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  • Writer's pictureNeal McIntyre

Is Your Work Culture Toxic? 14 Sure Fire Indicators

Workplace culture is something that is routinely overlooked, especially by organizational leaders. How do I know this? In my conversations with executives, I regularly hear them say “We’re all just like family here”, or something similar, in describing their work culture. The irony is that if you can talk to their frontline workers, you get a real description of how dysfunctional the “family” is.  

Why is it so difficult for leaders to talk about their work culture besides classifying it as a family-type environment? The most glaring reason is that workplace culture largely reflects leadership and the values that these individuals routinely base their decisions and behaviors on. So, if something is wrong with your culture, something is inevitably wrong with your leadership. This conversation gets extremely uncomfortable for executives because no one wants to be part of the problem. The positive side of this is that without being part of the problem, there’s no way that you can be part of the solution! With that in mind, we all can improve on our values, behaviors, interactions with others, and on becoming a better overall person.

At the same time, upper executives can be shielded from cultural issues in the workplace by middle managers. No one wants the boss to realize that they’re operating a dysfunctional department! I mean, how many times have regional managers alerted specific stores that they have plans to visit them on a specific day so that the store manager can ensure everything is in tip-top shape when the regional manager arrives? We go to great extents to gloss over organizational and workplace culture issues and then we wonder why our company isn’t able to reach its true potential or is struggling to survive.  

Signs Of A Toxic Workplace Culture

Perhaps another reason company leaders struggle with honestly discussing their company culture is because we all may have different perceptions of what “toxic” actually means. From my evaluation and assessment of organizations, I can truthfully say that every organization has some degree of toxicity within its culture and usually this is caused by a number of factors and is not attributed to one particular person or situation. 

The following are 14 common symptoms that indicate a toxic work culture. As you read over these, I can only hope that you would honestly assess your own workplace while asking the question “How often do I see this at work?”.

  1. Poor Communication

This could include situations involving a lack of transparency where certain critical information is not shared promptly with others or is simply withheld. Additionally, this could involve situations where gossip and rumors are running rampant throughout your organization.

  1. High Turnover Rates

Are you witnessing employees frequently resigning from your company? Or are you having difficulty retaining skilled and competent employees?

  1. Low Morale

Are your employees normally unhappy and unmotivated? Do they display a lack of engagement where they have minimum enthusiasm for their work or company initiatives?

  1. Overworking and Burnout

Are employees regularly assigned more work than they can handle? Are you constantly doing more with less because of whatever reason? Are employees expected to work beyond their regular work hours, including weekends and holidays?

  1. Unfair Treatment

Are certain employees treated better than others regardless of their performance? Are employees treated differently because of their gender, race, age, or other personal characteristics?

  1. Micromanagement

Are your managers constantly checking up on their employees and preventing their employees from making their own decisions? Are employees told to not display initiative but to simply follow orders?

  1. Lack of Professional Growth

Are there very few opportunities for promotions or skills development for your employees? Is there a lack of training or professional development programs within your company that employees are able to take advantage of?

  1. Negative Interpersonal Relationships

Are there frequent arguments, back-stabbing, or passive-aggressive behavior between employees? Is there a lack of collaboration and support among your employees?

  1. Inconsistent Policies

Are your company policies not clearly communicated or are applied inconsistently? Are your company policies constantly changing creating confusion and instability?

  1. Lack of Recognition

Do the hard work and achievements of your employees often go unnoticed and unrecognized? Is there an absence of reward systems for good performance?

  1. Health and Safety Concerns

Are there potential workplace hazards due to a failure to provide proper maintenance of equipment, etc.? Are employees provided with support for their mental health well-being, such as stress management resources?

  1. Poor Leadership

Do your leaders lack the skills and knowledge to manage effectively? Do your leaders exhibit abusive or manipulative behavior towards employees?

  1. Low Trust In Leadership

Do employees trust the decisions and directions provided by leadership? Does leadership encourage or allow open communication or feedback without repercussions?

  1. Fear of Retaliation

Do employees fear repercussions if they voice concerns or complaints? Are employee mistakes met with severe consequences instead of being used as learning opportunities?

Just as Jeff Foxworthy has famously said that “you might be a redneck if….”, your workplace culture is toxic if it displays any of the above characteristics!

On The Positive Side Of Things…

Just because your organization may routinely display several of the above characteristics does not mean that your company is doomed for failure. A toxic workplace culture can be changed into a positive, encouraging, and thriving environment for all if everyone works towards this needed change! Unfortunately, many leaders try to initiate this change by themselves which is destined for failure from the start. Why? Because they are part of the cultural problem within their organization! Oftentimes when we are very close to the problem, we are unable to truly see the extent of the problem, the signs and causes of the problem, and we certainly can’t figure out a way to solve the problem - at least not in a timely, cost-effective manner.

Trying to change your workplace culture on your own is akin to being dropped right in the middle of a maze and then being challenged to find your way out in one attempt when all you can see are the walls around you! It doesn’t work - and neither will organizational leaders attempting to positively change their company culture on their own! 

I’m a firm believer in being a lifelong learner. Part of this is having the mindset that each day is an opportunity to improve or get worse as there is no such thing as staying the same. You’re either getting better or you’re letting others, including your competition, rush past you. Knowing the signs of a toxic work culture, which are you? Is your business getting better every day or is it getting worse?

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