Few things kill a workplace faster than a toxic company culture. If your business is an unpleasant place to work, you won’t attract or retain top talent. The people who do stay will be unproductive, dissatisfied, and stressed. Toxic jobs are why so many individuals become entrepreneurs.
However, entrepreneurs must be careful not to let toxicity creep into their businesses. Running a business isn’t easy. There are sleepless nights, and worry that the passion you’ve poured your heart and soul into might not pan out.
You might find yourself losing patience with employees over trivial things. This may end with you micromanaging your staff or treating them as tools instead of people. If you aren’t careful, you could ultimately become the kind of boss you hate.
However, this can be prevented by recognizing the signs before anything happens. Learn to recognize these five warning signs before you potentially veer into toxicity.
1. Competition Over Collaboration
A bit of healthy competition is great. It inspires people to work harder and be more productive. The problem is that many workplaces that promote a competitive atmosphere don’t realize there is a difference. In fact, a competitive atmosphere may be unhealthy. And, an unhealthy atmosphere leads to a toxic company culture.
At the end of the day, everyone working for your business should be on the same team. They’re all working to help your brand thrive. There shouldn’t be any hostility, defensiveness, or secrecy between employees. Everyone should be willing to openly share information and work together with one another.
Do you still find your business experiences workplace rivalries? The first step to addressing this lies in finding common ground between the two parties. Presumably, they both want to see your business succeed.
Encourage them to value one another’s perspective without degrading either. Emphasize that diverse opinions are part and parcel of a healthy organization. Finally, encourage each person to step back and see things from one another’s perspective
2. Hierarchy Is King
Do your executives have separate bathrooms, lounges, conference rooms, and parking lots? Is the gulf between upper management and the rank-and-file instantly obvious to an outside observer? Does management in your organization look down on the people they’re responsible for? This can also contribute to a toxic company culture.
A chain of command may be necessary in some cases, but a good business will promote a culture that looks beyond job titles. Employees from all departments can approach management with thoughts, ideas, and concerns in the most successful organizations. They aren’t afraid to talk or work with people ‘above’ them in the hierarchy. There isn’t an insurmountable gulf between them.
3. No Communication Between Silos
One of the longest-standing clichés in the corporate space is the hostility between IT and, well, everyone else. That level of animosity is a sure sign of a toxic company culture. Businesses that put an unhealthy focus on competition cannot truly thrive. Likewise, organizations that don’t encourage communication between different departments are going to be subpar at best.
Different departments should not be so laser-focused on goals that they neglect everyone else. These workplace cliques offer nothing of value to your organization. Break them down by creating teams that intentionally incorporate people from different departments. Try to put people in a situation where they must work together. Eventually, they will.
4. Drama Kings And Queens Have Been Employed
All it takes to poison a workplace are a few bad eggs. They quickly contribute to a toxic company culture. These individuals gossip behind everyone’s back. They create conflicts where there are none, and step on their colleagues to get ahead.
Nip this kind of behavior in the bud quickly the moment you recognize it. Otherwise, you become complicit. This sends a message that you do not believe this behavior is acceptable. Start with talking to the problem employees one-on-one. Find out the root cause for their behavior and attitude.
Document these interactions. You may need to bring in your human resources department for a mediation. If that still doesn’t work, the next step may well be to fire these people. Sometimes, it is better a position sits empty instead of filled by someone toxic.
5. No One Is Accountable
We’ll wrap this post up with everyone’s favorite corporate buzzword: accountability.
One of the quickest ways to derail your business and create a toxic company culture is by not holding everyone to the same standards. Few things are as frustrating as a manager who barely gets any work done, but expects the people they manage to work like slaves. It is demoralizing to watch someone believe they’re above the rules.
Model your business on the idea that everyone is held up to the same standards. Every worker, from the greenest intern all the way up to the CEO, is expected to pull their weight. Trust your employees to do their jobs to the best of their ability. You will recognize when they go above and beyond and reward them accordingly.
Putting an End to Toxic Company Culture
No one wants to work in a company with a toxic culture. These types of businesses — unless they’re revolutionary or too big to fail — rarely last long.
Just as a body cannot remain healthy if it is laden with germs and toxins, your business cannot operate effectively if bad behavior is overt and prevalent. Do you want your organization to succeed? Then, it is your responsibility to promote a culture of collaboration, equity, accountability, and excellence.
Because if you don’t, you’re effectively doing the opposite.
You have learned how to spot these five warning signs of a toxic company culture, and are prepared. Armed with that knowledge, you can take the first step to make your business the kind of place people love to work, not the kind of place they dread.
Brad Wayland is the Chief Strategy Officer at BlueCotton, a site with high-quality, easy-to-design custom t-shirts.