A Toxic Work Culture Is Forcing High-Performing People to Quit

If micro-management thrives and there is no trust in your organization, you are looking down the barrel of a toxic work culture. If you don’t believe me, use one of the many employee engagement products to find out for yourself.

Tell the people in your company that you are going to be surveying them every three months and they can say whatever they want because it’s completely anonymous. After the first survey, watch the comments and feedback pour in. Keep encouraging your people to say what they think.

Toxic work cultures make going to work feel miserable.

In a toxic culture, new ideas can’t thrive, people can’t be honest, bullying unfortunately occurs, leaders are given power that can go to their heads and fuel their egos, and an eerie feeling occurs at your company’s town hall/all hands when leaders ask for questions.

High performers quit toxic work cultures. Every day on platforms such as LinkedIn, high performers are getting messages from recruiters and competitors who are selling the dream that the grass is greener. If your company has a toxic work culture, high performers have nothing to lose by moving on and trying another company.

High performers know their strengths and are also smart enough to realize that if they can perform well in a toxic work culture, they can thrive in a Culture First company that looks after its employees.

If your high performers look disengaged or show little enthusiasm, that is a red flag that your organization is toxic.

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Here is what a toxic work culture looks like from someone who has worked in one:


People can’t make decisions

Basic decisions that can cause customers to leave, can’t be made. A simple refund for a client that never received the service they paid for takes weeks when it should take minutes.

When a decision needs to be made to change a product because customers are leaving by the dozen, a decision can’t be made. It’s easier to make no decision than it is to make a decision that admits things need to change.


Working from home or part-time work is seen as lazy

Management doesn’t allow people to work from home because they want to watch people. Working from home means you’ll be less productive and take advantage of the situation.

The fact you might have a newborn baby at home and don’t want to do the two-hour commute each day so you can work more is ignored.

Then, staff who want to work part-time because they have a side hustle, children, or a second job are prevented from doing so or referred to as “lazy.”

Here’s the thing: part-time work and working from home is not lazy.

Both forms of work allow people to have lives and they will reward you (if you allow them) with loyalty and commitment to their work.

Excluding part-time work or working from home is limiting your talent pool severely because it is such a common way of working. Being chained to a desk in an office does not make you high performing or a profitable asset; being allowed to be flexible and treated like a human does.


Entrepreneurship is frowned upon

Toxic work cultures hate entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs because they are scared to death that they are going to leave and steal their ideas.

Thriving work cultures take people that have experience owning a business and utilize them like their secret weapon. They promote entrepreneurship because they want people to feel as though it is their business and they can make decisions.

Utilize entrepreneurs while you have them, and if they leave, wish them all the best. Entrepreneurs are the reason that businesses are created in the first place — remember that.


“MANAGEMENT vs. US” culture

Leaders are referred to as management and the front line staff are told that the company is cutting costs.

Meanwhile, the leaders are having deliciously catered for meals off silver plates, taking black limos to meetings and spending crazy amounts of money on social media marketing that makes them look good.

Front line staff say things such as “Management really needs to look at problem X.”

In a non-toxic culture, management and staff are one and people are accountable. Sentences like “Management needs to do…” are not relevant because staff can make decisions and the two sides of the business are one.

The less hierarchy, the more people feel included and that produces a thriving, collaborative culture.


The number of hours you work matter

Judging people by when they start work and how late they work is irrelevant. We all know that the number of hours we work has nothing to do with output.

You can be at your desk for 12-hours straight and be doing nothing other than surfing the web and complaining to your pals about the company you work for.

Culture First companies understand that output produces results and that on some days you will be productive, and on other days you may have suffered the loss of a loved one or be feeling unwell. Regardless, all that is taken into account is results.

And here’s the kicker: when the results are not there, leaders take accountability and coach their people out of it or help them get a role they are better suited for.

If leaders are watching the clock, you have a problem.


Preferential treatment

In-between the formal layers of hierarchy, there are these soft spongy bits called “preferential treatment.”

These are people that are given extra privileges for enforcing the leaderships toxic culture and talking behind people’s backs in order to gain something. Instead of being part of the solution, they make the problem bigger and are rewarded for it.

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Talking down to people who have found themselves in the wrong role

People who are under-performing are called all sorts of nasty names and treated unfairly. They are seen as stupid or not good at business.

In thriving cultures, these people are helped, coached and given feedback. Leaders stand up and help them find the right role if it turns out; for example, they applied for sales and don’t really enjoy talking to customers.

People in the wrong roles can be some of the best staff you have in your business if you can be compassionate enough to give them a second chance in a different role.

The appreciation that comes from being helped rather than shamed converts into long-term loyalty that rebuilds careers, and becomes the basis of a thriving culture.


Shaming low performance

If there are punishments for low performance, you have a big problem.

Shaming people won’t make them perform better; it will make them hate the leadership team and the company even more.

This hatred will then be directed towards your customers and you’ll have more of those “Why are we not making money?” meetings when really it’s your culture that sucks.


A rotating door policy

When people decide to leave or mention they are thinking of leaving, they are talked about as traitors.

Having people leave regularly is normal and acceptable in toxic work environments. There are no exit interviews or questions around why a particular leader has had so many people leave in a short space of time.

Each time, the excuse is “Johnny was crap, so it’s a good thing he is leaving.”

When you scour the company’s staff on LinkedIn, you see that staff don’t last long at the company.


Asking staff to write positive reviews online to cover up the toxicity

Yes, it happens. Toxic cultures can easily be recognized by former staff leaving negative reviews on places such as GlassDoor.

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In a toxic work culture, business leaders panic and try to cover up the error in their leadership by asking staff to leave fluffy, fake, in-genuine reviews online to cover up the bad ones.

You can’t hide a toxic work culture; you can only fix it by recognizing it and changing how you treat people.


Values are spoken of rarely

They are written on the company website, mentioned at the annual conference, but never talked about in the context of everyday work.

When talking to a client or making a decision, the values are forgotten about.

In a thriving culture, you can’t even get hired unless you can demonstrate the values. The references you provide are asked about values, you are required to provide evidence and you may even be asked to do a case study where the values will be assessed.

At the end of the year when performance reviews are had, profit and revenue is only one small part of the conversation. Leaders focus in on the company values because they know that it’s the glue that holds everything together and ultimately produces revenue.


SOLUTION: It starts at the top

  • Start with trusting people first
  • Earn people’s respect
  • Be compassionate to your people’s circumstances
  • Give your people development opportunities
  • Respect the way people like to get their work done
  • Encourage autonomy of decision-making
  • Let people be themselves (race, religion, sexual preference, gender, background — who cares)

Final thought

Toxic cultures cause share prices to drop and profits to plummet. Instead of looking at spreadsheets and accountants for answers, look at your people. Your people are what cause profits to go up or down.

Identify the problems of your company’s culture, own them, and then become obsessed with asking your people how you can change them. Then, implement the changes.

Fight toxic work cultures by making your company transform into being Culture First. It starts with people.