What's in a toxic culture?
Company culture refers to the attitudes and behaviours of a company and its employees. It is evident in the way an organisation’s people interact with each other, the values they hold, and the decisions they make. Every workplace has the potential to become unhealthy, including remote offices. The development of a bad work culture doesn't happen overnight. Everyone who works for a given organisation contributes to their company culture. Individuals at any level in the organisation can create a toxic work environment through too much gossip, rumours, office politics, and micro-management. It can take only one person to spread dysfunction throughout your company regardless of its size. So what's in a toxic work culture? Here are some things to look out for:
One of the biggest warning signs of a toxic work culture is high employee turnover rate within an organisation. Toxic cultures have been shown to drive people away. When employees are leaving left, right, and centre, word of mouth travels quickly, and the company's negative reputation hinders recruiting future talents. A recent survey suggests that toxic company culture is the number one reason why employees are quitting their jobs. To understand the reasons behind high employee turnover, some companies ask people during exit interviews on their reasons for leaving, or conduct employee engagement surveys to gauge why people stick around.
No DEI policy
Companies now recognise that if they don't implement an effective policy on diversity, equality, and inclusion to recruit, hire, and retain employees, toxic cultures will likely thrive. Racism, discrimination, and lack of fair access to career opportunities prevent under-represented or marginalised groups, including women, people of colour, people from the LGBTQ community, and people with disabilities from feeling safe and valued within the company that they work for. When a workplace has explicit policies on DEI, more people feel comfortable coming forward when they see discrimination happening, whether they are on a hiring committee or watching a colleague make insensitive remarks. Today, DEI policy is seen as a competency and an asset. It must involve employees at every level of an organisation to truly be effective. Diverse and inclusive workplaces earn deeper trust and more commitment from their employees. Good DEI practices make everyone, regardless of who they are or what they do for the business, feel equally involved in and supported in all areas of the workplace.
No trust and psychological safety
One of the most straightforward signs of a toxic work culture is when employees are afraid to speak their mind, make mistakes, or be authentic. When there is no trust or psychological safety, employees often feel that they don’t have a voice and are afraid to raise concerns. This leads to inefficiency, as problems are less likely to come to light. When people are punished for making honest mistakes, they start to hide their mistakes, which can create bigger problems in the future. When team members are scared to speak their minds or make mistakes, innovation suffers, and the business becomes less competitive. In addition, if employees feel like they cannot speak up or try new things at work without the fear of repercussions, eventually they will get sick of walking on eggshells and take their voice and ideas elsewhere.
Absent of company core values
Company core values are principles, views, belief, and philosophies that an organisation hold as a foundation to help guide how the business operates. They are useful for guiding the behaviours and experiences of employees, defining how people should work with each other, as well as how they should behave toward clients, partners, and the wider community. Think of it like a compass, guiding your company towards the north star. Without it, offending behaviour is accepted and unwanted subcultures will form. In other words, the expectations around what behaviour is acceptable have not been defined. This can worsen when leadership fails to follow company core values as team members often look to their managers for direction. Organisations that succeed are the ones who empower their people to make the right decision based on the company’s core values, whether or not the leadership team is around.
A toxic work culture can have profound long term negative impacts on individuals as well as the business. Your culture is a living thing. It needs work to grow and flourish. For individuals to act right, the organisation need to listen to and value its people, implement a sound DEI policy, provide trust and psychological safety, and clearly communicate its core values and beliefs. If you don't intentionally work to create a culture that empowers your people, a default one takes reign and it is usually a toxic one.