Skip to main content

Signs of Toxic Workplace Culture

Cultivate Empathy
Signs of Toxic Workplace Culture

It’s a Friday afternoon, and the beer pong tournament is in full swing. Music is bumping, people are laughing, and a small group of contenders are concentrating on landing ping pong balls in cups.

No, it’s not a frat house; it’s a startup. 

company parties that make people feel uncomfortable is an easy way to identify toxic workplace culture

Now imagine that this is a company party. It’s not a group of beer pong enthusiasts; everyone is invited to attend. Sits differently, right?

For the people who love this, it’s the best workplace they’ve ever had! But it’s off-putting for anyone who doesn’t enjoy this kind of party. Especially if you don’t fit the Frat Boy (or Tech Bro) mold.

This party was started by a cluster of people with similar interests who were excited to participate. However, in a diverse organization, it became a neon sign pointing to every person who doesn’t fit in. Over time, it became a party that many people avoided.

When you’re on the inside, it’s often difficult to see your company culture clearly. You might be one of the people that enjoy everything about your employee experience. 

But there’s a proverbial empty keg signaling the end of the party: attrition and its cousin, high turnover. 

If we’ve learned one thing from the Great Resignation, people are no longer willing to work in toxic settings. An MIT Sloan study revealed that toxic workplace culture was a 10X more significant reason than compensation for people looking for new positions.

“Toxic” means something different to everyone, so how can you identify whether this applies to your company?

3 Symptoms Of Toxic Workplace Culture

1. Disrespectful

Let’s assume that your organization has an established baseline of respectfulness, but that line ends somewhere. Toxic workplace cultures do not extend respect to people with dissenting voices and respect people with different perspectives less than the majority culture. These cultures also ignore pain or discomfort.

Decision-making is a great place to start your reflection. Are discussions welcome? Whose ideas are promoted? Do people from underrepresented groups feel supported and encouraged to speak?

Next, inspect how your leaders receive feedback. How often are leaders listening to their teams (vs. directing)? Does your team practice workplace relationship accountability? Are non-apologies common (e.g., “I’m sorry you feel that way”)?

2. Exclusion

Few people have experienced an inclusive workplace culture simply because it is not the norm. We default to huddling with people we feel comfortable with and tend to be less inviting to outsiders. Toxic workplace cultures assume that anyone who doesn’t fit in should be shamed into trying harder. 

Consider your hiring practices and address signs of unconscious bias. Do your hiring managers assess candidates based on “culture fit?” Do you wait for a diverse pool of candidates before you begin interviewing? 

Next, assess your employee experience data and identify trends and gaps in policy. How often do people report feeling left out, passed over, or unsafe? How do you manage complaints of microaggressions when they are reported? What are the common adjectives that employees use to describe their experiences?

3. Losing Talent

Organizations committed to DEI have probably already implemented policies to address the first two indicators of toxic workplace culture. But if attrition continues to be a challenge, roll up your sleeves because workplace culture is still the core challenge. Generally speaking, people do not leave companies; they leave people. Toxic workplace cultures assume that new people will have little influence.

Identify whether this is a localized issue or a company-wide one. Is there one business unit that is the culprit? Perhaps a recalcitrant leader opposed to diversity? How are MBOs/KPIs reflecting your company’s DEI goals? Does your team know how to create an inclusive culture?

Workplace culture is constantly being co-created by all of its members! Every member has influence, and every interaction between two members shapes the culture: every time we respond to another’s ideas or actions, we shape our culture. A simple way to recognize what culture is: whatever “normal” is. 

Good news, everybody! The entire culture will shift when 25% of the organization has adopted a new normal. Solve attrition by cultivating a culture of inclusion. You are the catalyst. Let’s get to work! 

View all Blog Library

Sign up to our newsletter!

Masterclasses Miami

Sign up to our US newsletter today to make

sure you don't miss the latest event

updates & industry news!