Estimated reading time: 3 minutes, 44 seconds

U.S. businesses have bled $223 billion over the last five years due to toxic workplaces with 58% of workers blaming their managers as the main reason they ditched their jobs, a recent Society for Human Resource Management report finds.

The SHRM report also revealed that 49% have contemplated leaving their jobs and that 20% who did leave blamed the workplace culture. The findings stem from a survey conducted in July and also found that 40% of employees blame their bosses for not having honest discussions with them about work. Further, 36% said their managers did not know how to run a team. "The level of toxicity in the workplace is at an all-time high," says Johnny Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP, president and chief executive officer.

Taylor also noted that impeachment investigations are causing a rift among employees nationwide despite rules that companies may have put in place pertaining to talking about politics at work. Another 25% of workers say they don’t want to go to work, don’t feel safe expressing their own thoughts on workplace matters and don’t feel their employer values them.

Nearly 40% of workers, however, said they were “very satisfied” at their job.

Employers face the added complication of a tight labor market that makes it easier for disgruntled workers to walk. Companies are losing about $431 billion yearly thanks to productivity losses from workplace absences. Of that amount, $86 billion is linked to workers who call in sick because they don’t feel like working. “Historically, building a strong workplace culture has been considered an HR task,” the report finds. “But it is a team effort. The best workplace cultures are built on the partnership of C-suite executives, HR professionals, and People Managers, who bring their own unique perspectives and capabilities to the discussion of workplace policy.”

Managers who have a toxic employee in their midst need to take action quickly or risk that toxicity spreading among the rest of their team, Amanda Rose writes for Smart Company. She is the publisher of Business Woman Media. “If you happen to find someone who is deliberately causing strife, gossiping, lying or another toxic activity, you must implement strategies to halt their behaviour—from performance management to dismissal, if necessary—to prevent them infecting, undermining and ultimately dismantling your team,” Rose writes.

Managers should also be prepared to handle situations where one disgruntled employee can spread anger throughout the rest of the staff. A skilled manager will respond to an angry employee with empathy, knowing that if the employee is put on the defensive it risks making a bad situation worse.

“Regardless of who is in the wrong or right, if someone feels cornered or unjustly dealt with, they will often respond aggressively,” Rose notes. “An empathetic word and genuinely listening ear will automatically put most people at ease and is a true sign of leadership.”

For Stephanie Creary, assistant professor of management at Wharton University, a legitimate question is whether workplace toxicity has become the new norm. “I think what we are seeing is more people resigned to the fact that toxicity is a natural state of the workplace, and that is inherently problematic,” Creary says.

But whether real or not, “the perception is clear that there is,” toxicity in the workplace, says Americus Reed, a marketing professor at Wharton. Reed also adds that social media fuels much of that perception. “Now, the echo chamber is happening, and so when people feel like things are toxic in the workplace there is this heightened sense that there is something that needs to be done in these environments,” Reed says. “Now people are saying this affects the work, it affects good employees, it affects everyone. Social media has become a call to action.”

A big challenge for employees is a toxic boss who “acts like a dictator and actively punishes people who articulate different views or express disagreement,” notes Peter Cappelli, management professor and director of the Center for Human Resources at Wharton. “In addition to people quitting, the big problem for the performance of the organization is that people sit on their hands, they don’t take the initiative to do anything, and they may actually sit back and watch the boss’s ideas fail even when they could be salvaged,” Cappelli says. “Bosses like this usually have issues that no subordinate is going to address. Without an organization that is looking to see what is going on and is willing to intervene, there isn’t a lot subordinates can do except get out.”

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