Signs of a Toxic Workplace Culture and What You Can Do About It

Blog / Signs of a Toxic Workplace Culture and What You Can Do About It

Workplace culture has a profound effect on the success of an organization.

What is workplace culture? It is the summation of shared values, characteristics and behaviors of a company and its employees. It encompasses a wide variety of elements, from leadership style to values and ethics.

Each organization has its own personality, or office culture. But when a company has weak workplace culture, it can create a toxic working environment that can have some massive negative repercussions.

A toxic workplace culture can negatively impact:

  • Productivity
  • Creativity
  • Motivation
  • Inclusivity and diversity
  • Relationships between employees
  • Recruiting talent
  • Retaining talent and company loyalty
  • Overall profits
  • The overall wellbeing of employees

The numbers don’t lie about these consequences. More than 8 in 10 Americans report that working in a job with a poor cultural fit or toxic culture had a negative impact on their mental wellbeing and motivation. More than 7 in 10 said it decreased their creativity and productivity.

All of this can lead to high attrition rates and decreased profits, both of which can be costly for an organization.

Signs of a Toxic Workplace Culture

Here are 5 signs that your workplace culture is toxic.

1 | We Don’t Hug: Bad Attitudes

It is getting dark in this little heart of mine.” – Wednesday Addams, TheAddams Family

Does the workplace have a gloomy vibe? And we aren’t talking cool Wednesday Addams vibes here. A lack of enthusiasm and bad attitudes are contagious. And all that negativity fuels the overall gloomy vibe in the office. And worse, it hinders the ability of employees to get things done. Poor attitudes lead to poor, less productive work. If you dread going into work each day, it could be a sign of a toxic workplace culture.

2 | I’ve Never Been Really Good at Friends: Blame Culture

“Nobody ever wins The Games. Period. There are survivors…no winners.” -Haymitch Abernathy, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Do you feel like you are competing in The Hunger Games? An “every man for himself” environment is caused by “blame culture.” When leadership refuses to take accountability, it establishes a precedent that mistakes are bad. So no one wants to accept responsibility and deflects blame for fear of being reprimanded in some fashion. Fear of failure is a powerful motivator and work becomes a competition, rather than being about collaboration.

3 | Never Dream of Revolution: Authoritarian Culture

“One believes things because one has been conditioned to believe them.” – Mustapha Mond, Brave New World

At the root of authoritarian work culture is power and control. This leads to a culture of bullying and discrimination in the workplace thanks to favoritism and nepotism. In this type of workplace culture, employees are punished for honesty, either overtly or covertly. A person who speaks the truth is deemed a troublemaker or is passed over for a promotion because they “aren’t a team player.” If you feel you are less valued or that your ideas and opinions aren’t respected by leaders, you might be in a toxic workplace environment.

4 | On Wednesdays, We Wear Pink: Clique Culture

“How many of you have felt personally victimized by Regina George?”  -Ms. Norbury, Mean Girls

Unfortunately for some, we didn’t leave cliques and gossip behind in school. Clique culture is the exact opposite of an inclusive culture and creates an environment where people are afraid to be their authentic selves. Like an authoritarian culture, this environment also leads to bullying and can undermine collaboration.Those who don’t operate with the same mindset as the clique are made to feel invisible. Exclusion can be deeply and psychologically harmful to people and is a form of bullying.

5 | As I’m A-Walkin’ Out the Door: High Turnover Rates

“Take this job and shove it, I ain’t working here no more!” – Johnny Paycheck, Take This Job and Shove It

If your workplace feels like a revolving door and you aren’t sure which desk you’ll see empty tomorrow, it’s a strong indicator that a negative workplace culture is literally driving employees away. One out of every five people who leave their jobs cite culture as their reason for quitting. And while there are a number of reasons that people leave their jobs, if you feel like it is a constant mass exodus, it’s a major red flag.

What to Do About It

So what can employers and employees do about it? Employers should start by addressing the root of the issue–the toxicity. They can do that by cultivating a positive workplace culture. Good company culture literally starts from the top down. In other words, leadership needs to walk the walk, not just talk the talk. Beyond that, company values need to be constantly broadcast to employees, and employers should seek out employee feedback routinely to nip issues in the bud. Also, showing appreciation for your employees can go a long way. For a more in-depth look, check out our blog on 5 strategies for cultivating a positive workplace culture.

Lastly, the most important thing both employees and employers can do is focus on cultural fit. Hiring someone on skills alone or choosing a company based solely on the size of the paycheck they offer is insanity. Work is more than just executing a task. It’s about people, but more importantly, the dynamic between people in the office.

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