Toxic Culture

What It Is and How You Can Prevent It In Your Workplace?

Victoria July 13, 2021
Reading time: 6 minutes
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In 2020, a whopping one in five British workers quit their job due to ‘toxic workplace culture’. But what exactly qualifies as ‘toxic culture’, and how does an unhealthy working environment develop?


What is a Toxic Culture? 


According to Greg Barnett of The Predictive Index, a workplace culture is “typically considered toxic when trust, psychological safety, and employee morale degrade to unhealthy levels.”


Affecting productivity, mental health and employee engagement, toxic cultures are incredibly dangerous for both companies and employees, with symptoms spreading through a workforce quickly if not treated.


Examples of a toxic culture could include a workplace where employees are chronically stressed, overworked, or feeling bullied by their boss. And in most of these cases, the problem boils down to a lack of communication and trust between those in the workplace hierarchy


Due to this sense of distance between employees and their leaders, staff turnover in toxic workplaces tends to be exceptionally high. This is because those who feel disregarded, abused, or exploited by their managers, often would rather leave a company than file a complaint, mostly due to a lack of trust that their issues will be resolved.


It’s not hard to see how a toxic culture can have a huge negative impact on the performance of a business. It’s estimated that a ‘poor company culture’ costs UK companies an eye-watering £20.2 billion every single year. 


How Does a Toxic Culture Develop?


Sadly, there are many ways in which a toxic culture can develop in a workplace. And while the ‘root cause’ of the problem may vary from case to case, it’s generally a lack of communication that exacerbates and conceals the problems. 


When companies don’t take the time to gather employee feedback; negative, or even abusive behaviour is allowed to go unnoticed and unaddressed. It can spread like a cancer throughout an organisation.


It’s important for companies to send out anonymous employee engagement surveys. Surveys can give early warning signs and red flags, of where problems are beginning to emerge. Low engagement teams, or concerning written feedback can provide opportunities for businesses to jump in early where the culture is becoming toxic, or employee engagement has dropped. 


Where a toxic environment has already formed, simple measures like this enable a company to identify and rectify the signs of a toxic work environment. There are some huge red flags to watch out for, for when a toxic culture has already set in: 


Here are a number of common red-flags of a toxic workplace:


  1. Abusive managers who shout at or speak condescendingly towards employees 
  2. A general feeling of ‘policies and/or profits over people’, where workers feel disregarded or exploited
  3. Micromanagers who continually intervene in others’ work
  4. Extremely negative and unsupportive performance appraisals
  5. Any form of discrimination and lack of diversity
  6. A failure to recognise and reward employee achievements
  7. Harassment 


This isn’t an exhaustive list, but if you recognise any of the above signs in your workplace or business, it’s time to:


a.) leave (if you’re an employee)

b.) do something about it (if you’re an employer!)


How to Gather Evidence of a Toxic Workplace Culture


You may be thinking it’s difficult to quantifiably gauge the health of a workplace culture. After all, we’re talking about people’s feelings – and feelings are subjective, right?


To understand how it feels to work in your business, it can help to gather quantitative data about your company's culture. Here are just a few ideas of how you can approach this: 


Carry out regular employee engagement surveys


Employee engagement surveys can offer a wealth of measurable data, such as eNPS score and information through real-time feedback from current employees. They’re most effective when carried out regularly. Quarterly surveys mean you are checking in with your team on a regular basis, whilst leaving enough time to action feedback and build trust in the process. Space HR offers an innovative and anonymous method of surveying through Whatsapp, which delivers an engaging way to survey your team. 


Check your company’s reviews on Glassdoor 


Glassdoor is an extremely useful (and free) platform through which employees, current and former, can leave honest reviews about their work experiences, and rate a company out of 5. Whilst engagement surveys results are likely to be shared within the business only, Glassdoor is a more public way of sharing feedback. 


Keep an eye on your staff turnover and absenteeism


Employee turnover and absence rates are a dead giveaway of a toxic workplace culture. According to Monster, the average employee turnover rate in the UK is currently 15% a year. And while not all staff turnover is bad, you might want to keep a closer eye on your culture if your turnover rate is much higher than this. 


How to Prevent a Toxic Culture From Developing In Your Workplace


While there’s no ‘perfect’ way to shape your culture, there are a number of vital ingredients you’ll need to cultivate a healthy working environment. 


Listen to your employees


The first thing you need to consider is employee feedback. Right now your employees could be holding the answers to most, if not all of your problems. They’re the driving force behind your entire company, and if they’re not happy, how can you expect your customers and clients to be? 


Take advantage of the insights employee engagement surveys can offer, and target the root causes of a toxic culture before one can develop. You can check out Space HR’s powerful, stylish and easy to use platform to get all the insights you need to keep your employees happy. 


Foster great leadership


As toxic cultures often stem from miscommunication and bad leadership, it’s crucial to instil great leadership skills in your managerial teams. Of course, great leadership comes in many different forms, so knowing what makes a bad leader is key to preventing toxic behaviour from festering. 


Develop trust 


Trust is a key element in any healthy organisation. Trust is built from operating transparently; doing what you say you are going to do; and doing the right thing, always. A lack of trust in an organisation can quickly slow it down and impact on performance. 


Employees first 


Finally and most importantly, always put your employees at the heart of your business. Without them, you have no brand, no clients, no service to deliver. Putting your employees at the heart of every business decision you make is the key to ensuring that your culture remains healthy and thriving. 




We’re committed to creating healthier workplaces through innovative technology and employee engagement surveys. For more information on how our platform can help your business thrive, visit our website, or get in touch



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