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7 signs of a toxic work culture both leaders and employees should look out for




Toxic people are a poison that threatens to contaminate their workplace environment. They spread dissent and discontent among co-workers, lowering employee morale and productivity. Whether manipulators, gossips, whiners, or backstabbers, these individuals can wreak havoc on any organization. Many companies have toxic employees but fail to deal with them.

Sometimes, the elements of the toxic work culture will be right out in the open and so easy to fix, other times they are hidden and leaders should make consistent efforts to unearth them according to Gerald Ainomugisha. Gerald shares seven signs of a toxic work culture both leaders and employees should look out for and avoid. If you are a newly minted graduate looking to make your mark in the world or a seasoned professional suspicious of your workplace culture, look for these 7 signs because it will help you identify a toxic organization.

1. Low morale at work


A positive attitude and high morale to accomplish tasks are contagious. When people smile, speak politely to each other and share jokes (not insults masked as humor), it quickly catches on and shows in how productive and happy at work everyone is. Unfortunately, the opposite is also true. If you observe that the entire office exhibits low morale, then a toxic workplace might be to blame. Forget the Monday blues and occasional bad days; we’re talking about a situation where there seems to be a black cloud always hanging over the office, a lack of enjoyment and consistent low energy.


2. There is a lack of communication


How are you kept informed at work? Are employees able to get the information they need to get the work done? Can they communicate too? A vital sign of toxic work culture is that communication flows typically one way, as directives from the higher-ups to the employees. Employees are afraid to ask questions either because they will be singled out for not understanding quickly enough, or nothing will be done. This, amongst many other things, can lead to repetition of work and loss of time.


3. Employees are afraid of their manager


There is a difference between a healthy respect for a manager and downright fear. When no one but the manager speaks in a meeting and people avoid going down the corridor where they might bump into their manager, there is a problem with the culture, and it needs to be addressed immediately. A manager sets the tone for the workplace culture, and their management or leadership style can either lead to a toxic work culture or one where employees are happy.


4. Insistence on policies over people


Policies are put in place to support people, but an organization that continually puts policies ahead of people can breed a toxic work culture. Whether you like it or not, people make mistakes; even the best employees will not be able to do everything right all the time, so you need to make space for that.

You are in a toxic work culture if management follows every infraction or deviation from policy with punishment because this usually leads to employees constantly being stressed and afraid to take risks.


5. There is a high employee turnover


This is perhaps one of the most apparent indications of a toxic work environment. People keep leaving. When your workplace becomes a walk-through office, there’s very likely something wrong with your culture. Yes, people are entitled to seek better opportunities, but if you need to hire people all year round, some, after only having been with you a few months, it’s most probably a toxic work culture to blame.


6. There are cliques and groups in the office


People naturally gravitate to people they have things in common with. Many people have work best friends; this shouldn’t be a surprise. But in a toxic work culture, these cliques and groups are filled with drama, tension, and work against each other. Competition stops being good when these cliques involve sabotage, backstabbing, and blackmail. In a toxic work culture, it’s not surprising to find bosses sitting on their own, eating alone, and totally closing the employees out and forcing them also to form their own cliques. This is only one of the things to avoid when building your company culture.


7. People in middle management are just figured heads


Ever gone to your manager or even human resource manager with a problem that they recognize, agree is a problem but can only sympathize with? This is a classic sign of a toxic work culture for two reasons. The first is that power lies in the hands of one or a few inaccessible employers. There is no delegation, and so employees are not empowered to grow and see no hope of advancement. The second is that no one is looking out for the employees, so they will have to look out for themselves. Employees have no way to get help should they need it.

This can either lead to employee apathy or employees making up their own rules to bypass the stifling and impossible policies set up by their bosses. An employee who knows they will be unable to get a day off for a legitimate reason will simply pretend to be sick instead of making an official request.

Successful companies understand that culture is crucial to their success. They recognize that when problems develop, changes are sometimes necessary to eliminate the toxic behaviors dragging down the company. Great leadership is essential to any organizational success, and in some cases, leadership itself may need to make changes of its own, especially if much of the problem can be traced to toxic leadership.

You cannot stamp out toxicity in your company if the leadership is toxic, leaders must demonstrate their unwavering commitment and willingness to eliminate all traces of toxic behavior in their leadership first because this will set the example for everyone to follow. The only potent antidote to a toxic work environment is inspirational, genuine, motivational, and positive leadership.


About Gifford Thomas



I am the founder of Leadership First and the author of The Inspirational Leader, Inspire Your Team To Believe In The Impossible. At Leadership First, we are committed to publishing the very best inspirational leadership quotes and articles to inspire our 500,000+ community of leaders to believe in the impossible, while creating an environment free from toxic, fearful and intimidating leadership. We believe everyone can and should enjoy their work, but it must start with the leadership leading by example. Follow our community of leaders HERE, and let's change the leadership status quo to help inspire and motivate our leaders to make a difference and create an organization their people will love.

You can download a copy of my book The Inspirational Leader, Inspire Your Team To Believe In The Impossible by clicking the link below





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