According to September data published in MIT Sloan School of Management’s journal, one in 10 people consider their workplace toxic. A January report found that a toxic workplace is 10 times more likely to drive workers away than low compensation. And often, it takes only a bad manager to create an environment toxic enough to make someone resign.

The Great Resignation has been a popular topic of conversation in today’s changing workforce. But according to researchers, there may be an end in sight to the workplace movement if leadership is willing to step up and properly address it.

Research from MIT’s Sloan School of Management Review reveals that HR leaders should “detox their corporate culture” or otherwise fail to retain talent.

Employees are “sending a clear signal,” said MIT Sloan Senior Lecturer Donald Sull in a statement “They will no longer tolerate disrespect, exclusionary behavior, abuse, and other toxic behaviors.” 

But what are the key predictors of toxic workplace behavior? Research points to toxic leadership, toxic social norms, and work design. Leadership should work to identify and address these factors to enhance the overall employee experience and thus improve retention rates.

Read on for insights on how to fix culture and end the Great Resignation from MIT research based on over 1,000 studies:


Leaders must hold themselves and their colleagues accountable for any kind of toxic behavior. To improve a company’s culture, CEOs are advised to keep cultural detox on the agenda by linking cultural improvements to bottom-line benefits (ie: lower attrition). Middle managers are also encouraged to do the same.

Social Norms

Social norms are defined as behavior expected and acceptable in day-to-day social interactions. They help shape subcultures within the company — from the overall organization down to specific teams within departments. Toxic social norms can contribute to poor behavior, even from people who wouldn’t otherwise conduct themselves in that way. While it may seem obvious, promoting uncollaborative individuals into leadership roles will only undermine the company’s culture. Toxic leadership can negatively influence and redefine social norms.

Work Design

There are many elements that go into work design — from workload to conflicting job demands — that consistently predict outcomes that include toxic behavior. The stress level of an employee is particularly important to focus on when rethinking work design. Consider reducing meaningless tasks, tightening up the description of a role and its responsibilities, and allowing employees to have more flexibility. These are just a few of the ways employers can help manage and improve the stress levels of their employees.

When it comes to improving retention rates and the overall success of a business, sustaining a healthy team morale is paramount.

More than 90 percent of CEOs and CFOs across North America believe that investing in the improvement of their corporate culture would boost financial performance. The majority of executives acknowledge that their organization’s culture is not as healthy as it should be.

As Sull noted, “Organizational leaders face two choices: detox their corporate culture or lose the war for talent.”