5 Ways to Spot a Toxic Culture

In today’s social media driven, global community, the inner workings of any organization are front and center for all to see. Anyone can visit websites like Glassdoor or LinkedIn to get informed on anything from salary info and the hiring process to worker grievances and company culture. A great culture yields engaged employees, higher productivity and retention, easier talent attraction and positive results to the bottom line. Conversely, a toxic culture can cost you your best people and ultimately kill your business.

Take a close look at the list below. If any of these remind you of environment you currently work in, it’s safe to conclude that you work in a toxic culture.


  1. There is no interest in employee growth or development

Even the most dedicated person wants to see some kind of progress in their careers. It may be a promotion, lateral move for new challenges or an increase in job duties, exposure or influence. Perhaps it’s an opportunity to travel. They’re always looking for ways to grow professionally and build their personal brand.

Failing to show a genuine interest in the professional development of your people is a sure fire sign of an unhealthy culture. It sends the message that you don’t care. Eventually, regardless of how reputable your brand is, your employees will begin to feel like they’re only holding down dead end jobs. They’ll start to believe that what they do simply does not matter and will eventually disengage. Soon your people will begin to spend their days working less and job hunting more.

  1. Turnover is at an all-time high

Turnover, whether voluntary or involuntary has a direct impact on company culture. It effects morale, employee engagement and can poison the corporate culture. People talk. Regardless of what the actual reason(s) for the turnover are, rumors are bound to circulate. When turnover is high and involuntary, paranoia sets in and those that remain begin to wonder whose next. When the turnover is high and voluntary, something’s up. Chances are, if an exit interview is being done, you’ll discover a trend; something happening among your people that managers and HR seem to be blind to. Meanwhile, you’re losing your people and inadvertently creating a toxic culture.

  1. Immoral, unethical and illegal activities are everywhere and encouraged by management

By far one of the worst ways to turn a good culture into a toxic one is to introduce and in any way support immoral, unethical and illegal behavioral patterns. Underpaying hard workers who may not be informed on pay scales or know how to negotiate, allowing workplace harassment or discrimination to go unchecked, and promotions based on the superficial as opposed to merit are some of the hallmarks of a contaminated workplace setting.

The last thing any organization wants is a public scandal or lawsuit so avoid creating a negative environment by putting a stop to this kind of conduct. Create and enforce zero tolerance policies. Implement mandatory training for associates and managers. Show your people that they matter!

  1. Disrespect, intimidation and public embarrassment are par for the course

Most typically spend more time in the office then they do at home and no one wants to come into work every day and be disrespected, belittled, embarrassed or made to feel small in any way. No one wants to have their boss or colleague humiliate them in the middle of a meeting. No one wants to receive an embarrassing or disrespectful response to an email they’ve sent out nor does anyone want to be ambushed at work in any way. Being insulted at work and hearing things like, “Suck it up!” or “You’re lucky to have a job,” makes for an unhealthy work environment creating a space nobody wants to work in.

These harmful patterns are destructive to relationships and in turn, corporate and team culture.

  1. HR fails to stand up to management

The duty of HR is two-fold. HR needs to be a consultant to organizational leaders as well as an advocate for the workforce. When HR focuses only on pleasing senior leaders and keeping their own jobs, associates feel unsupported, they lose trust in HR and the culture is corrupted.

Sadly, many who work in a noxious atmosphere aren’t aware of it. They hate going into the office, cringe at the thought of interacting with their boss and worst of all blame themselves because they have no idea how to recognize the signs and identify their organization’s culture as toxic. They work themselves to the point of burnout thinking that if they work harder, skip meals and give more they’ll be more successful. What they fail to realize is that it’s not a lack of skill, it’s isn’t even a lack of work ethic that’s holding them back, it’s the unhealthy, toxic culture they’re working in every day.

Thankfully, as an employee, you are not as powerless as you think. Don’t be afraid to speak up. You’d be surprised how much influence one voice can carry. Document everything. Remember, it’s all about what you can prove.  If you are a victim of workplace discrimination, contact the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

As you’re taking steps to advocate for a better work environment, devise an exit strategy. Often times there can be backlash. Also, the change may not come as quickly as you’d like and making a move may seem like the only viable option.

Hopefully this helps. There are so many of you working in less than favorable work conditions because you believe you have no other option. You don’t believe you have a voice. You don’t believe there is anything you can do. You’re wrong. You have more power than you realize.


Best of luck to you!


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