Is Your Workplace Culture Toxic?

Feb 11, 2020 | Blog

Most adults in America spend at least 40 hours a week at work, so it’s important to know if that workplace is healthy or toxic. The dictionary defines toxic as “poison,” and you definitely do not want your workplace to be poison, literally or figuratively. 

While you most likely won’t be literally poisoned at work, you may at some point experience the mental and emotional effects of hostility, gaslighting, low morale, and other examples of toxicity at your workplace. This type of environment can negatively affect your well-being, causing you stress, anxiety, worry, and even sometimes health issues, due to the toxic company culture. 

All workplaces have challenges, so it may be tricky to determine if yours is actually toxic. But here are ten signs that will help you determine the degree to which your work environment may be hazardous to your mental health.

Ten Signs of A Toxic Workplace

1. Dysfunctional communication. This occurs when there is a breakdown in communication among employees, management, customers, suppliers, or any cross-section therein. Examples include lack of communication, indirect communication, misleading information, and withholding information. Without effective communication, working together to accomplish the tasks of the organization is impeded.

2. Policy dysfunction. When a company’s policies and procedures are non-existent, poorly implemented, and/or not followed, it results in confusion, frustration, inconsistency, poor quality, and often poor customer service. This is a fast route to leaving a bad taste in the mouths of customers, vendors, and employees.

3. Inconsistent enforcement of rules. Rules should apply to everyone, yet resentment can build when employees see that Person A has gotten admonished for the same behavior that Person B is allowed to get away with. Either the rules matter, or they don’t; arbitrarily enforcing them is a good way to breed a toxic environment. 

4. Discrimination. Be it on the basis of disability, gender, race, sexual orientation, age, or parental status, discrimination is wrong and it’s illegal.

5. Toxic leadership. The behavior and choices of leadership influence, inform, and direct that of the employees. Toxic leaders tend to be self-centered, over-value their abilities and judgement, are resistant (or volatile) to criticism, communicate in a condescending manner, take credit for the work of others, engage in manipulation when it suits them, and more. This behavior tends to erode teamwork and trust, and usually results in a workplace with a high turnover rate. 

6. Lack of transparency. Transparency and communication about objectives are critical to productivity and relationships in the workplace. When goalposts are constantly moving, or stated goals are revealed to have underlying motivations, it can become extremely difficult to connect with and stay aligned with the company’s values. 

7. Gossip. Negative communication patterns such as gossip, spreading rumors, sarcasm, and cynicism erode the teamwork and trust of a workplace. The result is either employees engage in the gossip (which is negative), or they withdraw from the company culture, which robs the organization of their healthy participation.

8. Abuse and harassment. If your boss or coworkers belittle or verbally bully others, or engage in sexual harassment, you are working in a toxic office. 

9. Problems with coworkers. People taking credit for work they didn’t do, colleagues not pulling their weight, or coworkers constantly lobbing blame on others for failures can negatively impact your happiness on the job and your standing in the office.

10. Lack of work/life balance. A toxic workplace may affect your personal health, including physical symptoms such as not being able to sleep, gaining weight, and having increased medical problems, or emotional symptoms such as increased stress, anxiety, disgruntlement, burnout, depression, anger management issues, or a general sense of dread when you think about work.

Employers should take company culture seriously, and proactively tackle any traces of toxicity. These issues should be thoroughly documented and handled with HR immediately. A healthy work environment results in more productivity, synergy among employees, clearer vision, greater feelings of appreciation among staff, and lower employee turnover. 

Chris Thomas, SHRM-SCP is the Principal Consultant with The CTCS Group in Canton, GA. The CTCS Group is focused on providing HR Leadership, Behavioral Assessments, and Consulting to help small businesses grow and thrive. You can subscribe to this blog or request a free consultation at

Disclaimer: The information and recommendations provided in this document should not be considered legal advice and should not substitute for legal advice where the facts and circumstances warrant. Recommendations are provided based on good faith assessment and interpretation of the available legal and regulatory resources.

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