What a toxic work culture looks like pt 1

Do you have a toxic work culture in your organisation? Several studies have shown the negative impact of a toxic work culture in any organisation, both in the short- and long-term.  

In this two-part video series, we will explore the characteristics of a toxic work culture, how it impacts your business in the short- and long-term, and what you can do about it as a business owner and leader of the organisation.  

This first part shows how a toxic culture might look like. 

Several studies have shown that a toxic work culture can lead to excessive stress, fatigue, depression and anxiety, and even feelings of burnout in employees. This affects employee engagement and productivity.  

Furthermore, with rising prices all around, many employees are expected to ask for a raise. Some employees have also found the benefits of remote work, many of which want to continue working from home. If they don’t get what they need, they are likely to quit and look elsewhere for better pay. Leaving a job becomes a lot easier for an employee to do if they view the workplace as toxic. 

Here are just some of the more common signs that your workplace is nurturing a toxic culture. 

  1. There is high employee turnover.

Studies have repeatedly shown that employees will leave when things become unbearable. A study conducted by MIT Sloan shows that a toxic work culture is the top predictor of whether an employee will quit or not. Also, as I have discussed in a previous video on why employees leave, a bad company culture pushes employees to go.  

If you’re on social media and follow human resources and recruitment influencers, you will find a lot of their viral content focus on helping potential job applicants recognise toxic work culture red flags. In fact, many of these influencers encourage job applicants to ask why the role they are applying for is vacant to help them identify whether the organisation has a toxic work culture. 

  1. Office gossip is the norm.

Some gossip may be normal, perhaps even healthy especially when the message content and delivery is honest and positive, and without any underlying negativity or intent to hurt or belittle. This is called positive gossip, which helps develop relationships and create strong bonds within a group. 

However, negative gossip can do more harm than good. It creates division within groups, often resulting in rivalry. This rivalry rarely results in healthy competition or leads to higher productivity. Because studies have shown that when people become targets of negative gossip, they often retaliate using the same means—spreading more negative gossip.  

  1. There are unhealthy work boundaries. 

Just imagine it’s Friday afternoon, 30 minutes before the work week ends. You get invited into a work meeting unexpectedly. Your boss discusses an urgent project report that was due on Monday in that meeting. This is the first time you are learning about this project report and your boss is expecting you to complete the report over the weekend.  

Does this look like a healthy work boundary to you? Does this look like a healthy working relationship with your boss? 

It does not. First of all, if doesn’t sound like there was proper planning for the project. Neither does it look like the right resources were allocated to ensure that all project objectives were accomplished within the set timeline. When processes are inefficient and ineffective, employee productivity impacts because they lose the ability to work and execute their responsibilities. At the same time, the boss in this example seems OK with the idea of passing on urgent work whenever they deem it necessary without considering the employee’s welfare. There are no boundaries for work and personal life. 

The most significant problem with unhealthy boundaries in the workplace is that it becomes the perfect petri dish for bullying and harassment. Those in authority may feel that they have the right to dictate what people do, how they work, and when and where they work. It creates an unequal power balance placing ordinary staff members at a distinct disadvantage.  

  1. Employees do not feel supported.

Employees want to feel that they are capable of accomplishing their roles and responsibilities. They want to feel equipped—that they have what they need to succeed. When they feel competent, they tend to be more engaged and productive. 

The reverse is true also when they don’t feel supported—if they don’t feel that they are given the appropriate training, the right equipment, or even guidance to accomplish their work. Nobody wants to feel incompetent and ill-equipped, even if it isn’t their fault that they don’t have what they need to succeed.  

Toxic work cultures often arise when leaders and managers don’t care about job fit and don’t follow the appropriate criteria for hiring candidates. This means not only hiring the right person with the right skills, but also the person with the right attitude. 

Going through the list of signs, do you think your organisation nurtures a toxic work culture? Do you have employees with you for a long time? Do they feel supported? Do they feel that there are healthy workplace boundaries that allow them to work and succeed in their roles without fear of bullies and gossip? If you said yes to all of these questions, then congratulations! It looks like you don’t have a toxic workplace. But if you answer no is some or most of those questions, perhaps it is time to consider your workplace conditions and what you can do to improve it. 

In the next video of this two-part series, we will explore how a toxic work culture affects teams and what you can do to prevent this from happening in your workplace. 



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