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Signs of a Toxic Workplace and What to Do About It

Some employees describe experiencing a sinking feeling in the pit of their stomach by the time Sunday evening rolls around. They say it is not a case of the “Monday Blues” or “Sunday Scaries” before work, this feels like a bigger issue. If employees dread going to work every morning, it may be due to a toxic workplace. This problem is more common than you think. But how can you tell whether your company is victim to culture decay?

As many as 54% of employees have reported feeling that their work environment is toxic [1]. When this is the experience of more than half of the present workforce, it is imperative we know how to identify a toxic workplace culture, understand the underlying causes and learn what exactly can be done to fix this problem.

1. What are the signs of a toxic workplace?


Because no workplace is the same and cultures vary across organisations, there are often many nuances and signs that you may be dealing with a toxic workplace. However, a few tell-tale signs exist, including:

  • Unhealthy communication

  • Poor policies

  • Negative effect on personal life


The first signs of a toxic work environment are unhealthy communication patterns. This could be from managers to employees, within upper management or amongst peers. Regardless where the communication (or lack of communication) is coming from, confusing or incorrect information can definitely lead to a toxic environment.

Another sign of a toxic environment could be poorly constructed, communicated, and implemented company policies. Initially, this is likely more apparent to outside observers than those immersed in the toxic culture. Experiencing these policies as a customer for example, would be a clear indicator that staff are not aware of expectations and management has no intention of clarifying procedures. The result of this issue is that it is likely to make everyone's job frustrating and overall performance hard to measure.

The third sign that one may have a toxic workplace on their hands, is the negative effect it has on people’s personal life outside of work. If staff are constantly stressed or experience symptoms of stress like poor sleep, weight gain, or other medical problems such as headaches, migraines and high blood pressure, it may be caused by a toxic work culture. These changes may only be apparent to the individual, but often also affect loved ones. Work is meant to be challenging, but no one should experience dread and extreme stress because of their job.


2. What causes a toxic work environment?


So now that we’re able to identify a toxic work environment, we can examine the possible causes.

A lack of communication or poor communication, including indirect messages, withholding important information, and providing misleading information, maybe the culprit. While we can’t always say exactly why these miscommunications occur, it’s almost always deliberate or malicious, if the workplace is indeed toxic.

Additionally, policies or procedures that are not established or followed can be the cause of a toxic environment. This creates a confusing situation for many employees who are just trying to do their jobs, leading to poor quality work, frustrations about their job, or bad performance.

Quite often in toxic workplaces, there is a common denominator or somewhere the toxic behaviour all started. The order of whether toxic workplaces create toxic leaders or toxic leaders create the workplaces is unclear, but toxic leadership and toxic culture are often related. It could be a classic case of narcissism or they could simply be workplace bullies. Either way, these leaders often perpetuate negative communication patterns and change the rules to best suit their own needs.


3. How do you fix a toxic workplace culture?


Fixing a toxic workplace is not easy. Many corporations do not even realise their workplace culture may be toxic until they conduct exit interviews with employees who have decided to leave, because they are so large. These businesses need to prioritise creating internal processes and fail-safes that enforce a positive working environment. This involves considering the people on internal teams while at the same time promoting the right individuals so the workplace does not become an echo chamber

Regardless of the size of the company, there are few potential solutions available to people with the appropriate authority, including:

  • Removing toxic employees/managers

  • Establishing proper communication channels

  • Creating and enforcing company procedures and policies

  • Prioritising mental health and positive workplace culture

To evaluate what may be a culture issue in an organisation, it is key to conduct regular surveys amongst staff. These periodic and anonymous questionnaires allow employees to be open and transparent about their experiences. It may also be an idea to ask them for solutions to fix certain elements of a broken company culture. Our Survey feature is powerful and simple to deploy, allowing for regular feedback. Responses can be collected in various formats: multiple-choice, start ratings and free text.

Another important tool companies need to implement and make available to their staff is a continuous channel of communication between employees and HR departments, so that employees can easily disclose any issues in the workplace in real-time. The Qualee App provides encrypted, instant messaging between employees and their HR coordinator. For sensitive matters, including whistleblowing, messages can even be sent anonymously.

Disjointed communication and company policy management have been identified as common causes of a toxic work culture. These issues can effortlessly be addresses using a shared repository available to all staff, ideally via a mobile app to increase accessibility independent of location. With the Qualee multimedia library, everyone in the company can have access to the latest versions of important information, right at their fingertips. Our advanced AI can even scan PDF documents in real-time, making their content keyword searchable via the Qualee App.

Without direction and spotting red flags early, negative factors can take hold, shaping culture in a way that can become harmful for a business. These elements can hinder a company’s development and impact business results. In this article we’ve learned that avoiding toxic culture is necessary to have a happy and productive team.

Qualee is a leading cloud-based employee onboarding and engagement platform. With features like surveys, messaging and multimedia library it is possible to identify the first signs of a toxic workplace and prevent company culture decay. Try our Free Starter Plan today!

[1] https://www.theladders.com/career-advice/survey-reveals-that-toxic-workplaces-are-on-the-rise

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