4 Key Warning Signs That Show Your Work Culture Is Toxic

Having a positive work culture can have a big impact on employee well-being and motivation, company productivity, and even overall expenses. According to a “Toxic Workers” study published by Harvard University, employees engaging in harmful behavior can severely undermine the business, even if they possess a high level of talent. Putting an end to such conduct and avoiding toxic workers can save as much revenue as employing high-performing workers.

Although some large companies promote a positive company culture, there are still many businesses struggling to find a productive solution to their toxic environments. Yet just like sales or ROI, there are questions you can ask to help determine the toxicity in your organizational culture. Let’s take a peek at five most threatening signs that show to what extent negativity has taken a hold of your business.

4 Key Warning Signs That Show Your Workplace Is Toxic

4 Key Warning Signs That Show Your Work Culture Is Toxic

Culture eats strategy for breakfast.

– Peter Drecker

1. Communication problems

The first problem which can lead to significant issues is a lack of proper communication — or worse, the existence of passive-aggressive communication. Productive collaboration is the key to accomplishing long-term business goals. Without effective communication, a toxic gap arises between departments that leads to unresolved issues between managers, employees, and customers. 

Some examples of bad communication are:

  • Keeping employees in the dark about newly implemented decisions
  • Poorly written emails with unclear messages
  • Lack of transparency
  • A stiff between managers and subordinates
  • Lack of specific objectives
  • Excessive rumors around the office
  • Insufficient feedbacks and reports
  • Passive-aggressive comments

A prime example of bad communication occurred in 2001 at the Cerner Corporation, a medical software company. The CEO sent an angry email to the entire staff threatening to take away their benefits due to team members coming in late and leaving early. This resulted in a major drop in the company’s stock market price after the email was posted online.     

You can notice communication problems by the way employees interact with each other, as well as the tone they use on social media platforms. If you find something that’s out of harmony with your organizational culture, chances are high that your workplace is toxic. Insults, bullying, and harassment must never be tolerated or mistaken for constructive criticism.

2. Toxic leadership

One bad behavior empowers another. Hence, narcissistic leaders can encourage an atmosphere of negativity and intolerance in the workplace. The main characteristic of toxic leadership is managers who treat employees with disrespect, arrogance or condescension. These unfitting leaders view their employees and “subordinates” as beneath them, and feel that the rules only apply for those who readily submit to their judgments.  

While toxic leaders might meet high business expectations for a period of time, they often do so by taking credit for others’ work, and always negatively affect the health of the company in the long term. This bad conduct produces a negative company culture that can lower the productivity of an organization.

3. Favoritism in applying company rules and policies

In any organization, every employee is expected to follow the rules. It is unacceptable for one or a couple of employees to be perceived as favorites, while others don’t get a chance to climb the corporate ladder. If a person “A” gets promoted for the same thing person “B” did, for example, or managers look the other way only when certain employees engage in negative behavior, this promotes workplace toxicity.


To promote fairness and accountability, business policies and procedures should be written down, distributed to all employees, and applied fairly and equally. Simple project management software can also be a useful tool for measuring individual performance fairly and accurately. 

4. More emphasis on benefits than on mission

When business owners try to retain talent, they often lure workers with benefits and forget about the company’s mission. This is yet another move that leads to a toxic work culture, as it takes away from the employees’ sense of purpose. In order for an organization to be productive, it needs to have a goal which the employees support and appreciate. Otherwise, the employees will not unlock their full potential.

Simply put, those who work only for the long lunch breaks and happy hours will not perform the same as those who feel appreciated and respected for their work. The employees who share the company’s message will be more motivated, and you can schedule team milestones and corporate events as a great way to favor joint collaboration and promote positivity. Just remember that the main focus should remain on the business’s performance.

Detoxify your workplace

Do you recognize some of these signs at your place of work? If any of these sound familiar, then it’s time to detox the company culture by creating a healthy and collaborative work atmosphere. After all, a happy worker is a productive worker.

In fact, they are at least 10% more proficient than those oppressed by a toxic environment. So the question remains – are you ready to improve your workplace? If you are, then you are on the right track towards growing your business by laying healthy roots.

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