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What are the most damaging attributes of work culture?

Watch out for the five attributes of a toxic work culture. S. Chris Edmonds has advice on how to reverse course if they pop up.

3 min read


Video transcript:

There’s no need to guess. A 2022 MIT Sloan Management Review study examined over 1.3 million Glassdoor reviews to identify the most toxic characteristics. 

The five toxic company culture attributes are:

  • Disrespectful
  • Non-inclusive
  • Unethical
  • Cutthroat
  • Abusive

Of these five, feeling disrespected at work has the greatest negative impact on how employees rate their company’s culture in Glassdoor reviews.

In our 30 years of experience helping business leaders create purposeful, positive and productive work cultures, we’ve seen these five attributes contribute to toxicity — to some degree — in every organization we’ve worked with.

No organization would be so shallow as to post these toxic characteristics on their About Us webpage: “We’re more disrespectful than anybody!” However, too many organizations pay scant attention to how leaders throughout their company treat employees.

In far too many of our organizations, results and profits are the only things that matter. Leaders behaving badly — treating team members disrespectfully or abusively, for example — are ignored and tolerated if they’re making money.

If you have leaders in your organization that demonstrate one of these attributes, they’re causing turmoil. If a leader demonstrates two or more, congratulations! Your work culture is toxic for anyone who interacts with that leader.

Why should leaders care? Voluntary quits are still happening at an astounding rate — over 3.6 million US employees voluntarily left their jobs in September 2023. To retain and attract top talent in the months ahead, leaders must eliminate these toxic cultural attributes from every corner of their organization.

How do you eliminate these toxic attributes? First, define your ideal work culture, formalizing desired behaviors that you want every leader to model in daily interactions. Second, measure the degree to which formal leaders demonstrate those desired behaviors through twice-a-year employee surveys. Third, celebrate those leaders who are great role models — and coach and mentor lousy leaders who are disrespectful, exclusive, unethical, cutthroat or abusive.

If lousy leaders embrace your desired behaviors, celebrate. If they don’t, lovingly set them free.


S. Chris Edmonds is a speaker and author as well as executive consultant, founder and CEO with The Purposeful Culture Group. He has authored or co-authored seven books, including two Amazon bestsellers: “The Culture Engine” and “Good Comes First” with Mark Babbitt. Edmonds’ videos, posts and podcasts are available at Driving Results Through Culture. Follow Edmonds on TwitterFacebookLinkedIn and Apple Podcasts.

Opinions expressed by SmartBrief contributors are their own. 


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