Nine Signs Your Co-Workers are Creating a Toxic Culture
Kevin William Grant
Published on
November 23, 2019

We often link toxic work cultures to a few toxic employees within an organization.

The reality is that the environment and culture of the organization must be already damaged for these people to have a dominating and lasting effect. Corrupt colleagues can make life miserable for the entire workforce.

Factors That Create a Toxic Culture

The following are well understand factors that create a harmful working environments:

  • Lack of organizational transparency and trust
    • Distrust and avoiding top-down clarity in an organization can be detrimental to employees and the work environment. When employees don’t feel that they are trusted, or that there is enough transparency coming from the top of the organization, it can breed further distrust inter-departmentally, and even within teams.
  • Unhealthy competition and showmanship
    • When just a select few employees often take all the spotlight (or credit) in meetings or on projects, it can create hatred and resentment within the organization. Competition amongst teams can be useful, as many people are motivated in this way, but when it becomes distracting, frustrating, or even angry, then it’s doing more harm than good.
  • Too little oversight and lack of employee accountability
    • A toxic work culture can also be created when we feel that our colleagues aren’t pulling their weight. In most situations, we trust our management teams to identify underperformers, but sometimes management can be distant or detached. When this happens, slackers can get away with bringing the team down because of a lack of accountability.
  • Unestablished office policies and processes
    • Sometimes, we think it’s fun and exciting to work for companies that offer freedom. However, this freedom can be harmful when you don’t feel that everyone is operating in the same way. All employees should be held to the same standards, codes of conduct, and methods for completing regular tasks; otherwise, a toxic culture of chaos is created.
  • Overworked and under-appreciated employees
    • When we love what we do and feel appreciated by management for a job well done, job satisfaction goes through the roof. But in an organization where employees are given too many tasks or too high expectations are set - and no appreciation is shown for overtime or efficient delivery - resentment sets in very quickly.

Nine Signs of a Toxic Culture 

There are Many Meetings

You have a meeting about the issues and concerns are shared. Decisions are made. Everyone in attendance fully supports those decisions.
Then someone holds the "meeting after the meeting." Now she talks about issues she didn't share earlier with the group. Now he disagrees with the decisions made.
And now, what was going to happen never will. Waiting until after a meeting to say, "I'm not going to support that," is the same as saying, "I'll agree to anything, but that doesn't mean I'll do it. I'll even work against it."

They are Entitled

An employee did great things last year, last month, or even yesterday. You're appreciative. You're grateful. The only real measure of any employee's value is the tangible contribution he or she makes daily.

Toxic employees rest on their laurels and coast and indirectly make other team members do their job.

They Abdicate Responsibility

The smaller the company, the more critical it is that employees think on their feet, adapt quickly to shifting priorities, and do whatever it takes, regardless of role or position, to get things done.

Any task an employee is asked to do -- as long as it isn't unethical, immoral, or illegal, and it's "below" his or her current position -- is a task an employee should be willing to do.

Saying, "It's not my job," says, "I care only about me." That attitude quickly destroys overall performance because it quickly turns what might have been a cohesive team into a dysfunctional group of individuals.

They Gossip

Employees who create a culture of gossip waste time better spent on productive conversations. Scandal causes a loss of respect for team members, and this diminishes the dignity or respect of each employee.

They Form Cleeks

A great employee doesn't compare herself with others; they compare themselves to their internal standards.
Toxic colleagues don't want to do more; they want others to do less. They don't want to win. They want others to make sure they don't lose.

They Take Credit

A productive worker collaborates with their colleagues and shares the glory. They let others shine. This is particularly important for an employee in a leadership position. Even if other people don't adopt the same approach, they resent having to fight for recognition that is rightfully theirs.

They Can’t Make Decisions

Fundamental decisions that can cause customers to leave can’t be made. A simple refund for a client that never received the service they paid for takes weeks when it should take minutes.

When a decision needs to be made to change a product because customers are leaving by the dozen, a decision can’t be made. It’s easier not to decide than it is to make a decision that admits things need to change.

Working From Home or Part-Time Work is Defined as Lazy

Management doesn’t allow people to work from home because they want to watch people. Working from home means you’ll be less productive and take advantage of the situation.

The fact you might have a newborn baby at home and don’t want to do the two-hour commute each day so you can work more is ignored.

Then, staff who want to work part-time because they have a side hustle, children, or a second job are prevented from doing so or referred to as “lazy.”

Here’s the thing: part-time work and working from home are not lazy.

Both forms of work allow people to have lives, and they will reward you (if you let them) with loyalty and commitment to their work.

Excluding part-time work or working from home is limiting your talent pool severely because it is such a common way of working. Being chained to a desk in an office does not make you high performing or a profitable asset; being allowed to be flexible and treated like a human does.

Entrepreneurship is Frowned Upon

Toxic work cultures hate entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs because they are scared to death that they are going to leave and steal their ideas.

Thriving work cultures take people that have experience owning a business and utilize them like their secret weapon. They promote entrepreneurship because they want people to feel as though it is their business, and they can make decisions.

Utilize entrepreneurs while you have them, and if they leave, wish them all the best. Entrepreneurs are the reason that businesses are created in the first place.

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