6.5 Signs of a toxic work environment

A quick summary:

Toxic work environments are the bane of most workers' lives. Most employees simply want to get along with one another and build something great. Stopping them are the red flags we’ve described in this article. From praising burnout culture to neglecting health and wellbeing, find out what creates a toxic work environment. 

What is a toxic workplace?

A  toxic workplace is often plagued with antagonistic behaviour, bullying tactics, favouritism and general negativity. It’s an environment that goes against the better traits of general business and people management. 

A toxic work environment often reflects a business and its ability to progress and achieve results. Hindered with high turnover rates, low morale and poor performance, these organisations suffer many more hurdles than necessary. 

Working unusual hours is praised and encouraged

Having to put in that extra bit of work to get a project done and dusted isn’t toxic. Feeling as though your career depends on it each time a project nears deadline day, well that’s pretty toxic. 

The fact is, leaders should actively discourage overworking. Despite the badge of honour that comes with it, working around the clock can deteriorate our quality of work and life. 

In a toxic workplace, leadership teams will push employees to finish projects and tasks. These requests are usually in a threatening manner and with scaremongering techniques. While this may work initially, sooner or later employees will begin to disappear, heading for greener pastures. 

In some circumstances, employees who “put in the work” or in other words “can no longer feel the weight of the bags around their eyes” are celebrated. This is a common trait in a toxic workplace, where managers highlight their favouritism and pride of a particular employee (who hasn’t slept properly for three weeks).

But that isn’t all that’s left in this bridge-burning performance. The employees who have to endure this behaviour regularly are subject to low morale - often feeling like their efforts just aren’t enough. One quick-fire way to demolish job satisfaction in one swift swing of the burnout bat. 

There’s very little talk of personal growth and progress

Every one of us wants to progress in life, and our work has a big influence on what that growth looks like. A great leader should provide the platform for this progress to take place. An environment that gives people a sense of direction and understanding of how to move forward. 

In many toxic workplaces, this couldn’t be further from the truth. It almost seems like the mention of progress and promotions is forbidden; met with harsh criticism or push back. In this environment, employees feel neglected by leadership - like they simply cannot bring up the subject of improving their career. 

These workplace environments have a clear history of lacking progression amongst employees. Rumours are rife in these offices, and many members of staff know exactly what to expect when it comes to career progression. These workplaces also lack any funding for career development and learning for employees. One of the key ways to boost engagement, job satisfaction and retention.

Ultimately, leaders need to eliminate the classic ‘carrot on a stick’ scenario when it comes to progression. People should be informed of the organisations’ intentions for the future. If there isn’t room for improvement, employees can then make their own decisions depending on what brings them happiness and satisfaction. 

You’re not as happy as when you first joined

Starting a new job can be daunting. But it’s also an exciting time of new opportunities and experiences. New desks, new office, new colleagues - what more could you ask for? In a positive working environment, this sense of enjoyment, excitement and belonging never really fades.

In a negative one? Well, unhappy employees can give you a different side to the story altogether. For some workplaces, their turnover rates are much higher, with people lasting no longer than six months. 

It’s important we actively review how we feel about our jobs - after all, they play a large part in our lives. Having these regular check-ins with ourselves will give us an idea of our satisfaction levels. Now, this is assuming the workplace doesn’t already. And most toxic work environments don’t track things like employee satisfaction. 

Turnover is noticeably high

For a lot of us, we have a rough idea of the direction we want to take our career. Unless retirement is the next stepping stone in life, you’re likely going to move on from your current job. When we see this occur with colleagues we think very little of it. A constant flow of turnover, however, paints a different picture. 

We start to question why people are leaving? What do they know that we don’t? These thoughts are especially true if they are senior-level employees. Positions in an organisation to aspire for, but now fear could be the point where it all goes wrong. 

High turnover also suggests there are issues elsewhere in an organisation that people aren’t speaking openly about. This leaves a lot of employees worried their line manager is lying to them. And while this might not be the case, it’s clear that the trust of remaining employees is hindered by high turnover. 

In a nutshell, high turnover creates an atmosphere of rumours and false accusations. Without solid information, employees make their own minds up on why turnover is high. Leading to a toxic work environment.

No sense of community in the work environment

Collaboration and teamwork are the building blocks of community in the work environment. In the aftermath of the global pandemic, the world realised the power of community. 

People came together across towns and cities, and from a distance to build virtual communities. Cooking groups, virtual book clubs and zoom quizzes took the online world by storm. 

In the modern work environment, businesses need to be more than desk space and cubicles. Employers need to tear down the walls that block collaboration, and communication and build an engagement environment. One which welcomes openness and wants to build something great together. Only can an atmosphere and workplace of this nature truly thrive above competitors. 

In our survey, 86% of employees and executives cited a lack of collaboration or ineffective communication for failures in the workplace.

A work environment with no sense of community is a cause for concern. This leaves a lot of employees wondering if general conversation with colleagues is acceptable. Can they freely speak with one another without feeling as though someone is watching their every move? 

Forcing employees to remain separate and entirely engaging in nothing but their workload is the trait of a toxic workplace.

Community building made it to our Wellness Trends report 2022. Here we cover everything from financial wellbeing to female health - a 3,000ft view of the wellbeing landscape for HR leaders.

The work environment neglects health and wellbeing

As burnout continues to sweep across offices and plague millions each year, more needs to be done by employers. It seems there’s a mental health epidemic happening around the world in all workplaces - where employees cannot speak up about the troubles they face. 

Although the tide has begun to turn, and leadership teams are taking the benefits of a healthier workforce much more seriously. Ultimately, a healthier team is a happier team. Happier people are often more engaged with their work. And so wellbeing platforms and packages are receiving much more support from senior level team members.

As an employee wellbeing platform, we see the full impact of health-driven initiatives and perks. 

We spoke with Millie Kocal, COO at Heka, about the impacts of neglecting health and wellbeing… 

“A team is at the heart of a successful business, and if they are stressed, not sleeping well, struggling with their mental health, not being physically active or getting outdoors, it will impact their work and how they feel day-to-day. If their performance dips, then other team members will feel like they aren't pulling their weight which can build resentment.

Health and wellbeing doesn't need to be a huge gesture or a big tick box, it's the small and often touch-points that matter to people and reminds them that they are valued and important. 

When the sun was out a couple of weeks ago, we let people finish up early so they could get outside and enjoy it, not a huge deal but lifted the spirits of the team and got them some vitamin D”.

No sign of an employee benefits package

Finally, but certainly not least, an employee benefits package. As we previously mentioned, many employers are turning to health and wellbeing incentives, perks and packages. This is usually in the form of an employee benefits package. 

Many of us already receive at least one health and wellbeing-driven incentive in our benefits package. Think cycle-to-work scheme or life insurance. Although, some of these have a very little direct impact on our general wellbeing and quality of life. 

Many organisations have a very small amount of employee benefits, and they often don’t create or support healthier, happier lifestyles. This is doubly dangerous and a sign of a toxic workplace. When employers provide an employee benefits package for the sake of box-ticking, it’s often evident in how much they promote said package. 

If you work in an environment that doesn’t openly speak about the benefits and incentives, you can be sure it’s not a strategic priority - and that’s an issue. Ultimately, businesses must build a robust employee benefits package that supports healthier, happier people in the workplace. 

Yes, this is a combination of both this point and the last, but it is fundamental in eradicating a toxic work environment and building a great culture. Here at Heka, our employee wellbeing platform provides 1000s of wellbeing experiences, services and products. 

From online therapy, in-person yoga classes and so much more, employees throughout the UK have regular access to meaningful benefits - ones with a direct impact on employee wellbeing. 

If you’d like to find out more about how Heka can revolutionise employee wellbeing in your business and eliminate any chance of toxic culture from occurring, speak with our wellbeing experts today!

Book a demo now