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Hybrid Work
Multigenerational workforce

What are the signs of a toxic workplace? 15 clear indicators


September 29, 2022


October 23, 2023

As a business, your goal is to grow and succeed, isn’t it? The best way to ensure this is by creating a positive working atmosphere to foster your team members’ wellbeing. Happy employees are more productive, so noticing signs of a toxic workplace and minimizing them is essential. The way we feel at work affects our mental health and extends into our personal lives. As the number of workers experiencing burnout and resignations increases, it is crucial to recognize the toxic work environment examples.

Are your coworkers comfortable sharing their opinion and the issues they encounter? Do they take initiative or do they stick to what they’ve been asked to do? Are you having difficulty recruiting new talent? All these are common indications that your corporate culture may not match the expectations of today’s workforce. Here are 15 instances that can help you determine if your organizational culture is healthy or not. 

Signs of a toxic workplace: analyze your communication patterns

1. A silent team

Collaborating with team members that express their feelings (positive or negative) is something to be proud of. It means you have created a working atmosphere that makes them at ease to share their opinion. Employees who give ideas about how things could be done differently is a proof of their engagement and their dedication to the success of the company. Oppositely, having workers who don’t say anything or don’t answer your questions in a meeting can be a sign of a toxic workplace. Their silence can result from a lack of connection or apprehension.

2. Ineffective and poor communication

How can employees be happy and satisfied with their jobs if they do not share how they feel about the way things are done?  Good communication includes supporting exchanges between managers and employees instead of asynchronous conversations. Not only does it reduce productivity and efficiency but it also makes your collaborators feel that their opinion and skills don’t matter. The approach taken when sharing feedback is important and your means of communication should answer your employees’ expectations.

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Two people working on technology
Co-workers not communicating with each other

3. A workforce scared of talking or taking action

As mentioned, employees who do not share their ideas and express their feelings can be a consequence of a toxic work environment. The same goes for team members who don’t take initiative and always ask for “permission” or the viewpoint of their manager first. This is a result of micromanagement, which should be avoided. Being scared of giving their opinions or taking action makes it tough to do the best job and grow professionally.

4. Trust issues at each level of the organization

Trusting relationships, not only between managers and employees but also among colleagues, are crucial for fostering happiness and satisfaction. People who fear retribution from leaders or who can’t trust their coworkers are more likely to experience mental health issues at work.  Lack of confidence within a team often results in poor communication, collaboration problems, and a decline in productivity.

Toxic work environment examples: say no to unethical behaviors

5. A structure based on cronyism and nepotism

Favoritism is harmful and can deeply impact the relationships among your team. Recruiting or promoting family members, friends or former classmates over better-qualified candidates is a common example of a toxic work environment. Other employees then become frustrated (as they are not recognized for their skills), excluded, disengaged, and disconnected from the workplace.

6. A micromanagement style

Do you constantly need to know what your team members are working on? How much freedom do you give to your staff? Micromanagement is the opposite of trust and recognition, the main components of good leadership. It seriously impacts employees’ wellbeing and negatively influences company growth. According to an article published by Management Consulted, 70% of workers consider quitting because of micromanagement and 30% actually do. 

7. Disrespectful and abusive behaviors

Obviously, disrespectful and abusive behaviors affect the organization’s culture and the atmosphere in the workplace. You can put great effort into fostering employee satisfaction, but if this type of conduct occurs in your company, it will severely impact the work environment. Any kind of disrespect or abuse should be penalized. According to an MIT Sloan review about toxic culture, respect is one of the top cultural elements that matter the most.


👉Would you like to learn more about this topic? Read our article to know how to create a strong organizational culture

8. A lack of boundaries

Boundaries are very important in an organization. The absence of professional limits can lead to a work environment where disrespect and abuse can rise. A classic example is workers feeling they need to be available all the time. This happens especially with the hybrid work model where team members are not always in the office. Remote employees sometimes work extra hours to show their manager they are working as hard as if they were on-site. 

9. An absence of DEI (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion) practices

People in a working environment which is not based on diversity, equity, and inclusion often face a lack of workplace connection and job satisfaction. Being intentional about including all members of the team, being fair to all, and making each person feel welcome are essential to a  healthy and modern business. Burnout statistics show that Millennials and Gen Z are the most at risk for feeling depression at work. But, organizations with a multigenerational workforce that are not promoting DEI may have some difficulty attracting and retaining their young talent for whom those values are crucial. 

Woman sitting at desk with boss pointing finger at her
Employee subject to micromanagement

Negative working atmosphere: observe your employees’ behaviors

10. A lack of initiative and a disengaged workforce

When looking for signs of a toxic workplace, paying attention to your employees’ behaviors can give you a first glimpse into the atmosphere. Are they often coming to you with new ideas? Do they take initiative? A lack of engagement can be a hint that something is not right in the work environment. The reasons why your coworkers are disengaged can be various, including:

  • fear;
  • disconnection;
  • unhappiness;
  • lack of recognition;
  • loss of motivation
  • dissatisfaction.

11. A rising number of employees working from home

A recent study about flexible work from McKinsey shows that flexibility is one of the top three motivators for finding a new job. However, if you notice a shift in your employees’ week planning practices, revealing a constant decrease in the number of hours they spend on site, you should try to understand why. It can simply be that the home office becomes more practical for them. But their choice to work remotely could also be related to their work environment (a change in the leadership style, an issue with colleagues, etc.).

12. A high number of workers being absent or on sick notes

A toxic workplace culture can directly affect the mental health of your workforce and also impact their wellbeing outside of work. Absenteeism is one of the main consequences of a negative work environment and a first sign of burnout. An easy and effective way to determine if your organizational culture is the reason for absence is to measure your employee satisfaction by conducting a survey. Your HR team can then examine their feedback and understand the source of the problem.

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13. No work-life balance

Work-life balance has become a really trendy phrase. But, it has been underestimated   resulting in companies that don’t encourage and support their workers in having a balance between their private and professional lives may stay behind. Not only does it play  a major role in staff retention but it also is a key component of employee happiness and productivity. Seeing people overloaded with work to the point that they don’t have time for hobbies, families and friends is often a  sign that  an employee-centric approach is lacking.

14. High employee turnover

Do you often have to recruit new team members even when your  business is not growing?  High employee turnover is a clear indication that your workforce is unhappy. What is pushing them to leave their job? Does it come from your management style? Is it a consequence of a toxic workplace culture? Being unable to keep your team satisfied is not a good sign. Finding the source of the problem and solving it quickly is crucial to prevent  the situation from getting worse. 

15. Low talent attraction

Do you encounter difficulties in recruiting  and attracting new talent? If a hostile work environment makes people quit their job, they won’t apply for a job at a business that is known for having a negative culture. Therefore, if filling your vacancies is troublesome, it can be a hint that your workplace is perceived to have a bad working atmosphere.  Workers are sharing their opinions about their employers, no matter if it's positive or negative. Consequently, if a company struggles to find talent, it can be because they are known for having a toxic environment.

man working on laptop on beanbag
A toxic workplace might keep people from coming into the office

As you can see, there are plenty of toxic working environment examples that can signal a need for changes to your company culture. The signs of a toxic workplace are easy to notice if you are attuned to your coworkers. At deskbird, our goal is to create the best experience for hybrid teams by providing them with a user-friendly and employee-focused solution.

Request a free demo of the deskbird app to discover how to empower your workforce with more flexibility.

What are the signs of a toxic workplace? 15 clear indicators

Paulyne Sombret

Paulyne is a highly respected expert in hybrid work. She's known for her writing on sustainability in the hybrid office, flexible work models, and employee experience. With a strong background in content and SEO, her work explores the exciting trends and latest news in the world of work.

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