America has a toxic workplace problem and your boss may be to blame

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The #MeToo movement put a spotlight on sexual harassment in the workplace. But that’s just the start of the harmful—and at times, pernicious—behavior that many Americans deal with at work. 

Nearly two thirds of workers have faced so-called toxic work environments, according to a recent poll of more than 1,300 U.S. adults conducted by online career platform The Muse. Millennials (ages 25 to 40) and Gen X (ages 41 to 56) were the most likely to report experiencing damaging workplace situations. 

What is considered “toxic” can run the gamut from cutthroat environments and disrespectful interactions that lack courtesy to unethical actions and non-inclusive policies and behaviors to abusive situations with outright bullying and harassment. 

Numerous TikToks, tweets, LinkedIn posts, and online articles have been dedicated to pointing out what contributes to a so-called toxic work environment. Of course, every workplace is a little bit different. But there are some common denominators when it comes to problematic company cultures, including inconsistent rules and a non-inclusive atmosphere.

When it comes to who gets blamed for the destructive behavior, 44% of respondents said their organization’s leadership was responsible. Nearly 40% of workers blamed their direct manager while about a third cited their colleagues. 

For employers, toxic workplaces can spell trouble for retaining talent long-term. More than half (53%) of those who’ve found themselves in toxic work environments quit, while another 22% reported they are actively trying to leave their organization. And women are far more likely to quit than men (58% versus 49%). 

Toxic workplace cultures helped drive the Great Resignation, according to research published in the MIT Sloan Management Review in January 2022. Looking at employee data gathered during the first six months of the Great Resignation, researchers found companies with a reputation for a healthy culture experienced lower-than-average turnover.

But there are steps that employers can take. For companies looking to clean up their act or avoid future issues, nearly half of those surveyed (48%) said investing in leadership and management training could have helped improve toxic workplace situations. Respondents also identified accountability and better working conditions as critical steps.

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