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

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.

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.

  • 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.

5. Siloed teams

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

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.

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.

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.



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Ali Saleh

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