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3 Hidden Signs of a Toxic Workplace Culture in the Making

HR Whac-A-Mole. It's the unfortunate product of failing to keep a finger on the pulse of your workplace culture and proactively knocking out employee disengagement problems. Preventing culture decay really involves two things: putting processes in place to spot red flags before they become pervasive structural issues, and implementing strategies that consistently rejuvenate culture from the inside out.

To put it another way, avoiding a toxic workplace culture requires you to be a better version of the Titanic’s captain, knowing that there are icebergs out there and planning to ensure that you never hit any—preventing the whole “will Jack fit on the door with Rose?” conundrum in the first place. Ready to don your captain’s hat? Let’s scope out the top three workplace culture icebergs that can sink your company.

Culture Iceberg #1: Secretive Leadership and Behind-the-Scenes Politics

Think about how you’d feel if you walked around the whole day with something stuck in your teeth, and no one said a word. When you realized, you would feel surprised, embarrassed, and maybe even a little annoyed. Why wouldn’t anyone tell me if they all knew, you would wonder.

Secrets large and small only serve to ostracize employees. No one likes to be left out of the loop, least of all employees who are directly affected by workplace policies and management decisions. A culture of secrecy breeds resentment, a toxic work culture, and ultimately, higher turnover and sabotaged productivity.

How to Avoid Sinking:

You’ll never have to worry about secrecy, favoritism, and negative office politics if you breed a culture of transparency. This could look like:

  • Cultureboarding all new hires to teach them the company’s mission, vision, and guiding principles (it doesn’t hurt for every employee to brush up on this regularly as well, especially new managers)
  • Rewarding honesty and promoting emotional intelligence
  • Immediately disseminating important information so employees don’t hear it secondhand or get caught up in rumors
  • Making essential documents and/or employee training available to all

With these structures in place, any toxic employee behavior will stick out like a sore thumb and soon be snuffed out, avoiding the cultivation of a toxic work culture.

Culture Iceberg #2: Your Organization Never Reads the Room

When employees feel that their voices aren’t heard, it’s a breeding ground for resentment. At Nike, for instance, a group of women were so frustrated by companywide gender discrimination and sexual harassment—as well as by HR’s inadequate response to multiple complaints—that they banded together to present their case to the CEO.

CEO Mark Parker was forced to publicly apologize, claiming that he and other top leaders had missed the signs of discrimination until the women stepped forward. In addition, Nike’s president soon resigned and the global organization launched an internal investigation into the matter… unfortunately, after the press got wind of the problem.

How to Avoid Sinking:

An obvious solution to one of Nike’s problems is for HR to act upon complaints, particularly repeated complaints on a specific topic or against a certain person. However, transforming a deep-rooted culture of discrimination goes far beyond band-aid fixes by HR alone.

After all, Nike’s leaders didn’t even realize they had a problem until it became the nightmare of all PR nightmares! Don’t allow your organization to be blindsided in the same way. In addition to creating a culture of transparency where employees are free to speak up about injustices (see strategy #1 above), implement 360° regular reviews to keep a constant finger on the pulse of your organization.

Managers, executives, team leaders, new hires—everyone should review and be reviewed anonymously. If you see negative patterns, such as one manager receiving consistent criticism about the same issue, you can quickly address the issue (using supporting data, no less) and reassure everyone that their voices are heard.

On the other hand, if an executive receives consistently positive feedback, you can analyze what they are doing right to promote these practices across your organization. Reading the room like this on an ongoing basis is an ideal way to rejuvenate your company culture and prevent adverse behavior from destroying employee engagement.

Tip: Worried about survey fatigue? Consider conducting team and/or department reviews every quarter and companywide reviews (where every employee can review management and senior leadership) semi-annually.

Culture Iceberg #3: New Hires Are Left to Fend For Themselves

New hires can take months or even years to get up to speed. This can sometimes leave managers and coworkers busier than ever, picking up the slack to ensure that productivity remains high—which pulls them away from onboarding new employees.

As a result, new hires can become isolated and more likely to leave your organization (forcing HR back on the hunt for a candidate once again). If new employees do stay, they will most likely be less engaged and take longer to reach peak productivity than they would have if they had received stellar onboarding in their first weeks and months. (Oh, cruel irony!)

And because they didn’t undergo a structured onboarding program, they won’t know how to properly welcome the next batch of recruits, resulting in an increasingly underdeveloped and culturally illiterate workplace that doesn’t position employees for success.

How to Avoid Sinking:

Got a case of cultural decay? Onboarding to the rescue! Proper workplace onboarding has been proven to better prepare new hires. In fact, a structured program can cut the learning curve in half, according to a report by Gillespie Associates, which can hugely impact your organization’s bottom line.

Additionally, cultureboarding—onboarding with an emphasis on the company's culture—also ensures that new hires make essential connections and feel like a valued team member even before day one. Considering that more than 75% of employees who feel undervalued are currently searching for other jobs, prioritizing a welcoming company atmosphere could make all the difference between creating a team of “checked out” workers and building an engaged, thriving workforce for years to come. No one wants to be part of a toxic work culture!

No onboarding program? No problem! Demo our customized onboarding app to learn how to start engaging your new hires and managers right now.


Topics: Onboarding , Reinvent
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