A toxic environment is a disease to any business. Unhappy people are demotivated and easily drawn out of the business, which, depending on the industry, can lead to the business having a bad reputation amongst potential employees. So not only is it important that your business doesn’t have a toxic culture, it’s also imperative to know the symptoms that indicate you might and what you can do to stop the disease from spreading. Here are the five most obvious symptoms and what you can do to remedy them:
Dysfunctional relationships among staff.
Signs of infection:

  • Cliquishness
  • Favoritism
  • Lack of communication
  • Grudge-holding
  • Staff are pitted against each other


Team bonding, as clichéd as it sounds, should never be underestimated. Friday afternoon drinks and other social events such as Christmas parties or a quarterly dinner, with 100% inclusion, will work wonders with turning your bitter group of individuals into a team. To further reinforce this, set team based rewards and incentives rather than individual ones. This stops team members feeling like the person next to them is their rival and not their teammate.

Your people feel they have a lack of work-home balance.
Signs of infection:


Be mindful of the mental health of your staff. Assure them it is your number 1 priority. Be a trusted rock for your staff. If they are having troubles in their personal life, be someone understanding that they can talk to, and if they need it, allow them the time away from work to tend to their personal needs. A happy team member is a lot more effective in an 8-hour day than a miserable one is in a 12 or 15-hour one.

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Low morale.
Signs of infection:

  • People are unmotivated
  • People appear downtrodden and frustrated
  • People openly talk about not wanting to be there


Having a high morale will go a long way to ensuring you do not have a toxic work culture. Managing your people with a foundation of positive reinforcement, even when critiquing their performance, is pivotal to curing low morale. Nobody wants to be told they aren’t good enough or aren’t trying hard enough. “Good job” goes a long way in the good times. “We are doing great and will get through this” goes even further in the hard times. Also, be sure to trust your people. Micro-managing them will breed frustration and annoyance among your staff: trust that they know how to do their job and if and when they could do it better, give them feedback.

High turnover of staff.
Signs of infection:

  • New people don’t stay very long
  • You are constantly recruiting and training new employees


High staff turnover is the most obvious sign that something isn’t right in your business. Unfortunately, the reasons for it can be multi layered. It could be due to any of the other symptoms mentioned. To cure this, you must cure the other symptoms because constantly having to hire and bed in new staff will slow your progress and cost you a lot of money. Whereas a happy, experienced team who know the business will get more done, better and faster.

(Uh oh) You.
Signs of infection:

  • You set unrealistic expectations of your staff
  • You are cold and unsympathetic
  • You do not listen to your staff
  • You instil fear in your staff
  • You are hypocritical
  • You scapegoat individuals


Whoa there! That comes off seriously judge-y doesn’t it? I firmly believe that as leaders, we are doing the best we can, with the resources we have. But this doesn’t stop employees in a toxic culture thinking (even saying) things like this about you. Being a strong leader, who makes decisions and manages their staff from a place of positivity and genuine care, will cure every symptom of a toxic culture that you have. Take the steps to build and nurture your people into a team who work for one another to achieve their goals. Make your staff feel wanted and appreciated through positive reinforcement. Make them stay because they are loyal to you, their team members and the work culture you have built.

Toxic cultures are nasty places to be. But as a leader, wouldn’t you like to be part of the clean up crew?

Author: Peter Diaz

Peter Diaz is the CEO of Workplace Mental Health Institute. He’s an author and accredited mental health social worker with senior management experience. Having recovered from his own experience of bipolar depression, Peter is passionate about assisting organizations to address workplace mental health issues in a compassionate yet results-focussed way. He’s also a Dad, Husband, Trekkie and Thinker.

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