Toxic practices normalised in today’s workplaces

by Apr 23, 2024

Toxic practices normalised in today’s workplaces

In modern workplaces, certain practices have become so normalised that we often fail to recognise their negative impact on employee well-being. What might seem like harmless ways of working can contribute to a toxic environment, leading to burnout and other mental and physical health issues.

Toxic practices normalised in today’s workplaces

1. Discretionary effort over clear communication

The pressure to constantly go the undefined extra mile without clear boundaries or recognition can lead to chronic stress and exhaustion. What is “the extra mile” anyway? For some it might be working until 5.15 pm for others it might be working all night to get the job done.  Employees may feel compelled to exceed expectations without a clear understanding of what constitutes success, when they ultimately sacrifice their own well-being in the process.

We saw this tragically with the death of the UK lawyer who committed suicide after a punishing work schedule.

Worth a read: What is pre-burnout? It’s a serious warning

2. 24/7 Availability over work/life balance

In a world where technology enables constant connectivity, the expectation of being available around the clock can erode work-life balance and blur the lines between professional and personal life. This perpetual state of availability prioritises work over physical and emotional health, setting the stage for burnout.

Factor in a power dynamic and the concern if you don’t respond to the 11.00 pm email what will the boss think? Will it impact my promotion/ bonus / long-term career?

The Power of the Pause – 3 Plus International

3. Presence culture over flexibility

When leaders emphasise physical presence in the office over flexibility they fail to account for the diverse needs and responsibilities of employees. This rigid approach ignores the potential for remote or hybrid workers to manage their schedules to meet their KPIs.  This undermines trust and autonomy while amplifying stressors for those with caring responsibilities or other constraints.

Rather than trusting employees to deliver in their own way, the toxic manager doesn’t feel comfortable unless they can see their team in person. We even heard stories in COVID of employees being expected to keep their cameras on when they worked from home mouse clicks monitored by software to record activity.

Presence and availability culture revisited – 3 Plus International

Toxic practices normalised in today's workplaces

4. Busyness Over Strategic Activity

When leaders celebrate busyness as a marker of productivity, they overlook the importance of strategic thinking and meaningful work. Focusing solely on staying occupied can result in a frantic pace devoid of purpose, leaving employees feeling overwhelmed and undervalued. And not necessarily more productive or efficient.

5. Micro-management over autonomy

The nervous manager needs to micro-manage. Excessive oversight and micro-management stifle creativity, initiative, and autonomy. Instead of empowering employees to take ownership of their work, micro-managers breed resentment and disengagement, fueling a cycle of dissatisfaction and burnout.

6. Pointless over meaningful benefits

When organisations prioritise superficial perks like Friday bars, pizza parties, and ping-pong tables over meaningful benefits such as parental leave, vacation or heaven forbid a bonus, it sends a clear message about their priorities. While flashy fun perks may provide a temporary morale boost, they are less important to employees. What they really want is comprehensive benefits that protect their financial and physical well-being.

7. Rapid Response over measured reply

When leaders prioritise speed over quality they risk cultivating a culture of instant responsiveness over thoughtful, well-reasoned communication. This can lead to rushed decisions, misinterpretations, and increased levels of stress.  When they value speed over quality, it undermines collaboration and critical thinking. This leads to cultures where uncertainty thrives with increased levels of anxiety and stress.

To combat toxicity perpetuated by these normalised practices, organisations must prioritise a culture of empathy, balance, and respect. This includes setting clear expectations, promoting work-life integration, fostering autonomy, and investing in meaningful benefits that support the holistic well-being of employees.

We have to challenge these entrenched norms and prioritise human-centric approaches, where we can create healthier, more sustainable workplaces. It is here that burnout and everything that goes with it (high turnover ,absenteeism, low productivity and employee engagement) will become the exception rather than the rule. It’s not just individuals who will benefit but organisations too.


3Plus offers a portfolio of gender balance solutions which includes working with you to establish an understanding of the unwritten corporate culture.


Dorothy Dalton Administrator
Dorothy Dalton is CEO of 3Plus International. A specialist in diversity and bias conscious executive search, she supports organizations to achieve business success via gender balance, diversity and inclusion. She is CIPD qualified, and a certified coach and trainer including digital learning.
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