5 Signs That You’re Working in a Toxic Culture

5 Signs That You’re Working in a Toxic Culture

It should come as no surprise that most people have experienced a time when their work environment was less than perfect. But would they have called it a truly toxic culture? Or just some temporary bumps in the road of life at work?

What separates the two is that a toxic culture isn’t very temporary. Workers can experience a negative or stressful week when going to work feels more like a chore than a  happy place to be employed. This is not equivalent to being in a toxic workplace.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock you’ll have heard about the Great Resignation over the past few years. Which Forbes says “is a misnomer. It’s actually a Great Reshuffling where people are leaving lousy jobs and exiting a toxic culture for a better one.”

Workers are no longer afraid to tell toxic workplaces to ‘shove it’ and move on to greener pastures. We no longer have to take it. Twisted Sister said it best with some real gusto.

And let’s face it, not all of us truly love our jobs. Work can often just be the means to a financial end instead of a true passion for some. But even employees who feel ambivalent about their job wouldn’t describe their workplace as a toxic one.

Toxicity is real no matter where you are on the corporate ladder, whether blue-collar or white-collar.

So what are some signs that you might be in a toxic work culture? And if so, what should you do about it? The MIT Sloane Management Review by authors Donald Sell, Charles Sell, William Cipollli and Caio Brighenti sheds some light on these indicators.

Disrespectful Behaviours

It could be coming from your boss, a line manager, or a team member directed at yourself, at others or even the way an employee engages with a customer or client. A wide range of actions belong in this category, and they can easily spread within the business. It may have even led you to act similarly when normally this would not be the case. 

People often follow what they see, so when someone behaves disrespectfully it can wreak havoc on staff morale and even encourage others to engage in the same manner. 

Disruption, demeaning attitudes, intimidation, hostile emails, passive-aggressive actions, and being dismissive or uncooperative are all disrespectful behaviours in the workplace. And don’t forget the nonverbal ones like eyeball rolling, shoulder shrugging as an answer and other gestures.


When workplaces are not equal opportunity places based on gender, race, age, sexual orientation, disability and remote working opportunities it can severely impact the workplace culture.

As another example, the LGBTQ community say supporting Pride Month isn’t enough, it needs to be year-round inclusivity. Likewise, tokenism isn’t the answer for any of the aforementioned identity-related groups either.

Cultures that are non-inclusive across any of the categories mentioned may find themselves on a higher end of employee turnover and find it hard if not impossible to recruit and replace them when word spreads.

Is there a club mentality in your workplace? Where some employees are in and others are very much out? Does everyone get taken out for work drinks or work lunches? Do people in the ‘club’ always end up getting promoted or trained?

If this sounds like your work environment then this indicator is an issue.

Unethical Behaviours

Is your company honest and truthful? To both employees and their customer or client base?

It’s unlikely anyone hasn’t heard of the spectacular fall of Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos, whose weak (nonexistent?) regulatory compliance and overwhelming dishonesty ultimately led to multiple charges of fraud.

But less dramatic cases of businesses both big and small can be just as toxic to work for. False promises, outright lies, sugarcoating results, and a dismissive attitude towards company values are all red flags that all is not what it seems.

If you suspect your workplace is unethical, carefully consider your options. If you know your company behaves unethically the smartest thing to do is to get out, especially if it’s serious. 

Aggressively Competitive

When the culture in the workplace becomes extremely competitive to the point that it’s cutthroat, employee behaviours will reflect that ruthlessness in no time.

Sabotage, backstabbing, and throwing others under the bus in order to make self-gains are all indicators of an unhealthy culture when it comes to achieving goals. 

If your office resembles Survivor or Lord of the Flies, that’s a Darwinian warning for all.

Abusive Management

Bullying, harassment and hostility are not just the domain of someone like Miranda Priestly, the fictional Editor in Chief of Runway magazine in the film The Devil Wears Prada.

No, it can happen in every type of business. Abusive culture is a sustained hostile environment. If you find yourself on the receiving end of this particular toxic touchpoint, it’s highly unlikely that the environment will change.

Employees are more likely to suffer from stress, burnout, mental health and physical stressors when they stay in a toxic workplace. 

Ultimately, more often than not, employees will leave even if it isn’t as immediate as they would like. It is the number one reason people choose to leave a company. But people have bills to pay and not everyone can just walk out the door and survive like a modern-day Gloria Gaynor.

If you find yourself stuck in a toxic work culture while finding somewhere to gain new employment, there are some things you can do.

Surround yourself with the best possible colleagues and take it one day at a time. Plan your exit as best you can. Permit yourself to accept that you might not know how to address the main points of conflict while you are still there but you are making headway. And make sure you talk to family and friends about what is going on. They may have experience that could benefit your situation in addition to the support they will offer.

Toxic work cultures are certainly on the tip of business tongues these days and companies would do well to be checking up on their own cultural employee satisfaction on a regular basis to avoid becoming another statistic.