Does your workplace have a toxic culture?


A positive workplace culture is critical to an organisation’s ongoing success and can in fact be a competitive advantage when it comes to attracting new employees. How would you describe the feel of your workplace when you walk in? Is it welcoming and friendly, or cold and sterile? What contributes to these factors? Whilst the culture is largely top-down driven, most of it comes down to basic manners, communication and interaction. We encourage business owners to regularly conduct health checks into your culture to ensure you are on the right track. Some initial measures are as follows:

  • Induction – how much care and attention is given to you from the very first day is critical to a person’s engagement and their behaviour in the workplace.
  • Number of complaints – formal and informal. Does the workplace encourage speaking up and sharing thoughts without fear of being taunted or bullied? Do two people speaking in the kitchen suddenly go quiet when approached? Are your complaints heard and taken seriously?
  • Public and private whispers – I once had to break up a verbally abusive argument between the CFO and an accounts clerk – in full view of the entire accounts team. This is not acceptable behavior from anybody but especially a leader, particularly in an organisation that has ‘Respect’ as a value.
  • Staff turnover and increased absenteeism – do people show up or exhaust their sick leave “entitlement”. This is also an indicator of work ethic.
  • Your gut says so – what does it “feel” like when you walk into your workplace? Are you greeted with a friendly “Hey, how are you doing?” or is there little evidence of a warm culture?

The costs

The impact of a toxic culture on the bottom line includes staff turnover, increased absenteeism and loss of productivity – which may develop into longer-term mental illness issues and workers’ compensation claims. All this can be eradicated through proper leadership, which encourages conversations, ideas and innovation. Absenteeism and staff turnover costs at the company I worked at in Canada was $1B CAD in FY2014. (It was a telco with 15,000 employees).

Some positive steps that can be taken to improve culture

  • Embed a great induction program – this creates the warm fuzzy feeling that is necessary for engagement and should set the tone of the employment relationship. And it’s easy.
  • Encourage constructive confrontation – creating a safe place where people can share their views safely, constructively and positively without fear of retribution is imperative (See our article on Constructive Confrontation).
  • Greet your public – make it a value or performance measurement that people must use basic manners and say hello and goodbye. One of the biggest complaints I receive is “He/She never says hello to me” This is a simple and yet highly effective gesture that should come naturally.
  • Measure outcomes and share. Managers should have culture and engagement as part of their KPIs; engagement surveys should be conducted at least annually. Use tools to provide qualitative and quantitative data to truly identify the costs. Conduct exit interviews to truly understand why people are leaving. In Canada, the company I worked for addressed their excessive absenteeism costs but it could only be done with a starting point from which to work.
  • Reward and recognise top behaviours to encourage cultivation of a healthy culture. Positivity breeds positivity.

For more support on how to drive cultural change through your organisation, contact us at



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