A toxic workplace can lead to lower quality work, a decrease in productivity and employee dissatisfaction, all of which can lead to employee turnover. If you’re a leader, it’s important to address the signs of a toxic workplace as soon as you notice them to avoid cultivating a negative company culture.
To help you deal with a toxic work environment, a panel of Council for Young Entrepreneurs members explain what signs to watch for and how to address problems before they grow into a bigger problem.
What is a sign that a workplace is becoming toxic and what should a company leader do?
1. Unexplained turnover
The most obvious sign of toxicity is unexplained turnover. If you don’t give your departing employees a chance to speak fearlessly in a one-on-one exit interview, chances are they’ll be reluctant to share important, less positive information. There are many reasons for this, but the two most common are not wanting to “cast shade” or dragging unhealthy dynamics into their new job. —John Hall, Calendar
2. Lack of transparency
Low transparency is an important early sign of workplace toxicity. Look for supervisors and managers who withhold information, provide misleading information, or use back channels to provide information to beneficiary employees. In low-transparency environments, employees are more likely to be blindsided by negative information, which hurts morale and can increase sales. —Andrew Schrage, Money Crashers personal finance
3. Employee gossip
Gossip is often closely associated with a workplace becoming toxic. It’s important for leaders to catch it early and correct it, because few things are as draining on morale and productivity as gossip. Many things can cause the problem, such as poor hiring; a weak manager; a lack of clarity about vision, goals or strategy; and more. How you solve the problem depends on the cause, so find that out first! —Ben Landers, Blue Crown
4. People point the finger at others
When people point the finger when there is a problem or when something isn’t working right, when no one is willing to admit they were wrong, when people are afraid to tell the truth – these are all signs that something is wrong with the corporate culture. You can start troubleshooting the problem by conducting an anonymous survey with some open-ended questions to try to identify the source of the problem. —Samuel Thimothy, OneIMS
5. Passive-aggressive behavior
Toxic workplaces can be difficult for managers to identify. Toxic environments are often characterized by passive-aggressive behavior and verbal attacks from above. Managers must be aware of these signals and act quickly. They also need to keep a close eye on the well-being of their employees to reduce the damage that toxic work environments can cause. —Kristin Kimberly Marquet, Marquet Media, LLC
6. Unmotivated employees
Unmotivated employees willing to do only the bare minimum is a telltale sign that things have turned toxic. If a company leader sees this, get employees to talk and share their ideas; this can be done in writing to begin with. Reward the employees who exemplify the company’s core values. Create more positivity in the workplace by making employees happy. —Jared Weitz, United Capital Source Inc.
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7. Low team morale
A red flag is low morale during working hours. Employees may be less enthusiastic and focus more on individual tasks than completing a project. They are also not allowed to participate in team building exercises. Leaders must first identify the cause of this lower morale by creating a safe space for employees to talk about their concerns. Make sure complaints are confidential, and then you can brainstorm solutions. —Duran Inci, Optimal7
8. Distribution across departments
One sign of workplace toxicity is that people are divided into hostile factions. These factions can be defined by department (such as marketing versus IT), personality, or power struggle. When people who should be working together see each other as opponents, tension arises. Leaders must be wary of this and work on a cooperative atmosphere. —Kalin Kassabov, ProText
About the author
Council for Young Entrepreneurs (YEC) is an invite-only organization made up of the world’s most successful young entrepreneurs.