Toxic Leadership: Impact and Solutions for a Healthy Workplace

Our expert reveals strategies to identify and overcome toxic leadership. Read our blog today to elevate your team dynamics for success.

HR Managers, Business Owners
Feb 2024

A recent study indicated that people are 10 times more likely to quit their jobs today because of toxic leadership and work culture rather than subpar compensation or work-life balance.

In other words: People aren’t seeking better pay. They're fleeing being overworked, undermined, and unappreciated.

Toxic leadership gives way to toxic working environments and a toxic culture, ultimately leading to an environment that gossips, has poor boundaries, communicates ineffectively, frequent conflicts, incites distrust and confusion, as well as stress. And in 2024, people aren’t putting up with it. 

It’s destructive - to the productivity, to the wellbeing of employees and the success and reputation of an entire organisation. 

It can be hard in these environments to untangle and identify poor behaviours, unhealthy habits and practices. Not to mention, it’s unlikely and unrealistic that any organisation is going to start fresh with new managers, firing them all just to be replaced. Firstly, because this isn’t legal. Secondly, because toxic leadership tends to go further than just one or two people in the office. 

Like any problem in the workplace, HumanX HR understands these issues and have experience successfully working with their clients to resolve them. Our teams of experts can help you see a way forward with a considered HR strategy to overcome these kinds of cultural challenges. Start by reading this article to get a better grip of how to identify toxic leadership and its impact on the workplace 

What is Toxic Leadership?

Toxic leadership is characterised by a dysfunctional leadership style that exhibits autocratic and overbearing management methods, creating an unfavourable work environment. This toxic culture causes both immediate and enduring consequences for a business, including heightened employee turnover rates, employee dissatisfaction, diminished productivity and instances of workplace bullying.

The emergence of toxic leadership often arises from a lack of confidence and a desire for control. Leaders displaying toxic behaviour frequently resort to micromanagement tactics, aimed at undermining individuals and the autonomy and trust an employee deserves. Instead of embodying effective leadership by fostering a collaborative and positive work culture, toxic leaders create an unhealthy organisational atmosphere driven by a need to assert dominance.

The Impact Of Toxic Leadership Within The Organisation

Toxic leadership permeates an organisation. It will leave a lasting impact on both its people and overall business performance. The harmful effects of toxic leadership can reach every function and team in the organisation if left unchecked. Examining the human and HR elements is crucial in understanding the depth of these impacts.

A study on the impact of toxic leadership on employee performance showed a correlation between toxic leadership and decreased job satisfaction, job involvement, and overall morale among employees. This toxic work environment created by such leadership causes employees to be disengaged, demotivated, and hesitant to voice their opinions, leaving the organisation at risk of losing its most valuable asset; its talented employees.

Examples of Toxic Leadership

Toxic leadership can be found in companies of all sizes, everywhere. The extent of its impact will vary depending on the scale of the problem.  You might find a problem occurring in one branch in Melbourne, with a remote team in Singapore, for example. Or, it could be a systematic, organisational problem impacting HQ or the entire business. 

Understanding some of the key traits and methods toxic leaders employ is crucial for identifying and mitigating these destructive behaviours.

  1. Culture of Fear

Nurturing organisational cultures thrive on the foundation of psychological safety, an environment where employees feel empowered to express their thoughts, are respected for their competence, hold positive intentions toward their peers, and are encouraged to experiment and take risks. In stark contrast, a toxic boss dismisses this concept and cultivates a culture of fear, leaving individual workers in a perpetual state of apprehension regarding the boss's unpredictable reactions. 

  1. Using Favouritism to their Advantage

Favouritism is a common tactic employed by toxic leaders, showing preferential treatment to certain individuals while marginalising others. This creates a divisive workplace dynamic, eroding team cohesion. The lack of meritocracy can lead to promotions and opportunities based on personal relationships rather than individual competence.

  1. Resistance to Feedback and Organisational Change

Toxic leaders resist feedback, especially if it challenges their authority. This resistance hampers personal growth and impedes the organisation's adaptability to change. Additionally, toxic leaders often resist organisational change initiatives, viewing them as threats to established power structures, resulting in a stagnant and unresponsive organisational culture.

  1. Managing Upwards

A toxic leader often excels in managing upwards, projecting an image of high competence to their superiors. They streamline processes, demonstrate proficiency in delivery, and consistently present innovative ideas to advance the organisation. Unfortunately, many of these ideas are sourced from others, and they simply add a twist to make them appear original. While they may be viewed as an exemplary employee by superiors, their leadership style proves challenging for subordinates, earning them the distinction of being a difficult boss to work under.

  1. Lack of Communication

Closing communication channels within a team is a destructive practice that not only instils fear in employees when interacting with managers but also impedes open dialogue among team members, hindering team morale. The trust that once existed between your team members, as well as between them and you, has been eroded by your boss or a leader in the company, who sowed seeds of discontentment. Attempts to encourage open communication, either individually or as a group, are met with resistance due to this lack of trust, causing individuals to withhold their true feelings.

How to Overcome Toxic Leadership

  1. Providing Feedback

To address toxic leadership, establishing a feedback mechanism is crucial. Encourage open communication channels where team members feel safe sharing their concerns. Implement regular feedback sessions, allowing employees to express their experiences with leadership. Foster a culture that values constructive criticism and ensures anonymity if necessary. Leaders should actively seek feedback and demonstrate a commitment to addressing concerns. By creating a feedback loop, organisations can identify toxic behaviours early on and work towards cultivating a healthier leadership environment.

  1. Implement Leadership & Development Programs

Combating toxic leadership involves investing in the professional development of leaders. Establish leadership and development programs focused on enhancing communication skills, emotional intelligence, and conflict resolution. Provide resources for self-awareness and stress management. Leadership training should emphasise ethical decision-making and promote a positive organisational culture. By equipping leaders with the necessary skills and allowing continuous growth, organisations can mitigate toxic behaviours and cultivate a leadership team that inspires trust and respect.

  1.  Establish Clear Expectations

Set clear expectations for leadership behaviour by defining and communicating organisational values. Develop a leadership code of conduct that outlines acceptable and unacceptable behaviours. Document and share expectations regarding communication styles, conflict resolution, and team collaboration. Ensure that leaders are held accountable for their actions and that consequences for toxic behaviour are transparent. By establishing and reinforcing clear expectations, organisations create a framework that guides leaders toward positive and constructive leadership practices.

  1.  Implement 360-degree Performance Evaluations

Introduce 360-degree performance evaluations as part of your performance management framework to gain a comprehensive understanding of leadership effectiveness. Collect feedback from peers, subordinates, and superiors to assess leadership behaviours from multiple perspectives. This multi-source feedback offers a more holistic view, uncovering blind spots and patterns of toxic behaviour. HR and upper-level management can then receive targeted feedback, enabling them to address specific areas of concern. Implementing 360-degree evaluations fosters accountability, encourages self-reflection, and contributes to the overall quality of leadership.

  1. Create a Culture of Transparency

Cultivate a culture of transparency by openly addressing issues related to leadership behaviour. Encourage leaders to share their strategies, decisions, and challenges with the team. Establish open-door policies that facilitate honest communication. Transparent communication builds trust and allows employees to understand the rationale behind leadership decisions. Addressing concerns openly and transparently demonstrates a commitment to positive change. By embracing transparency, organisations create an environment where toxic behaviours are less likely to thrive, and employees feel safe and valued.


Taking the steps to identify toxic leadership behaviours isn’t going to happen because everything in the workplace is perfect. Naturally, it’s likely to occur at a time when the business is experiencing some kind of symptom of this behaviour - siloed or isolated teams, resignations, bad reviews and even the starts of reputational damage impacting the company’s ability to hire. 

Ultimately, it will occur at a time when there is going to be some distrust in the workplace. It must be handled sensitively.  As HR experts, we cannot underline enough how quickly toxic management and leadership can impact your entire company. 

However, it’s important for the health of everyone in the working environment, not to mention the goals and mission of an organisation, to resolve toxic leadership, through means of teaching, coaching, investing in culture and listening to everyone to re-establish trust. 

Work with our team of HR consultants to create a working environment that your people deserve and shape leaders that inspire your entire industry. Get in touch with HumanX for more support with toxic leaders or any problem in the workplace. 

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