Toxic Workplace

Five Signs of a Toxic Workplace

5 min read
Lynsey May Sutherland
Author
Lynsey Sutherland

Few things are more likely to drain your talent pool and drag down your team than toxicity in the workplace. 

It doesn’t matter how much money you offer or how good your benefits are. A toxic culture will have a huge impact on retention and employee wellbeing. A recent study by MIT Sloan Management Review found that toxic workplace culture is 10.4 times more powerful than compensation in predicting a company’s attrition rate.

Even the most loyal and talented employees might be tempted to leave when they feel a workplace turning toxic, so how can you make sure you’re not creating the wrong environment? 

Your first port of call is keeping an eye out for the warning signs, so we’ve pulled together a list of the biggest red flags and some suggestions for addressing them.

How to spot a toxic culture – and ways to fix it

Here are a few of the things you should be watching out for:

1. High employee turnover

Retention is a key concern for any organisation. 

Seeing good workers walk away can be devastating, especially when you have a suspicion there’s something you could be doing about it. 

According to a 2022 benchmarking survey from Robert Half, staff retention is a significant concern for senior managers, with most reporting that it is difficult to find suitable talent. You want to hang on to the people you have, but a toxic workplace is one of the top reasons employees choose to leave

The solution:

Once you already have significant churn, you must act quickly and with conviction to improve turnover. 

Meet with your team one-on-one and talk to them about their concerns. Ask questions about their wellbeing, the path they see for themselves and whether they see the potential for their future in the organisation. Make plans to check in regularly, so they can be confident that you will take their concerns or hopes on board. 

Ask them whether they feel appreciated, too. Most employees rate recognition as more important to them than things like salary or benefits when they’re thinking about looking for a new job. 

2. Team dysfunction 

A team that doesn’t seem to know what it’s doing is a clear sign that something has gone wrong. You want your team to function smoothly during day-to-day tasks and jump into action when there’s a crisis, but in toxic workplaces, you often see disjointed and disorganised teams. 

This can often signify confused roles and responsibilities or a lack of strong leadership. When you think that employees spend up to 80% of their time on collaborative work, it’s easy to understand how important a functioning team is.   

The solution:

Even in an organisation full of talented people, it’s important to have some sort of recognisable hierarchy. 

This allows your team to know where to go with problems or suggestions. Mapping out clear roles and responsibilities makes it easy for everyone to stay on the same page. That’s not to say that everyone must stay in their lane, far from it. A good team will adapt and grow together, but expectations must be clearly stated. 

3. Frequent clashes and conflict 

It’s normal to have emotional responses when things don’t work out as planned. When you’re working on hitting a deadline or trying to get a complicated project off the ground, it’s not unusual for tempers to fray occasionally. That’s fine in a workplace with a robust, high-performing culture

In a toxic workplace, fights and conflicts will crop up frequently, and the reasons behind them might be hard to understand or identify. The arguments have more to do with how unstable and unsupported people feel than any inciting incident. 

The solution

The first step is to ensure you’re spending enough time with your team; this will give you a chance to see what makes everyone feel so fractious and unhappy. 

It could be that there’s a lack of role definition, and people feel as though they’re doing work they’re not responsible for. Employee recognition could be a problem, where people feel they’re not being acknowledged for their work. Clear workflows, a better communication system and easy ways to reward good work can help. 

4. Employees seem scared to share 

Psychological safety is incredibly important in the workplace. If your team can’t be vulnerable, share problems or alert you to difficult situations, you’re creating a breeding ground for resentment and unhappiness. The same is true for a culture that seems to punish mistakes or exploit weaknesses. 

The solution

Help your team get back on track by focusing on creating an environment where everyone is free to speak their mind. To get started, you must lead by example and be an empathetic leader; own up to mistakes, share your worries and show that you’re receptive to constructive criticism. Then encourage your employees to share their fears and show them that you’re willing to act on their concerns. 

5. Disconnected and un-engaged teams

The last thing you want is a team that turns up and does the bare minimum. Teams that are disconnected from each other and the organisation are likely to feel demotivated and generally less happy, which is driving the current quiet quitting trend

This can be a toxic sign that’s easy to miss, as when employees are making sure that they’re ticking all the boxes – they’re just lacking in joy while doing it – it may fly under the radar. 

The solution:

The teams that excel are the ones who feel confident and connected. This means making a space for everyone’s voice and finding good ways to have conversations about stressors. Build in lots of time for bonding between your team. It’s hard to care about the people you’re working with if you barely have time to get to know them. 

It’s also important to shout about successes. In fact, peer-to-peer recognition increases feelings of team spirit and can help with individual wellbeing. Want to make it easy for your team to share the love and boost each other? We’re here to help. 

Transform Your Culture 1

Mo is an employee engagement platform that can help leaders improve collaboration and morale, reduce employee churn and drive change. 

Our platform creates a vibrant culture by developing team habits, encouraging people to celebrate success, recognise results and appreciate colleagues.

Your complete toolkit for connecting and motivating teams in the new world of work. Book a demo with our team today!

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