12 Indications of a Toxic Workplace Culture That Leaders Should Correct

One of the keys to long-term health for any company is to have a strong and positive workplace culture. Toxicity in an organizational culture can be destructive in countless ways. This bad energy impacts morale, productivity, retention, and recruitment, and business leaders need to be on the lookout to identify problems early and address them swiftly. 

Let’s examine the most common hallmarks of a toxic workplace culture so you can consider where to make improvements. 

  1. No sense of core values.  

Does your enterprise have a clear statement of core values that drive its operation? Do employees know these values and why they are important? A lack of core values isn’t necessarily indicative of a toxic culture on its own, but dysfunctional companies typically do not have a strong commitment to values. Such companies may have nominally adopted a handful of core values, but they are no more than buzzwords on a paper—not active guiding principles.  

  1. Managers don’t walk the talk. 

Managers, supervisors, and team leaders have a pivotal role in demonstrating the core company values. Walking the talk also extends to showing other competencies like personal integrity, self-awareness, and communication. Leaders at this level who genuinely care about their employees will build a positive culture through their actions, not just their words.    

  1. Constant staff turnover. 

Here’s another telltale indication of a poor workplace culture. If the staff is in constant flux, with people leaving and new hires taking their place, this can mean that people are in search of a better work atmosphere. Exit interviews could uncover the issue. A continually changing staff is not only indicative of culture problems—it also makes it difficult to maintain any culture or institutional memory, since few people stay for a long time.  

  1. High absentee rate. 

Similarly, you may notice your employees are often late for work or take extended breaks. Examine absentee stats with the help of managers and HR to gauge if it’s a concern. If the rate is high, it can suggest a toxic culture. High rates of absenteeism harms productivity, not only because fewer people are working—those who do show up may start to feel resentful if others are constantly slacking off.    

  1. People skip lunch and breaks. 

On the other hand, you may notice that employees frequently work through lunch hours, skip breaks, stay late, or work through the weekends. Check to see if people are actually taking the PTO allotted to them. If not, it could be a sign of a high-pressure workplace, with a high risk of burnout. There may be unspoken expectations, or such a climate of competition that people feel it’s necessary to work constantly.  

  1. Difficulty recruiting. 

Whether it’s office or warehouse staff, managers, supervisors, or board members, if your company has a reputation for a toxic environment, recruitment will be difficult. Why would someone want to align themselves with an unhealthy environment when there are other choices?  

  1. No advancement from within.  

If your business rarely promotes from within, you’re not motivating employees to stay and build a career. Sure, a number of staff may be happy in their current positions and not be looking for a promotion. However, a positive work culture is one that encourages all workers to reach their highest potential. 

  1. Siloed teams. 

When teams work in silos, they don’t share information or communicate, and they may be functioning at cross-purposes. This can breed frustration and suspicion, promote isolation, and prevent the company from functioning as a unified group working in harmony. Siloed teams tend to stifle new ideas and hamper creativity, and they can prevent your company from reaching its full potential.  

  1. Employees take sides and gossip. 

Filling in the blanks when you lack information is a natural human tendency, and a little gossip is fine. However, if your company is rife with mean-spirited gossip, people “taking sides” and conspiring to undermine others, this is clearly a toxic culture—more specifically, one that handles conflict poorly. Disagreements are inevitable, but there are ways to handle them proactively and with respect for everyone involved.  

  1. Lack of inclusion.  

Inclusivity is key for any healthy company—all people want to feel accepted and welcomed at work. They want to bring their authentic selves to the workplace, and to feel like they have some say in the company. If people feel uncomfortable at work, feel like they have to act a certain way, or if they never see anyone like them in leadership positions, this is a clear problem.  

  1. No positive online reviews. 

What do current and former staff say publicly about your company? Prospective job applicants will research this. When people love where they work and have job satisfaction, they’ll tell others and encourage them to apply. Search for your company on Glassdoor, Indeed, Comparably, and CareerBliss, to name just a few review sites.  

  1. No employee recognition. 

Two methods to recognize employees should be present. An official program is a must. All staff need to understand how it operates and the accolade should be something meaningful. The second approach is an ingrained practice of informally giving credit openly to those deserving of it—for example, managers praising an employee during the weekly team meeting.