8 Signs of A Toxic Workplace (And Your Role In It)

Leaders cannot deny the important role that their employees play in the success of a business. However, employees cannot do their work effectively and reach their full potential when they are working in a toxic workplace.

A toxic workplace will not only negatively affect employees’ productivity but also their psychological wellbeing. 

That is why it is essential that leaders can identify the signs of a toxic culture early on so that they can take the proper steps in mitigating any damage it may cause to the team and the organization. Here are the 8 signs of a toxic workplace. 

1. Employees’ input are not valued

The first sign of a toxic workplace is one where employees’ suggestions and ideas are dismissed. Over time, employees become demotivated to contribute to discussions, losing their sense of belonging and unity. 

When employees’ inputs are not heard, it shows that  management does not value or prioritize the employees. In reality, employees are the ones dealing with day-to-day problems and facing the customers — making them a reliable and valuable source of information for the company.

2. Bullying and harassment

In a toxic workplace, bullying and harassment are often tolerated. The bullying can be in the form of verbal or physical abuse, but it can also take covert forms such as nonverbal and psychological abuse. 

Employees became scared of their supervisors or colleagues, not being able to communicate openly about their problems or give honest feedback and suggestions. They might be discriminated against because of their race, gender, background, and so on. They don’t feel psychologically safe working in that company and are always in fear of being rebuked or fired. 

3. Bad behavior & unhealthy competition

In a toxic workplace, employees tend to compete rather than collaborate with their peers. They often engage in cutthroat behavior to get ahead in their career. They choose not to help each other when they encounter  problems and often engage in a blame game. 

4. Sucking-up and favoritism

Another telltale sign of a toxic workplace is one where certain employees might be favored or receive special treatment from leaders. They are often not held to rules that apply to others and are given special opportunities not because of their merit but because of personal relationships with senior management or leaders.

When leaders play favorites, it encourages a sucking-up culture in the company. Leaders give appreciation to those who do not deserve it and leave great employees feeling underappreciated. 

5. Lack of accountability

Transgressions are often ignored in a toxic workplace. Employees who break the rules are not held accountable. In fact, rule breakers may be rewarded for their behavior. This happens most often when said employees suck up to the management. If left unchecked, these small transgressions can escalate into bigger transgressions with bigger consequences. 

6. Unfair policies

The rules being enforced in a toxic workplace often have no basis. These kinds of rules tend to favor a certain group of people, and provide them with special privileges. But for certain employees, breaking these rules might lead to unfair consequences or punishments. 

7. Lack of transparency and proper communication

It takes mutual trust to build a healthy work environment. Unfortunately, some leaders and companies are not willing to put in the effort to maintain communication and transparency within the organization — which are the core elements of building trust. This will hinder the employees from effectively operating as a cohesive team and trusting each other. 

8. Leaders lacking in empathy and compassion

A toxic workplace is usually led by a toxic leader. Leaders who exhibit a lack of compassion and empathy usually have narcissistic tendencies. These tendencies can manifest in the form of ignorance, lack of self-awareness, and they will often put work above their employees’ wellbeing — creating and exacerbating the toxic environment. 

The lack of compassion for their employees’ wellbeing will possibly lead to burnout and high turnover, as it can be difficult to coexist with a narcissistic leader. 

Leaders, take a look in the mirror

Before blaming your employees or your team, ask yourself — “Have I contributed to the toxic environment of this workplace?” 

Culture starts with the leader; this includes a toxic culture. This is why it’s important to reflect back and ask these questions:

  1. Do I treat all of my employees with respect?
  2. Do I favor several people over others?
  3. Do I keep a steady temper despite the pressure and problems I’m confronted with?
  4. Do I take out my frustrations on my team? 
  5. Do I assume that I am the most important or powerful person in the company?

Not only do you have to check yourself, but you also have to ask for feedback, because we all have blind spots about our own behavior. 

This is why stakeholder involvement is crucial, and why leaders should ask for feedback (or feedforward) from their employees regularly and apply that feedback to improve themselves. 

Learn more about feedback and feedforward here.



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