How to spot toxic workplace culture

Workplace Organization
January 26, 2021

We’re all familiar with the idea that it only takes a few rotten eggs to spoil the bunch. While some of this saying rings true, it doesn’t paint a complete picture. Shouldn’t a company have safeguards in place to identify and address these “bad eggs”? Why are their behaviours tolerated? Who is responsible for stopping undesirable attitudes in their tracks? 

It can be easy to blame poor company culture on a few individuals who don’t really care about being part of a team. In reality, however, it’s the responsibility of organizational leaders’ to keep those rotten eggs at bay. If left unaddressed, harmful workplace habits and attitudes can wreak havoc on your organizations’ culture. 

The importance of workplace culture 

Culture plays a crucial role in the overall success of a company. From retaining top talent to keeping employees engaged and motivated, fostering a favourable ecosystem where team members can thrive is pivotal. Some might argue that your workplace culture is something that grows organically and cannot be forced - but it’s that same laissez-faire attitude that allows toxic culture to brew. Don’t be fooled - the best cultures that appear organic have a considerable amount of thought and strategy supporting them. 

What are the risks associated with toxic work culture? 

  • Low employee morale, trust, and poor relationships 
  • Dismal employee experience translating into a sad customer experience  
  • High turnover rate, signalling issues to external audiences and shareholders 
  • Additional costs associated with unmotivated employees (time, money, and resources)

Related Article: How to keep your startup culture thriving 

Sources of toxic workplace culture 

Poor internal communications 

One of the most important factors when creating an optimal workplace culture is prioritizing internal communications. If you want to create an environment where team members feel empowered and supported, communication is vital. Trust and transparency are paramount in healthy workplace culture. If not, employees won’t feel comfortable discussing potential concerns or issues with leaders - leaving the perfect window of opportunity for toxicity to run wild. If you find contact with your team members stressful, forced, or just unpleasant, take a step back and evaluate your current strategy. 

Nonexistent employee engagement 

How can you expect employees to be interested in a company if that interest isn’t reciprocated? If employees don’t feel valued for their work, it won’t be long before they start looking for an employer who does. The small rumblings of low engagement can start with absenteeism, lack of morale, or poor performance. None of this translates to a great environment, and things will only escalate from there. However, engaging with employees is a great way to keep people interested in doing well while simultaneously nurturing a healthy work culture. Not sure how to create an engagement strategy? Employee rewards and recognition programs are a great place to start. When team members feel appreciated, that positivity will resonate culturally. 

Related Article: Strengthening core values through company culture 

Questionable management and leadership 

Whether or not you like being the center of attention, if you’re a leader, you have to set the standard for employee expectations. Just because you’re the ‘big cheese’ doesn’t make you an exemption. It’s a slippery slope - if employees see you slacking off or getting away with the bare minimum, they will follow suit. Management must embody the behaviours and attitudes they want from employees. Micromanagement is also a classic toxic culture trait. There is nothing worse than feeling scrutinized continuously, almost like being under a microscope. To get the most out of your employees, foster a culture that encourages a collective experience and expectations while building team members’ confidence in their respective roles.  

Foggy mission, vision, and values 

You wouldn’t go on a road trip without a roadmap, right? The same rule applies to any business activity without considering your mission, vision, and values.  Workplace culture is no exception, as these lay the foundation for setting your team and organization up for success. When these three considerations are unclear or not appropriately communicated, work culture is often a casualty. If employees don’t know where they fit into the mission, vision, and values, how can you expect them to be motivated? Rather than feeling like cogs in a machine, employees want to feel like an integral part of your team and the organization’s success. When everyone knows where they fit within an organization’s trajectory, workplace culture becomes cohesive and inclusive. 

Another great way to create an empowering and supportive culture for employees is through positive reinforcement. Discover how fostering a recognition-rich environment can take your culture to new heights - request a demo with Qarrot!  

Jamie Doyle