When your workplace is toxic, your organization is not long for this world. Whether you’re a concerned leader or an employee who’s questioning your own judgment, here are six signs to watch out for.

  1. Your internal competition is worse than your external competition. Although some competition is healthy, teams that constantly fight with one another over executive support and resources impede progress. A workplace in which employees criticize and belittle those in other groups, or target one department as the source of all angst (“You have to work with finance on that? I’m so sorry!”) is also disastrous for morale.
  2. Management refuses to change with the times. Organizations that have been in business for a long time are often guilty of doing things a certain way because that’s the way they’ve always been done. Even though Darwin said that we must adapt or die, some leaders won’t take off their blinders long enough to read, listen, and recognize obvious and sensible solutions.
  3. You’ve lost 20 percent of your workforce to voluntary turnover, and you haven’t replaced anyone. Having this many people departing in a strong job market isn’t that unusual, but if the business isn’t replenishing any of this labor, it’s a big warning signal. It means that things are so chaotic that managers can’t proceed with the hiring program and/or they don’t care that each employee is doing the work of three.
  4. The “stories from the trenches” are legendary. No happy hour shall pass without rehashing the CEO’s epic blowup at last month’s user conference or the time one department didn’t go home or sleep for two days in order to meet a last-minute deadline. If these are the type of anecdotes circulating around your organization, it’s time to create some positive buzz.
  5. Bureaucracy reigns supreme. Efficient processes and procedures are necessary in a well-run organization. But if your approval cycles are too long, involve too many or too few people, or are always changing, you may need to rethink them. Similarly, if your groups are always revisiting the same conversations and reporting the same information in a different format, your culture is bound to feel counterproductive and stifling.
  6. Innovation isn’t really valued. Organizations like to think they appreciate creative and entrepreneurial thinking, but their actions suggest that they’d be much happier if employees stayed in their little boxes and did their jobs without complaint. When the values you tout publicly don’t match up with what you reward internally, your culture isn’t going to be a very pleasant place to work.
Alexandra Levit