Organisational politics and a toxic workplace culture could be harming your business more than you think. In our recent culture economy report, we found that poor company culture is costing UK businesses a massive £23.6 billion per year.

So, if you’ve been operating with your focus purely on the bottom line, then chances are you’re also growing a toxic culture. Don't worry, that means you are now in the right place. We're shining a light on the typical toxic pitfalls that can occur in the workplace. Check it out and start implementing change. 

toxic company culture

Digital-age transparency

We now live in a digital age with far greater transparency than ever before. As a result, businesses with a toxic culture have -quite rightly- faced viral naming and shaming and are dealing with the consequences (Weinstein and Uber are prime examples). Combine that with a rise in consumer choice and integrity, then employees who expect decency from their employers and company culture doesn't seem like such fluffy buzzword after all.

As a result, more and more SMEs in the UK are wising up to the idea that workplace culture is the key to competitive corporate advantage and success. So, what is company culture, how do you know when it’s toxic and how can you change it for the better?

What is company culture?

Ask any business leader for a definition of what company culture is and they’ll all give you a different answer. The fact is, company culture doesn’t have an exact definition. It can, however, be narrowed down into 4 specific groups; hierarchy, agile, clan and adhoc. And each type comes with its own pros and cons. 

Some say company culture refers to the mission statement of a business, along with the values and beliefs upheld by its founders. Others refer to company culture as a collective force made up from employees, interactions and the environment in which they work. Many refer to company culture as the DNA, the soul or the personality of the business.

We know that good company culture involves trust, respect, and the opportunity for employees to participate in shared values and love what they do. It’s something that develops organically from the top down. It isn’t something a business can buy in, though there are many means that can help, such as systems and consultants.

In our opinion, company culture is like an eco-system that needs to be nurtured in order to thrive.

Is your workplace culture toxic?

In most cases, a toxic company culture evolves insidiously. Typically, this falls into two categories:

  • results-focused leadership (i.e. culture wasn't deemed as an important investment strategy from the offset), or
  • company culture immaturity (i.e. culture is being looked at but implementing a healthy one is still very much 'in progress').

So, what are the signs that your company culture is turning toxic?

Communication is non-existent

Poor communication in any business leads to a general feeling of nervousness and fear among employees. A lack of clear communication also accelerates gossip. Taboos against speaking up have a further negative influence.

Disrespectful or weak leadership

Incivility and bullying from the boss are sure signs that your company has a negative culture. Creating a fearful environment, it's true that disrespect breeds disrespect. Bullying and a culture of blame doesn’t encourage accountability, respect or collaboration.

Even weak leadership can be the cause of a toxic company culture. With no sense of direction, enthusiasm across the board wanes. This leads to apathy and poor performance.

Discrimination

When employees get treated differently in terms of pay, opportunities and promotions, or are on the receiving end of discrimination, sexual harassment and unprofessional behaviour, you can be sure your company culture is toxic.

Inflexibility

A lack of trust by leadership leads to inflexible working practices. If employers lack empathy and offer no flexibility, employees stop caring as well.

Micro-management and zero praise

People are dis-empowered when they aren’t trusted to do their job. Micro-management kills the concept of opportunity because staff are too afraid to take risks, even though those risks could be advantageous or present mistakes that instigate a change for the better.

People at work need a certain level of autonomy. Employees need genuine praise. A disregard of feedback and ideas is another clear sign of a bad company culture.

A broken culture isn't good for anyone. A good company culture is good for business, employees and the community. And it's a powerful vehicle for social change.

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