Thought Leadership

How To Spot A Toxic Work Culture

A toxic workplace is a workplace with a dysfunctional and unhealthy environment. This environment generally consists of significant hostility, chaos, petty fights and low productivity. Toxic work environments often cause personal problems in the lives of employees including health complications that can stem from extreme stress. A study from Stanford and Harvard confirmed that toxic work cultures also increase the risk of hypertension, cardiovascular disease and can cause a decline in mental health and can create fatal conditions.


With risks this high, it is important to steer away from toxic workplaces as soon as possible. However, employees often don’t realise they are a part of a toxic work environment until it has already affected them severely. Therefore, it is important to stay alert and rapidly take action if the workplace seems to be toxic.  


Signs Of A Toxic Work Environment


  1. High Employee Turnover

Rapid employee turnover is one of the easiest signs to spot toxicity in the workplace. Leaving or changing a job is one of the most difficult decisions an individual makes in their life. Seeing various employees make this decision can show the hostility in the environment and the strong need to escape and leave ensues. High turnover can stem from various factors, including organisational culture, unsatisfactory leadership and even bullying. A Society For Human Research study found that 1 out 5 employees choose to leave an organization because of the culture. The study further observed that companies with a strong and positive culture had an employee turnover of 14%. In contrast, organizations that ignore company culture had a turnover of 48%. 


      2. Cliquish Behavior And Gossip

If there are petty fights and no genuine friendships in the workplace, it can be a clear insight into the hostility and dysfunctional atmosphere. While teamwork is a great motivator in an organisation and has unlimited benefits, that positivity is not passed on when cliques are formed as part of teamwork. Cliques often alienate and isolate other employees, not allowing them to satisfy their social needs and instead causing them to feel bullied. Cliques are extremely counterproductive and lead to an overall toxic environment. All workplaces have a tendency to indulge in harmless gossiping, as confirmed by SAGE Publications reporting that 96% of survey respondents admitted to participating in office gossip. However, gossiping to the extent of workers only communicating through passive-aggressive statements and dramatic outburst is extremely unhealthy. This unhealthy behaviour and workplace bullying have proved to correlate with psychological burnout, depression, anxiety and aggression as well. 


       3. Fear And Tension 

Palpable fear in the environment, loud silence, whispers and hush can all indicate a deleterious and controlled environment. If all the employees constantly suppress or hide their opinions, this can highlight psychological insecurity. Bosses that observe this behaviour and choose to ignore it, or worse, relish in it are clear signs of the environment not allowing any growth. Further, if employees are scared to make mistakes and are constantly worrying about their position in the workplace, the constant anxiety can lead to inefficiency and despair. 


        4. Overworking And Pressure 

Employees and other co-workers are frequently forced to meet impossible deadlines, especially without any support. This unethical pressure is extremely demeaning and highlights that the workplace does not value its employees health and well-being. This pressure can be further concerning if coworkers never speak up against it and later devastatingly complain. Succumbing to this pressure can be extremely fatal and can cause a variety of personal problems. Investment bankers, famous for participating in high tension and high earning jobs, experience more heart attacks, early deaths and are known to have negligible work-life balance. 


In conclusion, while it sometimes seems ‘worth it’ to work in a toxic environment, especially if it is accompanied by perks and pay, the numerous silent killers and mental and physical complications need to be avoided at all costs. A toxic workplace is just like a toxic relationship, slowly draining and destroying individuals in all areas of life.