Signs of a Toxic Workplace

business culture valuesLast month there was a good piece in Forbes about what makes a toxic workplace. You might be thinking, as I was, why would you need a list? It’s pretty easy to spot? But in fact, the author makes a good point. It’s the thing that no one talks about, but is right in the room as an unpleasant companion and it’s worth bringing forward and examining.

A toxic workplace becomes the culture and then very quickly the brand. You can trade people out and say all the right things, but until you really “define” and “live” your company’s values, the toxic culture becomes your unintentional culture.

As a leader, if you have been outwardly focused, and leaving the “leadership” or management of your team to others, you might be surprised when you look back over your shoulder and find out things are not as you left them.

Here are the 4 key signs, according to Forbes author Meghan Biro that you might have a toxic workplace:

  1. You churn employees – at the lower levels a high percentage are leaving before their first year anniversary.
  2. There is no waiting list for employees to get in.
  3. Everyone’s in a bad mood.
  4. Change is resisted – no matter what it is.

You could argue that #1 and #2 are due to the very competitive marketplace in some cities right now as it relates to hiring. However, most employees don’t want to switch jobs. They want to find a place where they can be productive, get paid, and grow. If they are leaving at a high rate, someone else is doing it that better than you. Good people will not stay in a toxic work environment. So although we sometimes delude ourselves into thinking that “it’s okay that they have self-selected out,” if the rate gets too high, you’ve got a problem.

Employees in perpetually bad moods is a problem. It starts with managers not being in a good mood and then infects the rest of the workplace. The reason people get like this is because they cannot be successful in their roles, and feel that no matter what they do, something is not right. They don’t get enough feedback, they don’t have the resources they need, co-workers are slacking, no opportunities to grow, workplace gossip, lack of leadership, etc. Consider it a virus that you need to cure. If left untreated, it could be fatal.

Lastly, when no matter what you do, change is resisted, this is a sure sign of a toxic work culture. It’s gone from people being open to a fix to hunkering down and sending out resumes. They don’t see a light at the end of the tunnel so everyone goes into protective mode behavior.

As the leader, it is up to you to change course. Identify the problem and the bad actors and make some radical changes. Go back to the values you started with and put people, processes, and systems in place to reinforce those, not the unintentional culture that led to the toxic environment you are correcting.