13 signs of a toxic work culture & what to do about them

Ali Saleh
5 min readJun 30, 2022


I was working on a way to survey employees for work-related issues for a valued client of mine and I came across 13 worth talking about.

These are common work culture issues organizations typically see from complaints by former or current employees on review sites and what you can do to address them.

Photo suggests a culturally inclusive practice between a multinational pair of coworkers discussing their shared work culture.
Photo by Monstera from Pexels.

1. Managers or teams don’t follow core values

One good way to ensure cohesion between teams and their managers is to codify core values for every department. Their manager in line, every team member should know how they contribute to the company as a whole.

Core values are intangibles. So, it’s fair to say the only way you can see positive tangible change is if you actualize them somehow. Initiate a conversation with the managers, and help them help you codify those core values as hardcopy to be shared with all their reports.

Employees that see that their managers and the company at large are approaching those values with some tangibility will take steps to reflect them in their behavior.

2. Rampant gossip must not be tolerated

Gossip means that the gossiper either: feels there is no space supportive of communication or is gossiping because they feel like they can. These individuals can easily be dealt with by making a circle of ‘soft confrontation’ that brings issues to light. Doing this right proves that interpersonal tensions are dealt with by talking them through in a space that facilitates open communication.

If you feel like no such space can be created, then that’s a sign that relationships at the company aren’t based on healthy forms of communication.

3. High turnover

Conduct ‘goodbye’ interviews that probe for reasons possibly making employees leave. Also, interview the veterans and seniors to explain why they stay with you (to identify your strengths).

4. Unfriendly competition

A lack of collaboration will, especially in cases where ‘high performance’ runs the show, leads to unhealthy competition.

You could have an award and reward system of recognition. The former is dedicated to high effort and performance, and the latter to elements of a fun working environment.

Employees must see that the company does not value ‘performance’ over everything. The more varied the awards/rewards are, the more likely leaders in each subculture will win something, and the less likely unfriendly competition will tend to exist.

  • Ideas for sales team awards: Top number of sales; Biggest sale; Top number of sales in the shortest amount of time; Biggest sale nearest to the top of the month; Top number of sales within the designated working hours.
  • Other rewards: Most sociable employee; Most punctual employee; Class clown employee; Nicest looking cubicle/desk.

In parallel, you would also be working on improving team cohesion, probing for unhealthy forms of competition as they arise.

5. Siloed teams

A communication barrier between team members can lower productivity, discourage ideas, and create an undesirable working environment.

To foster effective communication, ensure that the top leadership demonstrates ideal forms of communication — corrective feedback being one of them.
Moreover, transparency, clarity, and openness are three tenants to communicate by. When done right, as a result, team members will feel more at ease to openly communicate when they see constructive examples of it around them.

6. Working through lunch must be discouraged

What we can’t change through policy-making, we can change through example. All managers, without exception, must leave their desks and have their lunch socially at a specific time of the day. In doing so, they should encourage their reports to do the same — and as time passes, the workforce will acclimate to restructuring their work routine to be as productive and efficient within the designated work hours.

7. Make giving back to the community company-wide

If giving back means manual labor — good! The team members can work together for a good cause and exercise team spirit in different environments.

Examples of team-based programs companies can get behind:

8. A lack of employee acknowledgment

Employees are not always incentivised by financial gain alone. Sometimes, a few words of recognition is all it takes to make one feel that their work is being appreciated.

Track spotlight achievements from all employees in a department. You can, for example, speak to each employee one-on-one and request that they notify you of their current achievements, i.e. going the extra mile on a project, meeting personal goals, etc. Highlight these by name in a monthly all-hands with each department.

After a while of recognizing employee accomplishments and achievements habitually, unrelenting support becomes part of the team’s overall values. So, in truth, you can reward team players that perform well in supporting themselves and their peers.

9. Are you hiring when you could be promoting?

If you’re hiring leadership rather than promoting employees to leadership positions within the organization, it makes them feel devalued. One way around this is to really pay attention to the employee/performance reviews. Even if they are high-achievers but lack leadership skills, appoint adequate mentorship to gauge their motivation toward becoming leaders. Work with what you have.

10. Are managers publicly criticizing employees?

Apply a solution by example. Take the manager who resorts to public criticism to the side, correct their behavior in private, and praise them in public.

11. Working outside company hours

There is no net standard workload that all employees in a department must meet. Thinking that way will create discouragement among teams. To avoid the risk of employee burnout, talk to managers about checking for workload evaluations. The goal is to ensure that workloads match the employee’s specific productivity. Once comfortable working at their own pace, have the manager talk to them about adding more of the same workload or one with more variety. Some employees prefer repetition, others variety.

12. Hiring “culture fit” candidates as opposed to “culture adds”

Are we hiring purely on the basis of how well a person fits within the culture? “Culture fits” help us sidestep having to appropriate a new hire to belong in the company culture. But we should remember that such hires tend to be at odds with innovation, creativity, and change. “Culture adds”, on the other hand, share core values while bringing unique perspectives or experiences to the team. They also add to cultural inclusivity.

13. No DEI policy

Not having a DEI policy tells employees that management does not care about them. An improvement is to involve the HR team and draft a DEI policy. Once drafted, share the document with all employees and ask them for suggestions. This will encourage feelings of belongingness, safety, and inclusion.

If you frequently experience culture issues at work, do your homework, suggest improvements and be fearless. And with that, I leave you with this amazing quote from Airbnb co-founder, Brian Chesky:

“Culture is simply a shared way of doing something with a passion.”

Well said, Mr. Chesky!



Ali Saleh

Learn with me! I write about anything in which I find passion. I am a writer seeking to add value to your content. Follow me on Linkedin.com/in/ali-s-873722183