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Is Your Company Culture Toxic? Look Out For These 6 Major Warning Signs.

"I once had a boss who decided that, despite very strong performance, they didn’t like someone on our team and wanted to see them gone. They didn’t have the ability to fire them, but looped the employee out of emails and conversations, talked poorly about them behind their back, and disregarded any good performance. Not only is that unethical (and possibly illegal), but it also made actually getting our team’s work done way, way harder."

I read this story on the Muse, and immediately the warning bells in my mind went off because that environment is becoming or has become a toxic place to work. No company wants to learn that their culture is a toxic one, according to the Forbes Coaches Council; unfortunately, it can and does happen: When bad behaviors go unchecked and become the norm, they can start to permeate throughout the dynamics of an organization.

If you’ve noticed your employees starting to lose their motivation or regularly bicker with each other, it could be the early signs of larger problems. In this article, a panel of Forbes Communications Council members was asked to identify some of the major warning signs that a company culture may need help. Here is what they advise you look out for:


Gossip is a warning sign that indicates a culture is toxic. When people speak about those not present in negative or demeaning ways, the drama consumes everyone’s time. My first step to attacking this problem is establishing ground rules. Rule No. 1: Gossip is not allowed. Rule No. 2: “Possip” is allowed—that is, speaking about someone not present in ways that praise and encourage that person, that team, or that group. I find people can very quickly identify the difference between these two behaviors and can start to modify their own conversations, and begin to hold one another accountable for the new ground rules as well. - Jennifer Owen-O’Quill, Voltage Leadership Consulting

2.Negative Employee Interactions

One of the very first signs that a company’s culture is toxic is the interaction (or lack of interaction) between employees. Employees might start grumbling, complaining or adding to the rumor mill. To fix the problem, tackle the most prevalent problem first as the fix could possibly have a domino effect and fix the other “minor” problems. Leadership can take action by identifying what they deem to be the problem and talk with employees to get their feedback as well as suggestions.

3.Growing Conflict

One warning sign is a growing conflict that impacts collaboration, quality, satisfaction and productivity. The first step is identifying (and confronting) specific conflict examples along with the risks or missed opportunities that resulted. For example, it may be that sniping and aggressive behavior at meetings creates a situation where some people shut down in response. The end result may be that critical questions were not asked, new ideas or options weren’t shared, and work relationships continued to deteriorate. Unmanaged conflict can negatively impact engagement, services, products, reputation and so on. - Mary Camuto, Mary Camuto

4.Poor Morale And High Employee Turnover

The first step is to tell the truth. The solution begins with honest, open communication. This means acknowledging the problem, both with the leadership team and the employees. All too often, people try to avoid conflict or ignore problems versus facing them. Once communication begins, the most powerful way to improve company culture is to engage the team in helping to create solutions. The magic here is not what you say to your team but, more importantly, what to ask. Listening and engaging with your team can help to clean up any toxic environment. - Trevor Crane, Epic Author Publishing

5.Employee Attitudes

Employee attitudes speak volumes. It’s never what they say to the owner or manager; usually, it is what goes on around the coffee stations. It is shown in data that one negative team member can bring down company production by 40%. Many times, owners don’t even notice until financials are affected. Negativity is a toxic thread that can weave into your corporate culture and will spread like cancer if not addressed. My first step for fixing the problem is to implement these criteria inside our code of conduct: If you have a problem, take it directly to the person you need to speak to. Talking behind someone’s back breeds distrust. Also, if you see a systems issue, then address the problem; however, come with your suggested solutions. - Shellie Hunt, Success is by Design

6.Employees Afraid To Engage

When employees are scared to speak up because they are fearful of being ashamed, embarrassed, or humiliated, they will shut down. Creativity and innovation cannot thrive in an environment where people cannot fail. My first response is to help leaders understand the significance of creating a work environment where they can get maximum capacity from the people with which they have been entrusted. Many leaders were promoted for their technical expertise, but lack the leadership skills needed to lead their teams and develop their people.

These are but a few identified by the council; you can follow the link below for the full article. Toxic organizations are so prevalent in today's environment that many people have accepted these kinds of behavior as normal. No one should accept, promote, or participate in these kinds of actions because the real victims of toxic work cultures are often the employees and in the long turn the organisation always suffers.

Source: Is Your Company Culture Toxic? Here's How To Tell, Forbes Coaches Council


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 290,000+ 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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