), conflict management (25 percent), having difficult conversations (28 percent), and coaching (31 percent).

Among the survey’s key findings:

  • Negative stress² is common in the workplace, with 54 percent of respondents saying it is prevalent, along with high rates of toxic cultures;
  • Just 38 percent of respondents agree that leaders in their organization take proactive steps to create a positive workplace culture;
  • Despite the prevalence of toxic workplaces, large shares of respondents from organizations with negative cultures indicate that their organization is not taking steps to make changes: 53 percent say they do not address toxicity issues, 48 percent say they do not allocate funding to promote a healthy workplace, and 40 percent say they will not increase their emphasis on addressing toxicity in the coming years.
  • Alignment of behaviors and procedures to organizational values is vital to building positive workplaces.

A positive revelation in the survey is that a shift from compliance-only training to culture-building training is key to developing a positive workplace. Respondents from organizations that educate employees on topics such as civility, respect, and bystander intervention techniques, beyond just compliance issues, are much more likely to view their workplace training as effective and their workplace as positive and non-toxic.

“While these findings are alarming, the silver lining is that there is an opportunity for organizations to improve and promote a positive workplace culture by prioritizing culture-building in their harassment, bullying, and discrimination training,” said Bille. “By moving beyond a legal-only lens to these issues, increasing focus on disrespectful behaviors that harm culture, and giving employees bystander intervention skills to help them speak up and take action when they see them, you are able to not only stop negative behaviors before they escalate, but also maximize the positive impact of the training on workplace culture.”

Finally, the survey found that living and upholding organizational values is vital to a positive workplace environment: the vast majority (84 percent) of respondents who report a positive workplace culture agree that the behaviors and procedures of their organizations tend to be aligned with their core values, while just 5 percent disagree.

The full white paper of the survey results is available here.


¹ In the survey, a toxic workplace was defined as “one characterized by productivity-hindering interpersonal conflicts that tend to be characterized by distrust, bullying, resentment, unethical behaviors, manipulation, mean-spiritedness, or even harassment or discrimination.”

² For the purpose of this survey, the word “stress” refers to negative emotional stress. Emotional stress can be positive or negative. Positive stress tends to be short-term and is perceived as being within our coping abilities. Negative stress, however, tends to cause anxiety and is perceived to be outside of our coping skills. Negative stress is often longer term in nature.

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