A toxic work culture exposes employees to hazardous behaviour, whether that’s physically, emotionally or both. The consequences can vary from reduced productivity and commitment through to emotional distress and safety being at risk.

When it comes to toxic workplaces, many people face abusive managers and bullies at work. These employees are often targets of ridicule, gaslighting, threats or demeaning comments made by their manager or other colleagues on a regular basis. Whilst many of these apparent signs can be easily recognised, other warning signs are much more subtle and can be even more difficult to spot within hybrid working environments.

Toxicity in the workplace is ever-growing, with more and more people experiencing burnout, particularly throughout the pandemic. Many leaders within these organisations are failing to recognise the signs of a toxic workplace within their own companies. Unfortunately, when left undetected, this toxicity will spread and can ultimately destroy a company’s ability to remain competitive. It’s vital that companies not only recognise problems within their own workplace culture as soon as possible, but that they also act immediately.

The good news is that there are several signs of a toxic workplace you can look for to determine if there might be a problem within your own work environment to act upon.

High turnover rates

This is perhaps one of the clearest indications of a toxic work environment. A high turnover rate usually indicates poor leadership, low employee engagement, or, at the very least, unrealistic expectations. Therefore, it’s important to take a deeper look into what these rates really show.

Exit interviews are a great means of identifying reasons for terminating employment, to give you a starting point for identifying problems within the workplace.

Lack of company culture and morale

Does there always seem to be a black cloud hanging over the office, consistent low energy, and joylessness at work? If your organisation places no value on culture or you observe that the office exhibits low morale, then a toxic workplace might be to blame. A company's culture is one of its most important assets. When it's clear that leadership does not value the company culture, it will be apparent that leadership no longer values its employees.

Results are valued more than people

Producing results is critical to running a sustainable business. But when a company is absorbed in growth and those results come at the expense of the team for example, forcing your team to work unrealistic schedules to hit a goal, it is a sign of a toxic work culture. If employees are disregarded and little attention is being paid to wellbeing, it can lead to low engagement, burnout, and turnover.

Core values are undefined or not taken seriously

Frequently, organisations will display core values and boast their mission and vision for audiences to see, without following them. Whilst they claim to nurture a community of like-minded people who uphold key values such as ‘honesty’ and ‘integrity’, who are all working towards a specific goal, the reality is different. There’s often a noticeable lack of direction, and it can seem as though everyone is working to the best of their abilities, without knowing why or what for.

No employee recognition

When was the last time you gave your employees real, meaningful recognition? Good company cultures are based on shared visions, work and wins. When employees don’t feel part of, or engaged in any one of those three elements, they tend to feel like they work in a toxic environment. This lack of recognition can damage both quality and performance. You can take a great step in reducing the risk of a toxic workplace environment by investing in employee recognition and rewards. Frequent and meaningful recognition can help your company build a culture of recognition that has the power to improve not just productivity rates, but also employee engagement, workplace morale, and retention rates.

Decision making and communication is top-down only  

How does information get around in your workplace? Are employees able to get the information they need to get the work done? Are employees able to communicate too? A key sign of a toxic work culture is that communication normally flows one way (usually from the top-down) therefore it is not a collaborative process, and it may lack structure and organised thinking. It may also be difficult to get hold of the right people to gain further information or answers to complete a task. Employees are often afraid to ask questions either because they will be singled out for not understanding quickly enough or nothing will be done. This, amongst many other things, can lead to repetition of work, issues with the quality of work and loss of time.

Unclear roles and goals

When an employee knows their role, it means they not only know what their job entails, but also what is expected of them, and what counts as a success or failure in their tasks. Likewise, goals make a company move forward. When everyone knows the company aims, as well as the smaller, individual goals, there’s room for a healthy work atmosphere to develop as everyone is working towards the big picture, which keeps employees productive and happy.

A toxic workplace may not have clear goals and employers will often choose to give additional roles to their employees (without proper financial compensation) instead of hiring. This leads to people feeling lost in their career path, under-appreciated, seeing diminished development and often leads to burnout.

Conflict issues

All teams have the occasional conflict or disagreement; it’s part of working collaboratively. But if those conflicts are constant, or particularly negative, it could be a warning sign that the work environment has turned toxic. A toxic work environment tends to ignore conflicts or runs away from them; therefore, the outcome is never fully resolved which can lead to dominance or retaliation. All that conflict can make it harder for teams to collaborate and make it harder to move forward on team and organisational goals.

If you’re concerned that you may be operating within a toxic work environment and keen to learn how to change the culture, get in touch with GRA. We may be able to support with leadership development, team development or culture change initiatives to see the change you desire. Please register via the form below.