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The top five toxic traits of the modern workplace

Written by Lucinda Pullinger Tuesday 12 October 2021
A toxic work environment can affect your employees’ health and your staff turnover. Here’s five signs to look out for
A stack of green barrels with a skull and crossbones on them

Remember ‘The Great Resignation’? Back in March 2021, all the talk was of the 41% of employees considering leaving their job or changing their profession. According to the Office for National Statistics, job vacancies in the UK were at a record high of almost 1 million.

Well, it hasn't gone away – the number of UK vacancies even topped 1 million this summer. And the story is similar in the US, with almost 11 million unfilled positions and many firms finding it difficult to recruit and fill key roles.

A toxic workplace – especially during the pandemic – is cited as a common reason for leaving a job, despite economic uncertainty. It can also leave employees feeling overworked, underwhelmed and demotivated. It can also come with physical symptoms like burnout, fatigue, stress and illness.

Although there’s no official definition of what makes a workplace toxic, there are a few signs to look out for that many toxic work environments have in common:

1. High turnover

While people moving on and new starters are a normal part of working life, a constant churn of people in a short time is something to look out for. Especially if people are moving on without another job lined up.

2. Negative environment

If there’s a lack of teamwork, a deep-rooted blame culture, plenty of finger-pointing, and everyone seems unhappy, you might have a problem with staff morale. This can be caused by a toxic workplace but can also contribute to a workplace becoming toxic.

3. High levels of sickness & absence

A toxic work environment can bring on sickness and absence as people experience burnout and stress or take time off to explore other job opportunities. An even worse indicator of a toxic workplace – especially against a backdrop of the pandemic – is if people are ill and at work.

4. Poor leadership

Poor leadership can come in many forms, but it’s something to watch out for in a toxic workplace. Whether it’s micromanaging, narcissism, lack of clarity, playing favourites or constantly changing the goalposts, poor leadership is often a one-way trip to toxicity at work.

5. Confusing communication

A lack of communication, incorrect information, no feedback and zero recognition for work are marks of poor communication. If employees and teams don’t communicate, this can quickly lead to a toxic environment.

What to do if you have a toxic workplace?

Once you notice a toxic trend, it’s important to address it as soon as possible. Creating a positive culture is vital for retention, recruitment, performance happiness, productivity, fulfilment, and employee engagement – and is more likely to change the way an individual feels about work.

A toxic work culture isn’t usually something that can be changed by one person, but there are steps you can take. Find plenty of tips and advice on how to do this below.

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Image: Shutterstock/DesignRage

Lucinda Pullinger

Lucinda Pullinger

Lucinda Pullinger is Managing Director (UK) of The Instant Group.  She brings breadth of industry experience including technology, outsourcing, energy, renewables and sport across both multinational corporations and mid-size businesses. Her specialism has been HR and she has held HR consultancy, change management, talent and HR Director positions across these businesses. Lucinda sits at the cusp of people and workspace and leads a team of talented experts across the UK region.

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