Updated: Mar 16
In a meeting I attended, I expressed concerns about the direction of the company and the confusion that exists in the minds of many employees about the company’s purpose and the total neglect of the company values. Now, these are issues that everyone had a concern with, but in the meeting, no one said anything or even express any concerns about the organization. When the meeting was over, oh boy, everyone had something to say. Have you ever worked or is currently working for an organization where people are afraid to ask any question, give their feedback, or voice any concern about the company. It’s really amazing, but these are signs that the company culture is subtly toxic or is becoming toxic.
According to Scott Mautz, anyone can spot the visible signs of a toxic workplace — appreciation is absent, accountability is elusive at best, there’s a raving lunatic of a boss, everyone’s on LinkedIn during work. But what if the signs of toxicity are far more subtle? Might you be leading, working in, or about to enter an environment that is quietly rotting from the inside? Leaders need to be able to spot toxic undertones of a workplace so they can address them (unless they’re what makes it toxic). Employees need to be able to identify a corrosive environment so they can avoid or leave it, or know how to contribute to solutions to fix it.
After 30 plus years interviewing many uninspired employees, Scott shares his experience to help leaders, as well as employees, spot the subtle signs of a toxic culture. According to Scott, watch out for these eight subtle symptoms, so you know what you’re getting yourself into, or what you need to get out of.
1. You find out people's true thoughts in the meeting after the meeting
This used to drive me nuts. You'd be in a meeting with a broad group of people where a decision was to be made or something important was on the agenda. No one would say much of anything or they'd say a whole lot of nothing. Then came the meeting after the meeting, where several people who were in attendance at the prior meeting huddle to talk about what they really think or to bash the decision made that they didn't speak up about.
2. There's too little dissension
This one is related to the above but refers to team meetings where the boss is met with very little pushback or where very few people even speak. Do you know of any scenario where a team leader holding a soliloquy is a sign of a healthy team? Of course not. It's a sign that people don't feel free to speak their minds to an overbearing boss.
3. Only one type of person gets promoted
Maybe those promoted are all cut from the same cloth as the boss who does the promoting or maybe it's only those who are shameless self-promoters. Whatever the case, it's a sign that bias runs rampant, the wrong things are valued, and that diversity is ignored.
4. Underperformers go inexplicably unaddressed
Few things kill morale faster than when an employee who's a drain on the workplace still sits there without action taken. It might be because of a spineless or out-of-touch boss, but whatever the reason it's sure to drive the high-performing workers (who carry their weight and that of the slacker) totally nuts. The bad apple will soon rot the whole orchard if it isn't taken care of.
5. The talk is all about measures, not meaning
Pay attention to what employees talk about. Is it primarily about whether or not goals, timelines, and success criteria are being hit — and the consequences if not? If so, it speaks to a constant underlying fear running through the organization, a fear of failure. This is as opposed to hearing talk about things like teamwork, coaching, respect, and trust — all the things that employees find meaningful and that motivates them in a manner that sustains.
6. Energy is palpably low
Sometimes you can feel underlying toxicity just by not feeling any energy. Is no one smiling, laughing, or talking with one another in the halls? Is it all heads down and frowns all the time? Think about the opposite for a moment. When you've been in a great workplace culture people can't hide it; the energy seems to exude from the furniture itself.
7. Nobody asks for your input on anything
This is a sign of silos, small groups of people doing work within their own little world and keeping to themselves even within that. It lacks a sense of openness, collaboration, sharing, and "inviting in" the other. It's a sneakier form of toxicity.
8. There's no clear vision
Does it feel like things are being done without real direction? It's a sign of a lack of any clear vision that's been compellingly communicated and reinforced down through each employee. Without a rudder and a lighthouse, the organization is destined to sail in the dark right into the rocks.
So if you spot too many of these subtle signs in your workplace, don't be subtle about taking action. Flag it, fix it, or find the exit.
Credits: Scott Mautz, Inc. 8 Subtle Signs Your Workplace Is Toxic And It's Time For A Change
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 330,000+ 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.
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