Is Your Company Culture Toxic?

If you’ve ever watched a centipede move, you’ve noticed how its hundred-plus legs all move in the same direction like a wave. Having one pair of legs per segment of its body, the centipede wouldn’t be able to move forward smoothly if each pair was going in a different direction. 

The same is true of your organization. Think of each department as one segment of the centipede’s body, and the legs on each segment as the departments’ employees. Ideally, all of the legs would be moving consistently in-tandem with the others. Sometimes, however, you have a few that get stuck, stopped all together, or worse still, start moving backward.

“Toxic” became a huge buzzword in 2019 to describe people, situations and events that are literally poisonous to ones’ well-being. Can the culture of an organization be toxic to its’ employees? You betcha.

Here are a few warning signs that your company centipede may start to go awry:

  • Disconnect between leadership and employees– When leadership segregates themselves instead of being collaborative and transparent, culture takes a hit. It’s natural that there will be some things that upper management can’t discuss with employees, but drawing a hard line between them creates distrust, suspicion and division. 
  • Rumors and gossip– A sure sign of a culture in trouble is when the rumor mill starts. Employees that are happy, satisfied, and communicated with don’t need to gossip, as everyone shares the same important information. A flourishing culture lets everyone join in the conversation and values the input and opinions of employees.
  • Not taking breaks– Are employees sitting at their desks all day without leaving their space for lunch, to stretch, or to run an errand? It may be because they’re afraid of how it will be perceived by management and peers. This can happen when employees don’t feel secure, trusted, or encouraged to live a healthy work/life balance.
  • Perks masking as culture– Supplying bagels for breakfast once per month shouldn’t be the most exciting thing your employees experience in the office. Culture is more about the underlying sense of health and happiness, dedication to the mission, and a team spirit. 
  • Unhealthy competition– Friendly competition among colleagues is healthy and should be encouraged. The trouble comes when employees are undercutting each other to get ahead because the stakes or rewards are set too high, or it causes coworkers to argue, gossip or sabotage each other’s work. Positive culture means everyone is working toward the same goal and helping each other do so.
  • The pace of things– Do employees meander through the halls, leisurely stroll to the copier, or show up late to meetings? These are probably the same people who, come 4:59, have their coats already on and keys in hand. These are clear signs that employees aren’t happy there. A lack of motivation, urgency, drive and enthusiasm leave little pep in your step, so it may be time to look at the culture eliciting this behavior.
  • High turnover– When you are frequently replacing the same role or see people leaving before they’ve completed their first year, something is wrong. You can find out a lot about what is lacking in your company culture by conducting exit interviews and implementing any constructive feedback.
  • Empathy is missing– Demanding things from employees but never taking an interest in them or their day is a clear sign that there is a lack of empathy in your office. Employees are much more trusting, forthcoming and excited about work when leadership shows an interest in their lives! If you want engaged and active employees, drive empathy hard into your organization’s groundwork.
  • Lack of engagement– When goals and deadlines are missed, collaboration is absent, and employees hide out in their office because they’re too busy, this screams of disengagement. Create employee loyalty and happiness through a wellness program, a committee, or making an effort to discuss the awesome things going on in their lives.
  • Unclear roles and responsibilities– Without a clear cut delineation of responsibilities, your culture is going to suffer. Employees wind up meandering, confused and anxious about their performance. Anxiety is pervasive in an organization, so don’t let anyone swim in the sea of ambiguity.