6 Signs of a Toxic Workplace (and What to Do About Them)

Productive, happy, and engaged teams all have one thing in common: a positive, supportive, and healthy work environment. Toxic workplaces? Well, they look a little different. In negative environments, gossip, conflict, and poor communication run rampant. So, how do you know if your business is plagued with toxicity? Keep your eyes peeled for signs of a toxic workplace (and learn what you can do about them).

Signs of a toxic workplace 

Having a toxic workplace is something no business owner wants. It can lead to:

  • High employee turnover
  • A tarnished reputation
  • Miscommunication
  • Lost growth opportunities

Toxic workplaces all have similar characteristics. But if you know which toxic work environment characteristics to watch out for, you can stop them in their tracks before they do some severe damage to your reputation. Here are six toxic workplace signs you should keep on your radar and what you can do about them.

signs of a toxic workplace

1. Gossip roams freely

One telltale sign of a toxic work environment is gossipy behavior, cliques, and exclusion. If you notice gossip roaming freely around your business and becoming a pattern, you may have a negative work environment.

So, how can you tell when your workplace is toxic and gossip is getting out of control? Keep an eye out for:

  • Whispering
  • Negative body language (e.g., side-eye glances)
  • Passive aggressive remarks
  • An uptick in workplace drama and conflict

Gossiping can not only lead to hurt feelings, but it can also put a dent in your employee morale and cause workers to flock from your business. 

Unfortunately, workplace gossip isn’t 100% avoidable. Heck, 55% of men and 79% of women admit to gossiping in the workplace. Sometimes, you just can’t steer completely clear of it. But, you can discourage it and squash it early on.

To help diminish gossip culture at your business, be observant, set an example, and consider creating and enforcing a zero-tolerance policy. 

2. Employee turnover is at an all-time high

If it seems like employees are dropping like flies, there’s probably a reason for it. And in some cases, high employee turnover could be a result of workplace toxicity. In fact, one out of five employees have quit their job due to toxic workplace culture. 

If your employee turnover ratio is skyrocketing, do a little digging to determine why. Maybe it’s because of poor compensation or benefits, lack of work-life balance, or limited growth opportunities. Or maybe, it’s due to (gasp!) a toxic work environment. 

To find out why employees are leaving, ask questions during an exit interview. That way, you can pinpoint problems and narrow down if high turnover is because of an unpleasant work environment. 

If you aren’t finding answers in the exit interviews, make some observations around your workplace. Are employees getting along? Is your team comfortable coming to you with questions? Pay attention and listen to your team to ensure that the root cause of high employee turnover is not toxicity. 

3. Poor communication

As you know, communication is key when it comes to running a business. But if you and your team don’t know how to communicate with each other, it can turn things toxic quickly.

To find out if you have poor communication, take a look around. Ask yourself some questions like:

  • How do employees communicate with each other?
  • Are you communicating well with your team?
  • Does your team trust you and vice versa?
  • How much conflict is there?

You should also look at other factors like communication on projects, time management, and alignment of priorities. 

If you suspect your team is having some trouble with communication, you can:

  • Host daily meetings to ensure everyone is on the same page
  • Have 1:1s with each employee to listen to their feedback and concerns
  • Give employees plenty of ways to communicate (e.g., online messaging, videoconferencing, etc.)
  • Offer communication training
  • Ask employees for feedback (e.g., communication survey)

On the importance of communication in the workplace, Zoe Morris, President at Frank Recruitment Group, said:

For me, lack of clear communication has always been and continues to be the biggest red flag in the workplace. Especially now that businesses are entering hybrid working arrangements, businesses need to prioritize how they talk and listen to their employees. Ineffective communication creates confusion and distrust, as employees feel both left in the dark and that they’re not being heard. This is a recipe for disaster, and a clear sign that employers need to be more transparent before workers start looking for the way out.

4. No motivation 

Another one of the signs your workplace is toxic is little to no motivation on the team front. If your team doesn’t seem motivated, you may need to blame a poor workplace environment.

So, how do you know if your team isn’t motivated? Watch out for:

  • Lack of focus
  • Decrease in quality of work
  • Increased absence
  • Changes in attitude

Keep in mind that if your team isn’t motivated, it doesn’t always mean your workplace is toxic. But, it never hurts to make sure that it’s not and to do something about it if it is toxic. 

To motivate employees, make sure they’re on the same page as you when it comes to your business’s mission and vision. Set clear goals for your team and give them something to strive toward. And, be sure to recognize and appreciate employees for a job well done when they accomplish tasks big and small. A little appreciation can go a long way. 

5. Little to no growth

As a business owner, you want your employees to grow and prosper. That way, they can expand their skills and knowledge and use it to help your company succeed. But surprise, surprise—another one of the red flags of a toxic workplace is lack of employee growth. 

So, how is your business doing in the growth department? Are you stifling growth opportunities? Or, are you encouraging them? If your business is not giving employees room to grow and not investing in expanding employees’ opportunities, you may be breeding a toxic workplace.

Employees crave growth and knowledge. According to one study, a whopping 94% of employees would stay at a company longer if it simply invested in helping them learn and grow.

To support growth in the workplace, you can:

  • Create growth plans
  • Mentor employees
  • Provide training sessions for employees (e.g., webinars)
  • Ask employees about their growth goals
  • Provide resources to employees
  • Offer education assistance

The more you do to help your team grow and succeed, the better. And, employee growth means more growth for your company, so it’s a win-win. 

6. Constant conflict 

Does conflict seem to be popping up left and right at your business? Does workplace drama seem never ending? If so, you might have a toxic work culture on your hands.

Yes, every business deals with some form of conflict. It’s a part of being in business. No one is perfect, and people are going to butt heads every once in a while. But, what you shouldn’t be seeing is constant conflict at work

Conflict can make it hard for your team to collaborate and get anything productive accomplished. Not to mention, your workplace’s communication will also suffer the consequences. 

If it seems like conflict is turning up at every corner, put a stop to it as soon as possible. Come up with a plan to deal with conflict in a healthy way. That way, you can ensure it solves the problem and can avoid additional conflicts in the future. 

To help avoid conflict in your workplace, you can tackle drama early on, keep communication open, be transparent, and establish a system for managing conflict (e.g., group discussion, disciplinary actions, etc.). 

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