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TOXIC WORK CULTURE

Aarti Aarti
12 Jun 2023
Companies with toxic workplaces may not only find it difficult to retain and attract new talent but also impact productivity, which tends to be lower in such toxic environments.

Thanks to the emerging social media as a powerful communication medium, a viral video involving a senior officer of HDFC Bank, India’s largest private financial institution, who chose to review the performance of subordinates in his own style has landed him in trouble. He has since been suspended from service pending enquiry after the undated video reportedly surfaced this June 5. Seen yelling and verbally abusing his subordinates for not meeting business targets, the incident has generated several debates on the toxic work environment.

Now briefly about the failure of some subordinates in achieving the targets for which the senior officer was abusive. Full facts are unavailable for their failure in the workplace. Thus, it is to be implied here that perhaps the said employees were not aligned well with that environment, not that he was incapable of success. Simply put, they were made to perform in a toxic work culture. Toxic means poisonous and/or causing unpleasant feelings; harmful or malicious. Such toxicity at workplaces can take several forms from bullying or harassment of employees.

Around 23 percent of the British workforce have been bullied at work. In a study involving Unison (one of the largest trade unions in the UK) it was found that workplace bullying can have devastating physical effects on its victims. As many of the sufferers try to absorb everything that happens to them, they may have to deal with an existential crisis which can affect their sleep and ultimately take a heavy toll on overall organisational productivity. When the employees are constantly humiliated or offended constantly, it can affect their mental health severely and in extreme cases, some of the victims may even resort to self-harm or suicide.

Not long ago, a survey conducted by Careerbuilder.in that covered more than 1000 persons in Indian corporate companies found that about 55 percent of them revealed that they have been bullied at work. The two most common forms of bullying were (i) being falsely accused of mistakes they didn't commit (33 percent) and (ii) being ignored, wherein their comments got dismissed or not acknowledged (32 per cent). While 31 percent workers were constantly criticized by the boss or co-workers, some 29 percent said they got purposely excluded from projects or meetings. 40 percent of employees did not report such incidents to their HR Department, of those who reported, 37 percent said that action was taken while 21 percent said nothing was done.  25 percent of victims were bullied by their bosses and 22 percent by colleagues. Of those who confronted their bully, 17 percent said that the bullying had gotten worse.

Although there are no domestic estimates with regard to financial implications due to workplace bullying, one recent study in the United Kingdom has indicated that workplace bullying costs employers more than Rs 200 crore per year in sick pay, staff turnover and lower productivity. In the US, workplace stress has been found to leading to early death and nearly Rs 20,000 crore in healthcare costs annually

That the abusive officer in the instant has been suspended will not solve the problem. He should not be allowed to get away either. Importantly efforts must be undertaken across the organisation to ensure the work culture changes for the better. More so because, if abusive managers are themselves victims of management stress, it would get passed to their successors and subordinates would continue to be victims of abusive behaviour. So, to get around a toxic work culture, what is needed is good leadership. Targets must be realistic, specific, measurable and achievable.

In managing workplace stress, the issues or the root causes need to be identified, understood and accordingly steps must be taken to address it. While it is necessary to remove stressors, senior management leaders ought to engage in good management practices. Toxic workplaces can adversely impact both the employees and the organisation in the long run. Employees engaged in toxic workplaces might suffer from anxiety, depression/stress and they are more likely to take more time off or even leave the organisation.

Companies with toxic workplaces may not only find it difficult to retain and attract new talent but also impact productivity, which tends to be lower in such toxic environments. An anonymous employee feedback system is in vogue in many organisations. Here, individual employees are encouraged to provide their opinions on the management policies. They are also allowed to report any misconduct that they see or hear at the workplace.

As inclusive work environments require a long-term commitment, there is an imperative need to change business practices leading to a stress-free work environment. This is where good HR practices coupled with open and honest communication can go the extra mile creating a stress-free work environment for the employees. In short, a psychologically healthy workplace can lead to better outcomes.

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