A toxic work environment is not something to be ignored. It can breed low morale, damage mental wellbeing, result in high employee turnover and even encourage bullying behaviours.

If any of this sounds familiar to you, then it may be time for your workplace to take a culture health check. Here are some key indicators of a toxic environment to look out for:

Your core values are not clear

Your company values not only outline what you stand for, but crucially clarify the expectations you have of your employees. They are the foundation of the decisions you make and how you evaluate behaviour. Without them it’s difficult to establish a desirable culture.

And it’s no good just listing your values on your company website. You need to ensure you communicate these values clearly and regularly to your teams. Can your current employees cite your core values? If not, there’s work to be done.

Your processes and procedures are not aligned with your core values

Your company protocols need to derive from your core values, otherwise you’re delivering mixed messages to your employees that can cause confusion and mistrust. For example, if one of your core values is about empowering your employees to be independent thinkers, but your procedures call for micromanagement then this will lead to discontentment and your culture will stagnate.

Bad communication is rife

Communication skills are considered integral to the success of any organisation but, if poor or neglected, they can be the culprit for problems in the workplace. It’s not just about what you say, but how you say it – verbally or in writing, via emails or in-person meetings – and the frequency with which you say it. These all need to be considered carefully to ensure your team receive consistent and clear messages about their work and the direction of your company.

Don’t forget, communication is a two-way street. It also includes proactive listening, which is essential for gaining insightful feedback from your employees on your company’s culture.

No-one speaks up

If meetings are full of execs and managers doing all the talking, and your employees do not feel confident in speaking up, then that’s a red flag. Not only is this an opportunity for proactive listening missed, but it’s a sign that your workplace is lacking in psychological safety – that is, where people feel able to share their views and make honest mistakes without fear of repercussions. Psychological safety breeds workplaces that are more innovative, productive and ready to take on the future.

You do things because “that’s the way it’s always been done.”

Perhaps you do listen to your employees’ opinions and suggestions, but only pay lip service to them because you’re stuck in your old ways of doing things. If you’re willing to take on suggestions and be open to updating your procedures, your company will not only be able to effectively adapt to external changes, but you’ll help to sustain or even improve employee satisfaction.

Your workplace is lacking opportunities for growth

Does your workplace offer opportunities for promotion, possibilities for further learning or mentorship? If no, then there’s a chance your employees may start to feel stifled and unmotivated – and your company will begin to gain a reputation for not investing in the growth of its people.

Plus, unmotivated coworkers breed unmotivated coworkers! Enthusiastic new employees who walk into your company may find themselves shouldered with demanding workloads to make up for the lack of productivity within the team, which could lead to burnout, or conversely it could result in them feeling uninspired and under-challenged.

There’s a lack of work-life balance

Due in part to the pandemic, people have placed a higher value on their work-life balance. Working remotely from home has also highlighted the importance of creating suitable boundaries so employees do not feel like they’re always “on” or contactable around the clock. If you’re requiring your teams to answer emails at weekends or outside their usual working hours, they feel guilt over attending essential appointments like medical or dental check-ups, or booking annual leave becomes a task, you may be driving a toxic work environment.

There’s evidence of exclusion

It’s natural for people to gravitate towards those they have the most in common with, but if you notice cliques starting to form or gossipy behaviour, you should act. Such tight-knit rings can lead to incidents of exclusion, a subtle form of bullying where certain people are deliberately left out of projects or social occasions, which can leave them feeling alienated and like they don’t belong.

Such behaviour could be prevented by a comprehensive anti-bullying and harassment policy. If you don’t have one, or your core values do not outline a need for mutual employee respect, then that’s a warning sign.

Rapid employee turnover

Exclusion, uneven work-life balance, few opportunities for growth, a lack of motivation and not feeling like you’re listened to can all lead to the largest sign of a toxic workplace – high employee turnover. Pay attention to this figure and instigate HR protocols, such as exit interviews, to see if you can uncover what has made people seek opportunities elsewhere.


If you think your workplace is in need of detox, Tell Jane can help. Our seasoned HR consultants specialise in tackling toxic workplace behaviour and providing you with the tools to enrich your company culture, enhance your reputation and improve employee retention. Email hello@telljane.co.uk to get started.

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