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5 Not-So-Obvious Signs That Your Company Culture is Becoming Toxic

Company Culture is Becoming Toxic

Company culture. You’ve probably heard it ad nauseam. However, there is a good reason for this.

The foundation of every thriving organization is its healthy company culture. It attracts top talent, promotes innovation, and drives results. Moreover, it fosters innovation, collaboration, and belonging.

Furthermore, SHRM reports that employees who rate their organization’s culture as “good” or “excellent” versus “poor” or “terrible” are 790% more likely to feel satisfied at work and 83% less likely to be actively seeking a new position.

“Workplace culture has never been more important than it is now, and I find it to remain true for the foreseeable future,” said Andrew Adeniyi, founder and CEO of AAA Solutions, an inclusion, equity, and diversity consulting firm in the greater Indianapolis area.

Conversely, a toxic culture can drain employee morale, productivity, and, ultimately, your bottom line.

Of course, we know the obvious signs of a toxic work environment, such as bullying bosses, rampant gossip, and high turnover rates. But what about the subtler signs, the insidious creep of negativity that can creep in before you even notice? Here’s where things get tricky.

Here are five not-so-obvious signs that your company culture may be deteriorating and how to fix it.

1. The Glorification of Hustle

There is a tendency in our modern work culture to romanticize the “hustle,” that is, the constant grind, the endless emails, and the inability to switch off. Although dedication is admirable, praising employees for long hours, canceling vacations, or sacrificing their needs is dangerous. Ultimately, this can lead to burnout, resentment, and a disengaged workforce.

In fact, Slack’s Qualtrics survey revealed that forty percent of 10,333 employees regularly work after hours. In addition, half said they were under pressure to do this mostly because they lacked time or had too many competing priorities, not because they wanted more hours.

The result? Working extra hours makes you 20% less productive than working your usual 9-to-5 hours. Further, they reported 2.1 times higher work-related stress, 1.7 times lower workplace satisfaction, and two times higher burnout rates.

Solution: Make sure you’ve got a healthy work-life balance. To accomplish this, you can encourage employees to take breaks, use their vacation days, and prioritize their well-being. Also, don’t forget to celebrate productivity and results rather than just hours worked.

2. The Cult of “Yes”

On the surface, a team that agrees on everything might seem efficient. It may even sound utopian. After all, deadlines are met, decisions are made quickly, and disagreements are kept to a minimum.

However, dig a little deeper. Does genuine discussion seem to be discouraged? Is there a crackdown on dissenting voices?

As a result of this “yes culture,” mistakes are breeding grounds. Ideas that aren’t challenged can cause flawed strategies and missed opportunities. Why? Hiring disengaged employees who simply go through the motions without thinking critically becomes easier.


Make healthy debate a priority. You can also engage in brainstorming sessions where everyone’s ideas, even the most bizarre ones, are welcome. Furthermore, it is important to reward employees who challenge the status quo and accept constructive criticism.

3. You’re Playing the Short-Game

Corporate shortsightedness, or corporate myopia, refers to a company putting short-term gains ahead of long-term success. A few ways can manifest this:

  • Focusing on quarterly profits. Companies might cut research and development, employee training, and maintenance costs to boost immediate profits.
  • Cutting corners. Some companies prioritize cheaper materials, reduce employee benefits, or defer equipment maintenance to increase profits. As a result, safety hazards, quality issues, and employee dissatisfaction can arise.
  • Prioritizing shareholder value over stakeholders. A company may make a short-term decision that benefits shareholders, such as stock buybacks, even if it causes long-term harm to employees, customers, or the environment.

Among the consequences of corporate shortsightedness are:

  • Damaged reputation. Customers may become suspicious when short-term profits are prioritized over quality or ethics.
  • Loss of talent. If employees see their company cutting corners, they may leave in search of better opportunities.
  • Reduced innovation. Keeping short-term goals in mind can inhibit innovation and make it difficult for companies to adapt to changing markets.

Solution: To avoid these pitfalls, you should define success in terms of more than just quarterly profits. In addition, you should invest in research and development and celebrate innovative ideas, even if they do not immediately succeed.

4.”Fun” Feels Forced

Mandatory team-building exercises or forceful social events can backfire spectacularly. In a healthy company culture, organic connections can be made, and employees can have a genuine sense of camaraderie.

In other words, “fun” can become a burden if it feels forced, leading to resentment.

Solution: Allow organic relationships to develop naturally. For example, offer opportunities for informal interaction, like during lunch breaks. But do not force employees to participate in activities they find awkward or uncomfortable.

5. Myth: “We’re a Family”

The phrase “we’re a family” can be misleading while promoting a sense of belonging within a company. Why? Well, as pointed out in a HBR article, this is because;

  • When a workplace is branded as a “family,” personal and professional lives can become confusing.
  • There can also be an exaggerated sense of loyalty that results in employees working long hours or covering for their coworkers.
  • There is a power dynamic in which employees are exploited. This results in employees feeling less empowered and taking constructive feedback too personally.

Solution: Think of your team as a tribe where you share values and goals while maintaining clear boundaries between work and home.

The Power of Early Intervention

Despite their subtle nature, these signs can snowball into a full-blown toxic culture if left unchecked. As such, the key is to intervene early. As an employee or leader, you can:

  • Be aware. Don’t ignore the subtle cues. Pay attention to the way you feel when you see them.
  • Talk to your manager or HR representative. There may be issues that they are not aware of, and they can work with you to address them.
  • Conduct anonymous employee surveys. As a result, overall morale will be gauged, and areas for improvement will be identified.
  • Seek external resources. Many companies offer workshops and training programs on how to develop a strong company culture.
  • Lead by example. As a leader, you should champion positive behaviors and hold everyone accountable.

Building and maintaining a healthy culture in the workplace is a shared responsibility. However, taking action when you recognize the not-so-obvious signs can help you create a workplace where everyone thrives.

Image Credit: Antoni Shkraba; Pexels

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CEO at Due
John Rampton is an entrepreneur and connector. When he was 23 years old, while attending the University of Utah, he was hurt in a construction accident. His leg was snapped in half. He was told by 13 doctors he would never walk again. Over the next 12 months, he had several surgeries, stem cell injections and learned how to walk again. During this time, he studied and mastered how to make money work for you, not against you. He has since taught thousands through books, courses and written over 5000 articles online about finance, entrepreneurship and productivity. He has been recognized as the Top Online Influencers in the World by Entrepreneur Magazine and Finance Expert by Time. He is the Founder and CEO of Due.

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