5 signs your work environment is toxic

Everyone wants to work in a positive and encouraging environment where they feel they can be their best. Unfortunately, not all companies are like this. This might be for many reasons, for example, employees being overworked, poor communication, and blame shifting. This can have a detrimental impact on both the employees and the business and can lead to high staff turnover and a lack of motivation. Often these issues start in leadership roles and trickle down to other staff members.

5 signs of a toxic work environment and employees how to fix it


  1. Poor communication


Poor communication hugely affects the work environment in many ways. For example, if leaders in the company don’t give proper feedback to employees, both good and bad, it can mean they are unsure if they are doing the work adequately or not, making them always feel uneasy. If ways to improve are not offered the employee will struggle to move up in the company and may continue to do things incorrectly. Moreover, if they are not given positive feedback it can lead to a lack of morale and people will be less likely to want to work hard if they are not being rewarded for it.

Another example of poor communication would be new staff members being given too much information at the start it can lead to them feeling overwhelmed and they may start to make mistakes. It is important for those training new staff to be patient and spread new information out over a few days or weeks, rather than trying to fit it all into a day or two. It might seem like this is time-consuming, however, it is the opposite in the long run as you’re less likely to have to repeatedly go through things more than once and some new employees may even leave the job soon after starting if they feel constantly exhausted and like they aren’t doing good enough. Also, if staff don’t feel supported, they are unlikely to want to voice any questions or concerns they may have, leading to problems building, which might also result in them leaving the company.

In addition to having a negative effect on employees, the company also can suffer in many ways and it even can cost them up to £25,000 each year, per employee. Recent research showed that 68% of respondents stated they had trouble coordinating communications between team members which affected their ability to respond to customer requests in a timely manner. In turn, this means it is more challenging to reach company targets. This then led to 74% of staff saying they spent 3.3. hours per week dealing with complaints from customers because the customers were unable to reach them efficiently. Furthermore, the study found that 68% of respondents experience work delays while waiting for information from other colleagues that they’ve repeatedly tried to reach. They found the average delay this causes is 3.5 hours per week per worker.

Therefore, it is important for those in leadership roles within companies to regularly check in with employees and make sure they are happy in their role, ask if they have any questions, and make sure they know they can come to you if they ever have a problem or concern. Training on effective communication skills may also be beneficial if this does seem to be a prevalent issue. You may also need to change your communication style as different people will have different needs, for example, neurodivergent employees may need for information to be displayed in a different way.


  1. Role confusion and blame shifting

A lack of clear communication can also lead to role confusion, which occurs when workers are unsure of their responsibilities, or they overlap with another worker. This can be due to a poor initial job description, poor communication from those training a new member of staff or poor communication when an employee changes roles during their time in the company. This can lead to colleagues having conflict amongst themselves because they aren’t sure who should be doing what task. This can mean that multiple people can unnecessarily be doing the assignment, leading to time being wasted. Alternatively, it can mean that some tasks get left undone because everyone thought someone else was doing them.

Blame shifting then can start to occur. This is when no one will take accountability for problems that have occurred which may be a result of not knowing whose responsibility it should have been. This hinders their ability to learn from mistakes and creates a toxic environment where people start to feel uncomfortable at work. If someone feels they are always being blamed for mistakes, it is likely to increase staff absence and cause them to feel isolated and ganged up on.

One of the many ways this can be avoided is to have a clear idea in mind of what jobs you are hiring a new staff member to do, then clearly convey these in your job descriptions so there is no ambiguity. It is also beneficial to explain to the rest of the team what the new employee’s roles will be, so they know what tasks they can or can’t ask them to do. For example, if current staff members are under the impression that the new member is there to support everyone in the team, and they’re not, it can lead to them being overworked and they might feel too uncomfortable to bring up these concerns. If this repeatedly happens, it can lead to a high staff turnover.

It is also important to encourage all staff, old or new, to raise any concerns or questions they may have as this will mean any issues will be addressed straight away and will reduce long-term work stress. In addition, implementing a feedback system where managers can tell staff what they are doing well and what need to improve on also guides staff, making sure they are doing the work they should be doing and not other people’s work. Moreover, if there is an organisational restructure, people move up in the company or transfer to a new role it is vital that all changes are effectively communicated to all staff so they understand their new roles and responsibilities, which also may require more training.


  1. Lack of motivation and benefits

As we have briefly mentioned, a lack of praise can lead to a lack of motivation and ultimately have a negative impact on productivity. If employees don’t feel their work is being appreciated, they will start to think “why am I bothering?” and they will be more inclined to find a job somewhere else where they will feel more valued. Ways this can be helped by those in leadership roles giving praise to employees where necessary but also it can be through using company benefits. Our recent Women in Tech Survey showed the top 5 incentives for women in the tech industry are flexible/remote working, training within the company, above-average annual leave allowance, bonus scheme, and health insurance. Being a part of a company with some of these benefits is an indicator for the employees that the company cares about them, their work-life balance, and their well-being.

Offering training can positively impact both the employee and the company because it will mean they will feel more confident in their abilities and will gain skills that can improve their productivity. It will also open up opportunities to progress, which can be very beneficial for women in particular as they often leave roles because they feel stuck at their current level, unable to advance. With women only accounting for only 16% of senior-level tech jobs, providing training is vital to retain females in tech. You can read more about how you can empower your female employees through training here.

Moreover, having a bonus scheme is a good form of motivation. It gives additional compensation above salary and is based on either the individual’s, the team or the company’s performance. This naturally encourages everyone in the company to try to work hard as they know they will be rewarded at the end, and they will feel a sense of accomplishment when they have met their goals which gives them a boost to want to meet the next targets too. Having a bonus scheme also means individuals have a strong sense of their role and what goals they should be achieving, this is a clear and effective way of providing good communication without overwhelming employees.

Some of the ways to spot a lack of motivation in the workplace if you see a reduction in productivity, a decline in quality of work, increased employee absence, high employee turnover, and a negative change in staff attitude. Taking an interest in your employee’s well-being and making sure they are valued is imperative to help your business.


  1. Burnout

World Health Organisation (WHO) recognises burnout as an ‘occupational phenomenon’ caused by chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. Global studies have found that as many as 2 in 5 IT professionals are at risk of this and one of the ways it can occur is if you are working in a job where you are overworked for a long time this can lead to burnout. This might include working longer hours than you agreed to, or taking on more responsibilities than you were initially supposed to. This stress can then filter into your home life, causing constant, chronic stress.

A lack of social support in the workplace can also lead to burnout because you can start to feel constantly isolated and as though you don’t have anyone to confide it with any stresses. Employee networks, such as women’s networks, can help with this because they create a sense of community and a safe place where groups of like-minded people can share advice and concerns in a safe environment. They also build the member’s confidence, encouraging them to speak up if changes need to be made in the company. For example, if they feel they are being overworked, or their role in the company isn’t clear they can feel comfortable sharing this with the group and if multiple people agree, this might be a cause of change. Moreover, in a women’s network, they may discuss things like flexible working, childcare, and work-life balance. If it then becomes clear that there is a problem a lack of company benefits is leading to a poor work-life balance, company leaders may then review this.

A dysfunctional workplace will also contribute to chronic work stress. This might include feeling undermined at work, you might have a boss that micromanages you or doesn’t value your work.

These factors can leave you feeling as though you aren’t doing a good enough job and keep you on high alert all day as you’re waiting for something bad to happen. It is then very easy to take this feeling home with you, impacting your home life as well as your work life.

If you end up suffering from burnout, it can make it difficult to carry out both work and home tasks. This can lead to a sense of failure, a lack of morale, and a toxic environment. Therefore, it is important for both staff’s mental health and business productivity that they don’t reach a state of burnout. One way to do this is to make sure staff are not getting more work than they can handle in their working hours, which you can check by having regular catchups where concerns can be raised. Another factor to consider is setting up employee networks, which you can read more about here. Having mentors or role models is also an effective way of encouraging staff to ask questions and get advice in a comfortable setting.


  1. Cliques and gossiping

Whilst it is great to get along with your colleagues, forming cliques can have a negative impact on the working environment and can create division within and between departments. It can lead to people feeling left out and uncomfortable if they aren’t part of the clique. Gossiping might also then start if people feel they have a group they can share information with, which can cause increased anxiety among other colleagues if rumours start circulating. This can have a big negative impact on employee mental health and will discourage them from coming into work.

Having cliques is also more likely to lead to discrimination in the workplace if those that aren’t in the group are different to those that are. This is due to those in the group giving each other confidence, whilst knocking down the confidence of others. Common types of discrimination are ageism, racism, ableism and sexism. With more than a third of people having faced some form of discrimination in the workplace in 2021 it is vital companies do as much as they can to avoid this happening, such as making sure all staff know what signs to look out for, what to do if you spot it and also to give all employees a fair chance at opportunities.

Having company team building events could be a good way to avoid this, so everyone can get to know each other out of a work setting. They can also help build better communication and company morale. All these factors will ultimately improve productivity and the wellbeing of employees. It will also help to identity any issues that might be going on between colleagues, given rise to opportunities to fix those problems. However, it is also the responsibility of every staff member to not gossip and make everyone feel included. Having training on how to be inclusive and the importance of it may also be beneficial.


The impact of a toxic workplace

A toxic workplace can have a huge impact on staff turnover and if you are known for having a high turnover, it can affect how many people want to join your company. It can also make it hard to retain top talent as they probably won’t want to work for a constantly changing company and feel they’d be better off somewhere else. It can also be difficult to feel relaxed if your colleagues are always changing and whenever you build a rapport with someone they leave. Having to constantly hire new employees and retrain them can also be an expensive and time-consuming task. It also means productivity reduces while employees are in training and then you have to do it all over again with someone new. Moreover, new hirers often make mistakes and are slower when they are first starting out and get better over time, however if you keep going through these early stages it can become frustrating customers. It is also generally nice if customers can speak to the same person when they get in touch because they will know of their relationship with the business, so they might because irritated if they’re always speaking to a new person.

People are also far more likely to suffer from burnout, depression and anxiety if they work in a toxic environment. People with then struggle to be efficient and productive and with lead to absences, staff leaving and problems for the organisation as customers will start to become unhappy. Therefore, it is crucial that companies ensure the are creating a friendly and safe environment for all their staff and regularly check in to make sure they are all happy in their jobs and address any problems and offer your support.


Find out more about supporting a more inclusive workplace here.