Toxicity in organizations is an area that is consciously avoided by many organization leaders and unfortunately, they come to deal with the downstream effects later in their journey when it’s already fully inculcated as part of their culture – thus, the reasons for – TOXIC CULTURE.

Critical for many organizations to understand is the long-term effects of toxic organizational culture – has the potential to paralyze the workforce and erode creativity and innovation. 

An outlook of a toxic work culture that traditionally has created a slow reaction to resolution by organization leaders was the mythical understanding that – a Toxic culture is only portrayed by workplace fighting, drama & unsatisfied staff.

Whereas that may be true, the view is not entirely the case in current organizations setting!

The contemporary view of toxic workplace culture has a lot to do with how employees get their work done and how they feel every day, both on and off their jobs.

This not only explains why individuals sometimes feel they wouldn’t wish to report to the office that day but, they just have to because they need to – basically because of the pay for their well-being; and sometimes create unwarranted frequent sick offs.

Another example;

Have you had a scenario where you engage with your team leader or the HRD team with a problem that they recognize, and agree is a problem but can only sympathize about? This is a classic sign of toxic work culture in the organization.

Toxic organization culture has not only a huge measurable impact on productivity and the well-being of the employees, but also affects employees’ external environment like relationships in families, and friends because employees will spend their time in the evenings, weekends, or even on holidays consumed with stress, anger, and anxiety.

Toxic cultures general affects individuals’ self-esteem, motivation, relationships, and affect the individuals’ lives.

How Toxic Culture is developed in organizations; Toxic culture is created in two levels by Leaders & also by Individuals within the organizations and below are key areas;


Leaders who are more focused on organizational politics than their core business

  • Many organizations today acknowledge they have organization politics, and there are many books written on managing organization politics. In my opinion, these organization politics are parallel organization cultures created by leadership teams.
  • Organization politics do more harm than good in the organization; many leaders will spend their entire leadership journey managing politics for personal benefits like promotions and salary increments and being viewed in good standing rather than be productive in their assigned areas.
  • The resultant is that they tend to create and pass the same culture downstream, by leading with the same bias, not acknowledging and supporting their teams better and they also develop a culture of being managed the same way they manage upwards.
  • Leaders spending much of their time in this kills team synergy, morale and creates a toxic culture unconsciously which then bogs everyone down.

Nonperforming leaders

  • Nonperforming leaders are there and, unfortunately, there are many nonperforming leaders in organizations some are existing as a result of what we have covered above managing politics and relationships within the organization.
  • If we are to use the Pareto 80/20 principle – only 20% of leaders in any organization – and yes including your organization – are more effective to produce 80% of the results you are experiencing. So, what are you doing with the 80% of your leaders operating at 20% productivity? 
  • Your lack or ineffective performance management; noting am not talking about front-line results on financials only but, holistic balance results based on a balanced scorecard is what is creating a toxic culture. 80% of your leaders are unproductive and a recipe for toxic engagements.
  • Take action – get your unproductive leaders off the bus before it is too late; it’s costly to deal with reversing a toxic culture inculcated than individual leaders at the right time.


Unsatisfied employees due to various reasons

  • Employee dissatisfaction could be from various reasons; including issues discussed above created by leadership to issues of unclear or outdated policies and procedures within organizations. These could result either in fear where employees operate without trust among themselves and their leaders or may also result in rebellion where employees now operate at free will and intentionally act in violation of various things within the organization as a result of long term oppression or their voices not being heard.
  • Employee dissatisfaction can also result from the fact that people do not speak up or are not allowed to speak up even when they are presented with unrealistic goals, ridiculous plans, or patently silly ideas they are expected to implement. What happens is employees have not to say and they say nothing, but, they complain behind their backs and this is one of those areas of propagating toxic culture already created.

Unrecognized/ unappreciated good performers 

  • When organization leaders, teams, and individuals are more involved in looking at the negative and demerits of situations and only care when situations are not working and miss an opportunity to challenge or appreciate the excellent performers, there is a higher chance that the situation, in the long run, may lead to a toxic work environment.
  • There is little or no recognition of extraordinary effort or triumphs – but – a quick punishment when there is an issue – will eventually lead to an average performance by the top performers. Employees working extra hours, or going an extra mile in their assignments including and taking on too much work goes unnoticed and are expected.
  • These are signs of toxic work culture in your organization that you need to start remedy before losing top performers.

Nonperforming employees

  • Just like in nonperforming leaders, these need to be checked too at individual levels in an organization. Nonperforming individuals should not be in a position to get away with poor performance, missed targets, and inappropriate behavior or treatment of others.
  • These behaviors should not be status quo within the organization.
  • Great working cultures don’t tolerate such non-performing behaviors both from the topline and even in others areas of balanced score attribute within the work environment.
  • Organizations must adopt an attitude of getting tough with people who bring their worst selves to work by offering them the opportunity to improve or drop off the bus.

Three areas to focus on to change this trend and remedy the toxic culture in your organization.

Embark on Organization Culture Change; Review and make amendments to your organization culture to enable flexibility, diversity, and inclusivity, humane, and vulnerability to allow for creativity and innovations. Commit as an organization to review and action on pertinent information and feedback receive and taking the time to create something new and different.

Effective performance management and reward; Look beyond top-line performance on numbers only. Good performers and leaders on topline are not necessarily good with others aspect of business and since an organization is a whole being, this aspect is critical to check before it’s too late. Also important to match the right kind and amount of praise to each individual, encourage peer recognition to create an employee’s sense of belonging. Finally, apply coaching & mentorship appropriately and make a call quickly if people or leaders need to be dropped off the bus.

Effective organization listening skills; The victims of toxic work culture are majorly the employees; but, the organization as a whole suffers and in the long run creates a huge productivity impact.  While the onus is on organization leaders to define and correct the culture where they stand a higher chance of getting that done if they get take time to listen for feedback from and involve the employees and possibly other stakeholders.

People, make the culture.

Toxic cultures can be changed. How committed are you to make the change?

About Author.

Gilbert Ang’ana

Leadership Coach, Speaker & Teacher

Published Author: Break Out, SPEED & Leadership Purpose

Ph.D. Scholar in Organizational Leadership Development


Published by Coach Gilbert

I am Gilbert Ang'ana (Coach), the CEO/Founder of Accent Leadership Group. I am a Leadership Coach, Scholar and Practitioner with extensive experience in Corporate Leadership (15+ years). I am also an Award-winning Global Change Management Expert. I have worked with over 2000 leaders worldwide on various change management initiatives through Coaching, Training/Teaching, Speaking and Research. My purpose and that of my organisation are to Advance Leadership Advocacy in Africa and Beyond Through Coaching, Teaching & Research to Build a movement of Leaders whose Power of Influence will far Exceed the authority of their Position. Want to be part of this movement? Join our various programs at

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