Original Research

Conformer or colluder? The human resource professional’s contribution to toxic leadership

Tatiana Page, John J. Mgwenya
SA Journal of Human Resource Management | Vol 21 | a2123 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/sajhrm.v21i0.2123 | © 2023 Tatiana Page, John J. Mgwenya | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 22 September 2022 | Published: 28 March 2023

About the author(s)

Tatiana Page, The Da Vinci Institute for Technology Management, Johannesburg, South Africa
John J. Mgwenya, The Da Vinci Institute for Technology Management, Johannesburg, South Africa


Orientation: There is a growing body of knowledge on the role of human resource (HR) professionals in workplace bullying, but their role in perpetuating a toxic leadership culture in organisations remains unscrutinised. Human resource professionals are uniquely positioned to influence toxic leadership styles as they are required to cultivate and sustain the organisational leadership culture.

Research purpose: The aim of this study was to identify gaps in HR practices that could contribute to toxic leadership in organisations.

Motivation of the study: The inherent role conflict of the HR professional and competing demands from organisational stakeholders are likely to create toxic outcomes.

Research approach/design and method: A phenomenological study was carried out at a South African organisation to gain insight into the practices of HR professionals. Data were collected using semi-structured interviews and the key findings of the study were identified through a thematic analysis.

Main findings: Three themes emerged that contribute to creating gaps in HR practices that support toxic leadership: toxic HR practices, challenges faced by HR professionals and business results at any cost.

Practical/managerial implications: The findings suggest a need to alleviate the inherent role conflict experienced by HR professionals, so that their contributions to toxic leadership are minimised.

Contribution/value-add: This study contributes to the literature on toxic leadership by expounding on the role of the human resources professionals (HRP) and gaps in their practices that contribute to toxic leadership. Suggested guidelines and recommendations are offered to address the gaps in HR practices.


toxic leadership; human resource professional; paradox; ethics; human resource practices

JEL Codes

J24: Human Capital • Skills • Occupational Choice • Labor Productivity; M12: Personnel Management • Executives; Executive Compensation; M14: Corporate Culture • Diversity • Social Responsibility

Sustainable Development Goal

Goal 16: Peace, justice and strong institutions


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