Notebook with text Toxic Work Culture and crumpled paper on grey marble table, flat lay

People have been leaving their jobs for all sorts of reasons, but a big reason is toxic culture. In fact, researchers found that toxic culture was the single best predictor of employee turnover between April and September 2021.

The challenge, those same researchers wrote in a recent article for MIT Sloan Management Review, is that “while most everyone agrees that toxic workplaces are bad news, there is much less consensus on what makes a culture toxic as opposed to merely annoying.”

To find out, they analyzed more than 1.3 million Glassdoor reviews from employees at Culture 500 companies, which are large companies representing a wide variety of industries. The result was the “Toxic Five” – five attributes “that poison corporate culture in the eyes of employees.”

The Toxic Five

1. Disrespectful

The researchers have performed multiple analyses that all reach the same conclusion: respect matters. A lot. In fact, the “feeling disrespected at work has the largest negative impact on an employee’s overall rating of their corporate culture of any single topic.”

2. Noninclusive

Roughly one-third of the most powerful predictors of a negative culture rating are related to a lack of inclusivity. If companies don’t create inclusive environments for members of specific demographic groups (women, people of color, etc.), then they will be rated poorly. Low culture ratings also arise when leaders play favorites or when the workplace is too “clubby.”

3. Unethical

This attribute encompasses unethical behavior, dishonesty, and lack of regulatory compliance.

4. Cutthroat

The researchers note that “employees frequently grumbled about uncooperative teammates or the lack of coordination across organizational silos.” However, this doesn’t translate into negative ratings. What does is when employees feel actively undermined by colleagues.

5. Abusive

Finally, abusive management – defined as “sustained hostile behavior toward employees” – is highly correlated with a low culture rating.

Learn more about toxic culture at MIT Sloan Management Review: