toxic work culture

7 Signs of Toxic Work Culture and How to Fix It

In the past few years, toxic work environments have played a leading role in employees leaving their jobs. A 2022 study by MIT concluded that people are 10 times more likely to leave a job for toxicity than for pay dissatisfaction.

When an employee finds their workplace to be stressful, cutthroat, non inclusive, or just plain disrespectful, they’ll most likely quit or resolve to do the bare minimum in their jobs.

By recognizing and resolving the signs of a toxic workplace, give your staff a better work environment. You also improve your company’s employee engagement and retention.

Let’s look at the seven most common signs you should look for to know if your employees are working in a toxic environment and how to fix them.

Toxic Work Culture Is Not Something Abstract

Toxic work culture is not imaginary. It happens in our organizations because of project management flaws such as poor communication and micromanagement.

Circumstantial habits such as mismatched corporate cultures and overworking can create a toxic work culture. For example, you may find people just got used to doing things a certain way when a company was smaller, but now when the company got bigger, it works against you etc.

You may also deal with a toxic culture because of scaling. For example, if your company once thrived on a casual, informal communication style, you may struggle as your team increases, causing misunderstandings and decreased efficiency.

Here are the signs of a toxic work culture:

Sign #1: Too Many Meetings

We’ve come to know excessive meetings as a cause for fatigue and frustration which can become physically and mentally draining.

But, besides the dissatisfaction and disengagement among staff, too many meetings reduce workplace cohesion. Resulting in a toxic culture.

A recent study by Perceptyx on managers with too many meetings discovered that excessive meetings result in people being less polite and employees having short tempers, affecting workplace cohesion.

How to Fix Having Too Many Meetings

You can embrace asynchronous communication for more flexible communication and better time management.

With a tool like Geekbot or Slack, you minimize the need for immediate availability and create a better work-life balance—especially for remote teams. People can share their insights and contributions to a project without interrupting a work session.

With these tools, the documentation is in written messages, promoting accountability, collaboration, and cohesion within your team.

You can also streamline the existing meetings, shorten the meeting time and prioritize based on urgency. Consider daily standups to replace regular long meetings to offer quick check-ins.

Sign #2: Micromanagement

Micromanagement is a management style that involves excessive control, close supervision, and an intense focus on minor details. Managers feel the need to be involved in their employee’s work and decisions—which can portray a lack of trust in their team’s capabilities.

At best, being micromanaged can stifle your creativity, extinguish autonomy and reduce your employee morale.

In worst-case scenarios, micromanagement seriously affects employee retention or even results in stress, anxiety, and long-term depression within your team.

How to Fix Micromanagement Culture

Fixing micromanagement is a great step towards boosting overall team productivity and morale. 

Here’s how to go about it:

  • Embrace a culture of autonomy and effective delegation. Train your managers on the benefits of autonomy and delegation, such as creating a sense of ownership and encouraging innovation. Training can also cover how to provide support without being overly controlling.  
  • Establish clear expectations and metrics. Clearly articulate the goals and objectives of each task or project. Ambiguity often leads to micromanagement because managers feel the need to intervene when expectations are not clear.
  • Encourage feedback and open communication. Promote a culture where both positive and constructive feedback flows freely. Regular check-ins should be an avenue for improvement and not criticism.
  • Provide resources and support. When people are concerned about resource availability, they may tend to micromanage. With the right training, tools, and support, you instill confidence in your managers to handle challenges independently.

Sign #3: Lack of Transparency

Lack of transparency is a significant indicator of a toxic work culture—and it’s not just poor communication. It’s a workplace situation where information, decision-making processes and key organizational operations are deliberately kept hidden from employees.

It creates an environment where people withhold information, manipulate it or share it selectively.

Lack of openness can create a toxic work culture where employees fill information gaps with rumors and speculations. It also creates an unstable and uncertain environment where most people are unsure of the company’s direction.

You may notice reduced employee engagement and collaboration because people feel disconnected from being kept in the dark.

How to Create a More Transparent Work Environment

Creating a more transparent workplace empowers your employees to make informed decisions. Here’s how you can create more openness within your team:

  • Implement regular company-wide updates and open Q&A sessions. This keeps your team in the loop about your company’s goals and connects them to the mission. In the case of a crisis, openness helps you manage expectations and reduce anxiety.
  • Encourage leaders to share their decision-making processes. For example, in a virtual town hall, you can walk through your decision-making steps using relevant data and the reasoning behind the choices. Sharing the process helps you demonstrate a willingness to engage in a two-way dialogue.
  • Create channels for anonymous feedback or concerns. You can conduct anonymous surveys using tools like Google Forms or SurveyMonkey and pose specific questions about your workplace culture. You can also create a dedicated email account or go the old-fashioned way of using a physical suggestion box. 

Sign #4: High Employee Turnover

A high employee turnover creates a toxic culture that reduces employee morale and productivity and affects a company’s goodwill and reputation.

In 2021 when companies were experiencing the Great Resignation, an MIT study found that a toxic work culture was 10X more likely to cause an employee to resign than pay.

A high turnover is not just an industry trend, especially in remote tech companies. It points to underlying issues of work culture. People leave when they feel stagnant in their roles with no opportunities for growth or feel unsupported, unvalued or never heard.

When employees leave frequently, you’ll also likely have increased recruitment and training costs, besides the negative effects of a toxic culture.

How to Fix a Toxic Culture Created by High Employee Turnover

Here are some tips on resolving a toxic work culture created by a high employee turnover:

  • Conduct exit interviews to understand the reasons behind leaving. Structured exit interviews give you insights into frequent departures, which you can use to make the necessary changes.
  • Invest in career development and employee growth programs. Establish clear paths for career growth within your organization. You can also introduce training and workshops, mentorship programs where experienced team members guide and support junior members and certification support.
  • Foster a culture of appreciation and recognition. Simple things like personalized notes or virtual shout-outs make individuals feel valued and seen. You can encourage your team members to recognize outstanding performance and innovative contributions through designated platforms during team meetings.
  • Introduce a flexible work environment. Flexible work schedules or remote work options to improve work-life balance and improve employee retention.

Sign #5: Poor Work-Life Balance

Poor work-life balance can create a toxic work culture. When your team is consistently forced to prioritize work over their personal life, it may cause employee burnout and high turnover.

And it’s not just a temporary spike during a busy season where your team is expected to work overtime. When it becomes consistent throughout the year, it can create an ongoing imbalance where your staff feel the need to consistently overwork even without clear communication on why it’s necessary.

Employees with a poor work-life balance will most likely experience burnout, chronic stress, and a decline in mental and physical health. It also dents your company’s reputation (e.g Glassdoor reviews), and you may be unable to attract the best talent.

How to Resolve a Poor Work-Life Balance Within Your Team

Creating a better work-life balance for your team creates better well-being and increased productivity. He’s how to go about it:

  • Implement and enforce policies that encourage work-life balance (e.g., flexible working hours, mandatory time off).
  • Train managers to recognize signs of burnout and to encourage breaks.
  • Promote a culture where personal time is respected and valued. Encourage regular breaks and good use of vacation time.
  • Set clear expectations where employees don’t feel the need to do more than what is necessary.
  • Monitor workloads to ensure no one has too much on their plate every time.

Sign #6: No Room for Mistakes

None of us wants to make mistakes. However, when your team gets paralyzed by the fear of making mistakes, your work culture may be toxic.

A company where mistakes are met with blame rather than constructive feedback results in a hostile working environment that lacks innovation . And because people just want to protect themselves, there will be no learning opportunities.

How to Address a Toxic Work Environment Driven by A Fear Of Making Mistakes

You can create a healthier, more positive work environment where your team is empowered to learn and grow without the fear of making errors. Here’s how:

  • Cultivate a learning culture where mistakes are viewed as opportunities for growth and not failure.
  • Create a system for providing regular constructive feedback and recognition
  • Celebrate learning moments to reinforce the idea that mistakes are an integral part of progress.
  • Offer regular training resources and support to help your team meet expectations and overcome challenges

Sign #7: Low Team Morale and Negativity 

One indication of a toxic workplace is when your team is no longer enthusiastic—focusing more on individual tasks than company projects.

Low morale spreads fast and can easily feed negatively to the entire team. The faster you find its root cause, the more productive your team becomes.

How to Fix Low Team Morale and Negativity Issues

Besides creating a toxic workplace culture, low team morale directly influences productivity, customer satisfaction and collaboration.

Here’s how you can fix low team morale and negativity issues:

  • Have some regular team meetings to discuss both work-related issues and personal successes to create a sense of belonging.
  • Encourage collaboration by promoting group activities and team projects.
  • Implement wellness programs and initiatives to support your team’s physical and mental well-being. E.g., health screenings or gym memberships.
  • Introduce mindfulness practices or well-being programs to help manage stress and promote a positive mindset. E.g., Digital detox programs, employee assistance programs, recognition initiatives, etc.

Frequently asked questions

What steps can management take to improve a toxic work culture?

Management can improve a toxic work culture by promoting open and transparent communication, encouraging feedback, providing fair and consistent treatment, recognizing and rewarding good work, investing in employee development, and fostering a supportive and inclusive environment. Leadership commitment to these steps is key to lasting change.

How can employees cope with a toxic work culture?

Employees can cope with a toxic work culture by setting clear boundaries, seeking support from HR or trusted colleagues, focusing on personal well-being, and advocating for change. It's also important to evaluate if the environment is detrimental to their long-term career and mental health goals.

What are common signs of a toxic work culture?

Toxic work cultures often exhibit signs like poor communication, lack of trust, high turnover rates, frequent conflicts, micromanagement, lack of work-life balance, and employee burnout. Recognizing these signs is crucial for addressing underlying issues and fostering a healthier work environment.

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