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Toxic work culture: everything you need to know


November 8, 2022


June 16, 2023

A toxic work culture can have a dramatic impact on your business. Why? Because it directly affects how your workers feel and perform at work. The atmosphere that prevails in your organization plays a major role in employee experience, satisfaction, and retention. But toxicity at work doesn’t only affect your business from within, it also alters its brand image externally. Nobody wants to support a company where employees are neither happy nor recognized for their abilities. Plus, nobody wants to work for an organization that is known for having a toxic atmosphere.

To avoid creating a hostile work environment, you need to understand what fosters a toxic workplace,  its consequences, and what strategy prevents it. At deskbird, we encourage employee centricity to ensure your business thrives. For this reason, we wrote this guide about toxic work culture hoping it will help you minimize negative practices and promote positive ones!

Common practices in a toxic work culture

A management approach focused only on the outcome

 Successful organizations understand that the most important aspect of their business is their workforce. Companies that only focus on the outcome, no matter how it makes employees feel, usually don’t last long. Why? Because it creates a toxic work culture where people are unhappy and unsatisfied. However, with an employee-centric approach, workers feel recognized and are more engaged. 

Micromanaging leadership

Another damaging leadership style is micromanagement. It is, unfortunately, more common in hybrid work models, where managers can’t check what their team members are working on. For employees, it feels as if their managers have a lack of trust. It discourages any initiatives or decision-making from happening. This type of management is very unhealthy. It has psychological effects on workers, negatively impacts their well-being, and harms the overall company in the long run. 

Favoritism practices

When an internal position opens, how do you determine the right employee for the job? In a toxic workplace, this choice might be made based on favoritism, an unethical and unfair practice either based on cronyism or nepotism. Jobs and promotions are not awarded based on who has the best profile but because applicants are close to the person in charge of making the decision. This harms relationships between team members, breeds frustration, and creates a negative atmosphere at work.

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Unbalanced expectations

As an employer or a manager, you have certain expectations of your employees. But what about their expectations of you? This is not a one-way street. You cannot expect your workforce to be engaged, efficient, productive, devoted, loyal, etc. if you totally ignore their needs. To create a healthy work environment, you have to build a balanced relationship with your workers. This includes knowing what your employees’ expectations are and taking action to fulfil them.

Inappropriate behavior among employees

Classic behaviors in a toxic environment not only include favoritism but also gossiping, being selfish, and spreading negativity. When some of your employees constantly complain, spread rumors, and talk behind people’s backs, it affects the atmosphere. Inappropriate and disrespectful attitudes develop when individuals don’t share the same values or if a company doesn’t focus on building a positive workplace culture. 

Poor communication

Leaving employees in the dark and not sharing updates about what is happening in the company, no matter if it is positive or negative, is also a sign of toxic work culture. It is unfair for your workers not to know what to expect in the next months or years. Transparency is a core pillar of a healthy work environment.

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Angry man pointing at laptop
Leader micromanaging employee

Signs and consequences of toxicity at work

Employees are unengaged

How are your team meetings going? Are your employees participating in the conversation? Do they come up with creative ideas? If not, you need to understand why. An unengaged workforce is often a sign of an issue in the way things are done. Having quiet workers who do the minimum required should worry you. They might be afraid of sharing their opinions or cannot see the point of being more invested if they are not getting recognition in return. The reasons are varied.

Work boundaries are nonexistent

Do you make sure your team members stick to their work hours? A lack of work boundaries is a sign of an unhealthy work environment. Employees shouldn’t have to constantly work extra time to meet deadlines or feel pressured to be always available. Whether you are understaffed, the deadlines are too short or for other reasons, continually requiring employees to work more isn’t right.

Workers are disconnected

Another sign and consequence of toxicity at work is a lack of workplace connection. Employees can feel disconnected from their job, their colleagues, the workplace itself, or a mix of the three. They no longer find purpose in their job which leads to disengagement. Likewise, work relationships are crucial for employee satisfaction and experience. Not getting along or not sharing the same values as their teammates’ impact workers’ well-being as they don’t feel a sense of belonging.

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Levels of employee satisfaction and happiness are low

One of the consequences and signs of toxic work culture is a decrease in employee happiness and satisfaction. The best way to figure out if this is the case is to send regular surveys to your workforce. If the results of your employee satisfaction questionnaire show a decline in this aspect, the reason might be the corporate culture is not as healthy as you believe.

Absenteeism and burnout rates are high

One of the worst consequences of a toxic atmosphere at work is employee burnout. Not only does this affect your workers’ physical and mental health, but it also impacts your business. If you notice that one of your team members repeatedly uses a sick note or that the overall absenteeism rate increases, you need to quickly figure out why. As mentioned, a toxic work environment has psychological effects on employees. Thus, absenteeism and burnout are among the major results. 

Workers’ retention and attraction are low

When a work environment is harmful, it is obviously more difficult to attract and retain employees. According to an MIT Sloan review about how toxic culture is driving the Great Resignation, toxic corporate culture is the number one reason people quit their jobs. Let’s be honest, who wants to work for a company known for having a poor work culture? Even if the organization provides a great career opportunity, most employees today care more about well-being.

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Man grabbing head in frustration
Frustrated employee

Key criteria to prevent a hostile work environment

Workers’ experience is the core pillar of company culture

If you want to prevent a toxic work culture from developing and instead run a successful business, your employees should be the main priority. You need to build a work environment that takes into account their expectations and fosters their well-being. The management style should focus on transparency, respect, recognition, communication, and workers' experience.

The role of Human Resources Departments

HR teams play a major role in recruiting new hires who are a good match, share the same values, and provide positivity instead of toxicity at work. HR staff is also responsible for sharing corporate values and trying to develop a feeling of community among the employees. Their role is fundamental in creating and maintaining a positive work culture. 

Transparency prevails at every level of the organization

At each level of an organization, good communication is essential. You need to keep everybody in the loop about what is going on in the company, what the current goals are, etc. If employees are included in the development of the business, they are more engaged and loyal because they feel considered. However, making them feel that they can also be transparent with you is very important to keep a healthy and positive work environment.

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Relationships at work are based on trust and respect

Not only does being transparent with your team members matter but so does creating an environment where they feel at ease to express how they feel. This helps build a trustworthy relationship and encourages them to share any issues they encounter so that you can support them. 

Additionally, disrespectful behavior is unacceptable and cannot be tolerated. Communicating this expectation and ensuring everyone acts accordingly is important for a positive work culture. 

Workplace connection keeps people together and helps the business thrive

As we discussed earlier, workplace connection is very important and it starts from the onboarding process. As soon as new talent joins your team, they need to feel they are connected to their team and that their values align with those of the organization. To maintain this feeling, organize social events, encourage teamwork, and do what is needed to meet your employees’ expectations both career-wise and within the work environment. 

Employee satisfaction needs constant efforts and improvements

The biggest mistake that a company can make is to take people for granted and assume their staff is satisfied with the work environment and the benefits provided. This is the reason why we encourage you to constantly get feedback, measure employee satisfaction, and try to meet their expectations. For example, work life balance is a very important criterion for today’s workforce. Being as happy in their professional environment as in their personal life is fundamental. 

Co workers laughing and having conversation around table
Happy, communicative team

We hope this article will help you detect any signs of toxicity at work and avoid the development of toxic work culture. Furthermore, as satisfaction and well-being at work become increasingly important, building a positive corporate culture is crucial to the success of a company. Do you want to improve your employee experience? Flexible work is now a requirement for any modern, people-first business.

Request a free demo of the deskbird app to discover how you can easily manage a hybrid workspace and give more power to your team members!

Toxic work culture: everything you need to know

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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