How to fix a toxic workplace culture

How to fix a toxic workplace culture

Female entrepreneur with hand on chin looking away in office

No one intends to create a toxic culture at their workplace, yet they bubble up everywhere. How? Generally, toxic workplace cultures emerge through a combination of unchecked bad habits, bad conditions, and a lack of strategic cultural and HR initiatives. 

Ideally, your business never develops a toxic workplace, but sometimes company culture takes a backseat to other work. This can happen during periods of aggressive growth or just as a result of being a small business without HR support. 

However, toxic workplace culture leads to worse mental health for employees and lower productivity, and that’s just the workers that stick around. An MIT Sloan study found that toxic corporate culture is 10.4 times more likely to increase attrition rates at your company. 

Significantly, it’ll also affect your ability to backfill the people leaving due to the massive job seeker audiences on review sites like Glassdoor. In fact, Built In notes that 46% of job seekers prioritize culture during their job search. 

There’s too much at stake to let your corporate culture turn sour. So in this blog, we’ll examine what makes workplaces toxic and a few solutions to turn them around. 


What makes a workplace toxic? 

Before you can fix a toxic culture, you have to understand the signs of one. Of course, many elements make up a lousy work environment, but we’ve identified some of the most common contributing factors. 

First, let’s start at the top. Fear-based leadership makes a positive, healthy workplace unattainable. Your people can’t operate at their best when they’re constantly looking over their shoulders. After enough time worrying about punishment, employees feel demoralized and apathetic. That’s another frequent driver of broken cultures, which trickles down from the top. 

Instead, approach leadership with empathy. Learn more about your employees and what motivates them. Recognize and reward outstanding work without diminishing others. When you lead with respect and genuine consideration, your employees feel safer in their roles and at work. 

Similarly, structural causes play a significant role in toxic cultures. Discriminatory policies, wage gaps, and various forms of bias foster a sense of disdain in employees. Anything breeding “in-groups” and “out-groups” is bad for people and businesses. Strategic HR policies and initiatives unite employees and build a fairer company for everyone. 


Finally, look out for issues like the following:
  • Frequent gossip among employees
  • Unchecked workplace bullying or harassment
  • A lack of transparency from executives and managers
  • Regular absenteeism 
  • Overworked employees with poor work-life balance
  • Unclear expectations regarding everyday work and potential for growth

Of course, plenty of other issues contribute to toxic cultures at work. However, once you know what to look out for, you’ll be ready to start addressing problems. 


Group of business people clapping hands for a coworker in staff meeting. Multi-ethnic business team applauding for a female colleague in a meeting.


Accept responsibility 

As leaders, you are, at the very least, partly responsible for a persistently toxic culture at your workplace. Moreover, significant cultural change happens from the top down. When you acknowledge leadership’s role in the problem, you also establish your willingness to work towards the solution. Accountability is essential at every level of your organization, so set the standard!


Use an employee survey

Leadership’s idea of what isn’t working in the organization might differ from their employees. By sending out an employee survey, you’re letting everyone know you value their input. That alone is a step in the right direction as you work to build trust with your team. 

These surveys can be as straightforward or robust as you’d like, but if you aren’t sure how to get started, this blog has some helpful tips. Remember, this survey should be anonymous to encourage total honesty. Then, once you’ve gathered the feedback from your employees, sit down and analyze what they’re saying. 

You might make some difficult, eye-opening discoveries, but it’s essential not to take anything too personally. Instead, figure out how you can apply the data to kick off the positive culture your people need. Sometimes, bringing in a consultant to conduct and assess the survey objectively helps. 


Close up of a diverse group of business people having a business meeting about a toxic culture at work.


Establish clear expectations

Often a toxic culture takes shape due to a lack of clarity regarding roles, risks, and career paths. First, ensure everyone knows what you expect of them in their current positions. This sounds straightforward, but often workers take on more than they signed up for due to employee churn, underperforming coworkers, and more. Unclear expectations about day-to-day work are untenable, and people will leave over it. 

Then, work with HR and management to establish definitive career paths for your employees. What skills and accomplishments do employees need to progress in each department? As employees hit those milestones, what roles and responsibilities will they step into? How will their salaries change in the new positions? Depending on the size of your company, answering these questions might take time. Communicate your plan and progress to employees so they know what to expect and when.

Finally, most businesses, especially those who consider themselves “scrappy,” put “risk-taking” on a pedestal. We get that. Big swings can propel your company forward in major ways. But in a corporate environment, you must put some parameters around acceptable risks. Otherwise, your company takes on a Wild West identity that’s hard to reign in. That’s often a big risk in a bad way.


Commit completely to your company values 

Take a good, long look at your company values. Is your business acting on those values every day? If not, where did things go astray? Moreover, are they the kind of values that encourage good company culture? People want to work for values-driven businesses because they commit to standards of safety and professionalism. Don’t compromise your values for quick wins. 

For example, many companies lose sight of their values during recruiting. Unfortunately, ignoring cultural red flags because a candidate has the perfect skillset contributes to toxic cultures in the long run. Your values exist to protect you from shortsighted decisions. Stay the course and let them guide you forward. 


ADDA can turn your culture around! 

Depending on the severity of the situation, a third-party expert might be your best option to turn things around. Whether your business needs a complete cultural reset or a few refined rough edges, ADDA’s HR experts can help. Don’t let a toxic culture linger for too long. Instead, schedule a call with ADDA today. 

Fill out the form to learn how our business solutions can help you today!


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