7 Signs of a Toxic Work Environment (Plus Solutions)





Future of Work


A toxic work environment is not just a buzzword—it's a business killer. Employees across the board are hitting a breaking point, grappling with a workplace atmosphere that saps their energy and drives them in search of greener pastures. 

To keep your team happy, you must address any signs of a toxic work culture. Bad culture can emerge in any team, from a small business to scale-ups or multinationals. 

Treating a toxic work culture requires understanding the most common signs.

It's the first step in crafting an intervention plan to revive your team's engagement and productivity. After all, a thriving company culture isn't just a nice-to-have; it's a competitive advantage. 

Let's delve into indicators to watch out for if you want to prevent toxicity from taking over the workplace. 

If any hostile work environment signs match your team, don’t worry. We’ll be sharing a set of tips to patch each symptom as quickly as possible. Let’s get into it!

Do you have a toxic work environment? Look out for these 7 signs

A toxic work environment is characterized by a negative atmosphere that severely impacts employees' well-being and productivity. Toxicity is presents itself through a combination of unhealthy behaviors, practices, and systems that lead to stress, anxiety, and low morale.

A bad company culture is a serious issue that impacts team health, creativity, and performance.

Toxic teams also hurt the business itself by hitting employee morale, increasing turnover, and causing an uptake in sick days.

Let’s discuss 7 universal signs of a toxic work environment. 

1. Sign of a toxic culture: Low levels of creativity

Creativity is about connecting ideas, taking intellectual risks, and fostering an environment where new solutions are born and valued. 

Low creativity is often a reflection of underlying issues that go further than a creative block and speak to the health of the organizational culture itself.

Your team environment becomes one of compliance rather than inspiration when team members stop offering new ideas or challenging the status quo. In such settings, employees might feel that creativity isn't welcomed, leading to a decline in engaged creative thinking. 

This can cause a ripple effect; as fewer people demonstrate creativity, the behavior becomes normalized. As a result, the non-creative status quo gets further entrenched.

Solution: Tactics that promote creative thinking in teams

"Creativity is a wild mind and a disciplined eye." — Dorothy Parker

Addressing low levels of creativity within a team, particularly when it's a symptom of a toxic work culture, requires a multi-faceted approach.

Creating an environment that welcomes creativity requires managerial intervention and cultural transformation. Here are some tactics that can make a difference quickly:

  • Promote psychological safety: Google's Project Aristotle found that psychological safety, where team members feel safe to take risks and be vulnerable in front of each other, is the most critical factor for team success. Encourage an atmosphere where failure is seen as a learning opportunity rather than a cause for punishment.
  • Provide training and resources: Invest in creativity workshops, training sessions, or bring in creative consultants to inspire your team and provide them with tools and techniques to generate and develop ideas.
  • Allocate time for creativity: Google's famous "20% time" policy, where employees could spend 20% of their time on projects they are passionate about, underscores the importance of giving employees time away from their usual tasks to explore new ideas.

2. Sign of a bad work environment: Work is never finished before the deadline

Frequently missing a deadline isn't just about ineffective multitasking, poor time management or lack of effort; it often reflects deeper issues within the company culture. 

Deadlines serve as a critical structure for productivity. They're necessary to keep projects on track and meet client or growth needs. 

In a healthy workplace, deadlines are set through a collaborative process, ensuring they are realistic. In contrast, bad work enviroments often have top-down decision-making, where deadlines are dictated without input from those who understand the work involved. In turn, expectations become unrealistic, and deadlines become more aspirational than achievable. 

Another cause for consistently missing a deadline is considering everything urgent, creating a sea of supposed emergencies. Always being on alert leads to more missed deadlines because employees are stretched too thin across too many "top priority" projects.

Solution: Working with attainable deadlines across the team

Creating attainable deadlines in a bad work environment of missed commitments involves a clear organizational strategy, clear communication, and a shift in priorities and progress tracking.

Here are a few simple steps you can implement today to establish and maintain more attainable deadlines:

  • Assess current workloads: Begin by gaining a clear understanding of your team's current workloads. Overburdened employees are more likely to miss deadlines, so it's essential to ensure that expectations are realistic given their available bandwidth.
  • Involve the team in planning: Include team members in the deadline-setting process. This collaborative approach ensures that the team has a say in what they believe is achievable, fostering ownership and commitment to the deadlines.
  • Implement the Eisenhower Matrix for prioritization: Help the team prioritize their tasks. By understanding what is most important and what can wait, team members can better manage their time and focus on meeting the most critical deadlines first.
  • Break down large projects: Divide larger projects into smaller, more manageable tasks with their own mini-deadlines. This can make the work seem less daunting and help maintain a steady pace toward completion. Understanding the difference between project and task is key for this. 
🎁 Free resource: Prioritize tasks based on urgency and importance using the Eisenhower matrix template.
Prevent a Toxic Work Environment by prioritizing tasks correctly with the eisenhower matrix

3. Sign of toxic culture in the workplace: High turnover among employees

When employees frequently exit your team, it's a clear signal that something is fundamentally wrong with the workplace environment. 

According to Forbes, Employees are 10x more likely to quit if a company has a toxic workplace culture.

At its core, a high turnover rate represents a breakdown in the relationship between the employer and the employee. The origin of the broken relationship might be the underlying issue that creates such a bad culture at work that employees feel their only option is to leave.

One of the primary reasons employees leave is a lack of respect and support from management. Employees feel undervalued or unrecognized for their contributions. 

Favoritism or discrimination also cause hostile and unfair work environments, leading to the ultimate resignation of affected employees. What’s worse, this often affects the diversity within a team as well, creating cultures that lack a breadth of experiences and cultural perspectives. 

You should also ask yourself whether there is enough work-life balance in your team.

Toxic workplaces have a constant demand on employees' time, with long hours being glorified and becoming the norm. When their personal lives are consistently sacrificed for the job, employees are likely to look for opportunities that better respect their need for balance.

Solution: How to tackle high turnover rates in your team

Reducing turnover in a team that's experiencing a toxic culture in the workplace requires addressing the underlying issues that are driving employees away. 

Here are several strategies that can help you address these issues and create a more positive work environment:

  • Review reward systems: Reviewing and potentially restructuring reward systems is a must if you want to reduce turnover rates. Intrinsic rewards should be assessed when issues of recognition are at the heart of why employees leave. In terms of extrinsic rewards, you should check platforms like Glassdoor or Levels.fyi and make sure your salaries are up to industry standard.
  • Implement regular feedback and recognition programs: Develop a structured program for providing regular, constructive feedback as well as recognizing employees' accomplishments. This can include peer-recognition initiatives, manager shout-outs in meetings, or company-wide rewards.
  • Promote work-life balance: Enforce policies that promote work-life balance, such as flexible working hours, the opportunity for remote work, and a strict policy against regular overtime. Encourage managers and employees to respect boundaries between work and personal time.

4. Toxic work culture sign: No career development opportunities

Career development opportunities within an organization—or the lack thereof—can also influence turnover rates. 

A toxic workplace may not provide clear paths for advancement or opportunities for professional growth. Employees feel stuck in their roles when there is no chance for progression, and leave the job whenever anything better comes up. 

Nepotism or other unfair systems can make this even worse. If people don’t feel like effort results in future opportunities, then their engagement drops.

Solution: Creating a path for career development

Building clear career development opportunities in a toxic work culture is crucial because it shifts the focus to growth and positivity. 

Here’s a deep dive into a few tactics you can implement to improve employee prospects within the organization:

  • Create clear career paths: Map out potential career trajectories within the organization for each role. Communicate these paths clearly to employees, showing them how they can grow and what they need to achieve to progress.
  • Inclusive and fair workplace: Conduct diversity and inclusion training for all employees. Establish a zero-tolerance policy towards discrimination and favoritism to ensure that all team members have equal access to opportunities and resources.
  • Training programs: Set up structured training programs that address both current job requirements and future skill needs. Think about on-the-job training, cross-training, or external courses.
  • Mentorship or buddy programs: Establish formal mentorship programs where employees can learn from experienced leaders, gain valuable insights, and develop their professional networks.
🎁 Free resource: Focus on the personal and professional growth within your company with the employee development plan template

5. Sign of a toxic workplace culture: Teams are extremely siloed

Silos form invisible barriers where each team ends up working with blinders on. Teams don't see what the others are doing, and they don't share what they're up to.

A bad culture at work silos is like a kitchen where everyone cooks a meal, but no one talks to each other—you might end up with four desserts and no main course.

The result? Well, it's not just about inefficiency or duplicated efforts, though those are certainly part of the mix. When an organization has silos, people start feeling like they're on an island, and that "us versus them" mindset creeps in. 

Everyone's looking out for their team's interests, and the idea of pulling together for the company's sake stops being a priority.

What's more, in a toxic culture with siloes, someone's always ready to pass the buck. "That's not our problem," becomes the refrain, and trying to find solutions turns into a game of hot potato. Nobody wins in that game—problems just go round and round.

Breaking down these walls isn't easy, but it's essential if you’re looking to tackle a toxic workplace culture.

Solution: How to break down silos in a toxic workplace

Breaking down silos in teams is crucial to foster a healthy, collaborative, and thriving work environment. Creating real change is about initiating a cultural shift that encourages openness and interaction across all functions, levels and departments. 

Here's how you might approach it:

  • Redefine goals and values: Sometimes, silos form because teams don't see how their work fits into the organizational strategy. Employees see how their contributions matter in the grand scheme of things when company goals and objectives are inclusive of every department's efforts.
  • Implement integrated systems: Sometimes it's the systems and processes that reinforce silos. By using integrated software and collaborative tools that are accessible to all, you'll encourage a more seamless flow of information. Create shared spaces—virtual or physical—where ideas can mingle.
  • Encourage cross-departmental projects: Assemble teams from different departments to work on specific challenges or innovate new products. As they work towards a common goal, they'll naturally start to break down barriers and share knowledge.
Use Rock for your all-in-one team communication. Bring departments and teams together with chat, tasks, notes, files and meetings in one place. 
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6. Sign of workplace issues: toxic management

When we talk about toxic management, we're delving into a complex and unfortunately all too common issue in many workplaces. Bad management practices gradually tear down your organization's culture and employee morale.

A classic sign of toxic management is tension in the air. People are hesitant to speak up in meetings or even to share their thoughts privately. An invisible barrier starts to block open communication. 

Another telltale symptom of toxic management is the absence of transparency. Decisions seem to be made in a black box, and employees are often left in the dark. This breeds a culture of uncertainty and fear, where rumors fill the void.

A toxic workplace culture thrives on control rather than inspiration, fear rather than motivation. 

Solution: Encourage leadership to take more effective management approaches

If you want employees to be creative thinkers and problem-solvers, you need to lead by example. Managers should hold themselves accountable for their actions and encourage others to do the same.

Here are three tactics teams can implement to improve the relationship between management and team members in a toxic work environment:

  • Lead by example: Leadership should model creative behavior. This could involve openly sharing ideas at their early stages, welcoming feedback, and showing how to take calculated risks without fear of negative repercussions for honest mistakes.
  • Redefine failure: Shift the perspective on failure by recognizing that when pushing the boundaries of innovation, not every idea or completed task will be a winner.
  • Encourage open communication: Create an environment where team members feel safe and encouraged to express their ideas and opinions. Implementing career affirmations, teamwork quotes and brainstorming sessions is a good start. Leaders should actively listen and provide constructive feedback.
🎁 Free resource: Don't let endless to-do lists and overflowing inboxes dictate your work life any longer—embrace the power of effective time management and transform your productivity
Avoid a bad work environment by working more effectively and efficiently

7. Interpersonal tensions between team members

Interpersonal tensions between team members can be a significant red flag. When we talk about these tensions, we're usually referring to the undercurrents of conflict that run beneath the surface of day-to-day interactions. 

Conflict might not always erupt into outright arguments, but it can be just as damaging when present in a subtle form.

A certain amount of disagreement is both healthy and expected — diverse perspectives can actually drive innovation and problem-solving. However, when these disagreements become personal, they become toxic. 

Tension in a toxic workplace culture can stem from a variety of sources. Perhaps there's a culture of competition that's gone too far, leading to colleagues undermining each other instead of working together. Or maybe there's a lack of clear communication from leadership, resulting in confusion and frustration amongst team members.

Interpersonal issues can create a domino effect. Productivity often takes a hit as team members spend more time navigating workplace issues than focusing on their work. Morale suffers, too, because let's face it — nobody enjoys coming to work when it feels like a battleground.

In a nutshell, interpersonal tensions are not just small ripples; they can quickly turn into waves that threaten to capsize the organizational boat. It's crucial for a company to address these issues head-on to maintain a healthy, productive, and positive workplace culture.

Solution: How to improve interpersonal relationships in a toxic workplace

Building and maintaining strong interpersonal relationships at work is an ongoing process. It requires consistent effort, patience, and a willingness to adapt and learn from experiences.

Here are some strategies you can employ to foster a more harmonious and collaborative environment:

  1. Show empathy: Try to understand your colleagues' viewpoints and feelings. Empathy builds trust and understanding, and it can defuse potential conflicts before they escalate.
  2. Engage in team-building activities: Participate in or organize activities that can help strengthen relationships. Whether it's a team lunch, a collaborative project, or a team-building exercise, shared experiences help build camaraderie.
  3. Offer help and support: Be willing to lend a hand when your colleagues need assistance. This can create a culture of mutual support and collaboration.
  4. Set boundaries: Respect personal boundaries and understand that everyone has different comfort levels regarding personal space and social interaction.
  5. Manage conflicts constructively: When disagreements arise, address them directly and calmly with the aim of finding a mutually beneficial resolution. Avoid gossip and don't let resentments fester.
🎁 Free resource: Don't let your voice be drowned out in the noise of the world—take control of your life through the Assertiveness Training Template.
Prevent a toxic workplace culture by communicating more assertively

Turn your organizational culture into a competitive advantage

Transforming your organization's culture into something that really gives you an edge in the marketplace is like infusing your company's personality with superpowers.

And you know what? People can feel it when they walk into a place where the culture is strong. It's like walking into a room where everyone's laughing – you can't help but smile. That kind of energy is infectious, and it's a magnet for talent.

The best people want to work in a place where they know they'll be valued, where they can grow, and where work feels meaningful.

So, in a nutshell, to turn your culture into a competitive advantage, make sure it's authentic, deeply rooted in everything you do, and aligns with how you want the world to see your company. Become the best version of yourselves and let authenticity shine through.

Frequently Asked Questions on Toxic Work Cultures

What are the signs that I might be working in a toxic environment?

Key signs include low creativity, missed deadlines, high turnover, lack of career development, siloed teams, poor management, and interpersonal tensions.

How can low levels of creativity indicate a toxic work culture?

When team members stop offering new ideas or challenging the status quo due to fear or a non-supportive atmosphere, it can be a sign of a deeper cultural issue.

Why is missing deadlines often a symptom of a deeper issue within the team?

Consistently missing deadlines might reflect unrealistic expectations, poor planning, lack of employee input in setting deadlines, or a culture where everything is treated as urgent.

What does high employee turnover say about a company’s work environment?

Rapid turnover often points to a lack of respect, support, and recognition from management, as well as inadequate work-life balance.

How do a lack of career advancement opportunities contribute to workplace toxicity?

When employees see no clear path for growth, they may feel stuck and demotivated, which can lead to a toxic environment.

What role does management play in creating or sustaining a toxic work culture?

Management styles that prioritize control and instill fear can hinder open communication and transparency, contributing to toxicity.

What causes interpersonal tensions to develop between team members?

This could stem from a competitive culture, unclear communication, or personal grievances that aren't effectively addressed.

Solving Common Problems

How can I foster an environment that encourages creativity in my team?

Promote a psychologically safe space, provide creativity resources and training, and allocate time for creativity within work schedules.

What strategies can help to ensure deadlines are met without overburdening employees?

Assess current workloads for realistic expectations, involve the team in planning, prioritize using the Eisenhower Matrix, and break large projects into manageable tasks.

What can be done to reduce high turnover rates in my team?

Review reward systems, implement regular feedback and recognition programs, and encourage work-life balance through company policies.

How can I develop clear career development opportunities to improve my work environment?

Define career paths, provide training programs, establish mentorship, and ensure inclusive and fair advancement practices.

What can I do to break down siloes and encourage collaboration?

Redefine company goals to be inclusive, implement integrated collaborative tools, and engage in cross-departmental projects.

How can I improve my management style to avoid contributing to a toxic environment?

Model positive behaviors, redefine failure as a learning opportunity, and foster open communication and idea-sharing.

What are effective ways to handle interpersonal conflicts in my workplace?

Foster empathy, participate in team-building activities, offer support, respect boundaries, and manage conflicts constructively.

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