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Warning signs of a toxic culture

3 things you should do if you realize your organization is developing a toxic culture.

4 min read


Toxic culture


Lead Change is a leadership media destination with a unique editorial focus on driving change within organizations, teams, and individuals. Lead Change, a division of Weaving Influence, publishes twice monthly with SmartBrief. Today’s post is by William Vanderbloemen.

The next time you walk around your office, take a moment and listen. Do you hear people on your staff uttering phrases like, “That’s not my job”? If you do, then you may be in trouble.

This sentence is a sign of a bad work culture. It is a sign that people are not communicating and collaborating. If they were, they would take ownership of their responsibility to do what is best for the company, which includes helping other team members in their successes and failures. They would feel like their organization matters to them, instead of maintaining a “that’s not my job” attitude.

If you are noticing signs of a toxic staff culture — one that prevents your people from doing excellent work they enjoy — then you should take action to turn it around. But how?

You have three options.

Make a move

Interview your staff members and find out if the discontentment lies in the company as a whole or in a specific role. If a team member has bought into the mission of the company but feels frustrated in his or her current role, try shifting people into a role where they can thrive.

For example, you may have people with excellent technical skills but who lack project-management or people-management experience. Yet, they were promoted into management positions. They might have been promoted because they did great work in a technical role but do not have the skillset to be proactive, manage a lot of moving pieces, hit deadlines or supervise and lead a team. Understanding team members’ skills and placing them in roles that align with their natural gift sets is a key component to employee engagement and a healthy staff culture.

Look up

Examine the culture of the people at the top, including yourself, and if there’s a problem, change it.

You can’t go through the motions of naming the full set of culture values for your company, then acting out a completely different set of values, and expect a healthy culture to manifest itself. You may not think your team notices your actions, but, as a leader, people watch you and emulate your behavior. The actions and behaviors of the leadership at your company set the groundwork for building a healthy culture and an irresistible workplace.

If you’re not in a leadership position but instead are an employee of a company with a toxic culture, then your best option may be to leave. I’m not encouraging anyone to job-hop, but if you’re stuck in an organization where the people at the top are not exhibiting a healthy culture and don’t plan to change, don’t expect to be the sole agent of culture change. Change from the bottom is very difficult to accomplish.

Fire someone

This is obviously the most radical option, especially because it will likely have to be someone at or near the top of the organization.

No matter how successful your company is, a bad culture can cause irreparable damage, and sometimes the only way to ward off a downward spiral is to remove the people who are introducing toxicity into the culture.

If you don’t have a healthy culture, you’re building an organization on sinking sand that will not last. Having employees come to the office excited to work affects everything including your bottom line. You need to work hard to retain your people because they are your greatest assets.


William Vanderbloemen is an entrepreneur, pastor, speaker, author, and CEO/Founder of Vanderbloemen Search Group (VSG), an executive search firm. VSG has been named four and three times to the top of Entrepreneur’s Top Company Cultures list of small businesses and Houston Business Journal Best Place To Work list, respectively. VSG recently was named to Houstonia’s 2017 Best Places to Work list and Forbes’ 2017 list of America’s Top Executive Recruiting Firms. Vanderbloemen is a regular contributor to Forbes and Fortune. His latest book is “Culture Wins: The Roadmap to an Irresistible Workplace.”

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