The Consequences of a Toxic Work Culture

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Allie Blackham

Marketing Content Manager

Company culture has always been important, but it’s become a topic of conversation in the more recent past as businesses seek to boost productivity and increase success. But beyond the financial gains of building a positive culture, a company can establish its identity and improve its image by focusing on these aspects. Explore what happens if your work culture becomes toxic and how to fix it.

What is a Toxic Work Culture?

In a brief summary, company culture refers to the set of shared goals, values, practices, and attitudes that characterize an organization. These factors tend to impact both the employees of the business and those who interact with it, such as the customers. A positive culture is inclusive, supportive, and encouraging. Employees generally feel good about their roles and responsibilities, and they strive to contribute to the overall good of the business.

By contrast, a toxic work culture has a negative atmosphere in the workplace. Negative behaviors among employees and company leaders are so deeply ingrained in the culture that no one can get away from them. Examples of these behaviors include bullying, verbal abuse, and manipulation.

Problems Associated with Toxic Culture

Working for a company with a toxic culture can cause an individual to feel unsafe because of what they face on a daily basis. They may worry about completing all their assigned tasks and what will happen if they don’t. In many toxic workplaces, managers and supervisors have unrealistic expectations of their employees, resulting in constantly feeling behind. And falling behind on the workload can lead to humiliation, punishments or other frustrating situations that don’t generate any positive results.

Employees working in these environments tend to burn out quickly, resulting in high turnover rates. A toxic culture can also contribute to higher absenteeism rates, poor mental health in employees, and pervasive negativity felt throughout the workplace. Interpersonal conflicts tend to be more frequent when the stakes are so high, putting a lot of pressure on members of the team.

In addition to the challenges for employees, a negative culture can also wreak havoc on a company’s overall financial success. High turnover rates cost businesses a lot of money – SHRM reported that American companies spent over $223 billion on hiring and recruiting required by turnover rates. When the American workplace experienced the Great Resignation, nearly 30 percent of those surveyed reported quitting due to a toxic workplace culture and its effect on their mental health.

Signs of a Toxic Workplace

If you’ve worked for the same company for years, it can be difficult to recognize the signs of a toxic culture, as it may feel normal to you. But these are the signs of a workplace that isn’t supportive or healthy:

  • Low employee morale
  • No boundaries around work
  • Excessive or chronic stress
  • Negative reactions to situations
  • Confusion around roles
  • Office gossip
  • High employee turnover

A poor culture often comes from company leaders who fail to define the organization’s core values or communicate effectively. If the leadership participates in negative behaviors, they also set the tone for the rest of the team.

How to Improve Company Culture

Even toxic workplaces can improve with the right approach. Follow these steps to improve your company culture and support your team members.

Put people first

The people who work for a company keep it running. If they lack the resources needed to perform their duties, they can’t thrive, and they’ll likely leave. It’s that simple. So, you need to find a way to put your people first. Create opportunities for open and honest communication and listen to what they say. Ask them about barriers that prevent them from doing their best work and find out how to address those needs.

Nip negative behaviors in the bud

Bullying, gossiping, and manipulation are some of the most telltale signs of a pervasively toxic culture. Don’t let them happen in your organization. If you get wind of any situation that involves such behavior, put a stop to it immediately by taking disciplinary action. Outline expectations in the employee handbook and talk about them regularly. Leaders should also model positive behaviors to set an example for the rest of the workforce.

Encourage work-life balance (or integration)

A toxic work culture often includes the glorification of working long hours. Of course, situations will arise that require all hands on deck. But when every employee is expected to put work above all else, there’s no room for balance with the other things in their lives. Allow your people to balance their work and personal lives, giving space for hobbies, family needs, and other activities that help them return to work feeling ready to take on their tasks. If you don’t, burnout is inevitable (and probably will happen sooner rather than later).

Offer praise and rewards

Praising and rewarding employees for their contributions can help overturn a toxic culture in which no one receives recognition. Look for ways to express your gratitude for your team members on the regular. Employees who feel valued are more likely to be content in their roles, fostering higher retention rates.

Take the time to explore your company culture and identify areas where it could be improved. Simply taking the first step toward a positive work atmosphere can make a big difference for all who work in it every day.

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