3 Ways To Spot Toxic Company Culture By Jane Sparrow

Hopefully, you are one of the millions of people who work in a healthy, vibrant culture – one that supports you and the way you want to work. However, a minority of us will be stuck in companies that don’t provide this – they are places where people’s morale is damaged, their self-confidence shrinks and there’s a huge churn of people leaving. Say hello to a ‘toxic culture’.

No one wants to work in these sorts of places, which are tough to change and, often, there’s no real appetite at the top to do so. But how do you know if your organisation has a toxic culture? Jane Sparrow of The Culture Builders, is a business expert and wellbeing and performance specialist, providing support to a whole host of businesses around the world including Centrica, UKTV, Lane Crawford, Dyson, HSBC, Rugby Premiership and Sky, to create and sustain high-performance cultures. Jane highlights 3 ‘red flags’ that will help you to spot whether you are around toxic company culture.

Bad behaviour is not challenged… and often encouraged

 A few years ago, you wouldn’t have to look far to find examples of this on your high street. In the late 1990s, many of the large estate agencies actively encouraged poor behaviour between its sales agents. Stories of fist-fights in offices were common, and some of the stories of how people would ‘survive’ in the environment are terrible. Thankfully, things have moved forwards for this profession, but the question is, do you see people being allowed to get away with things that should be called out?

Look for:

·   An organisation with plenty of leaders that set a poor tone and standard of behaviour

·   Poor behaviour being ignored and ‘brushed under the carpet

 There’s a focus on failure and how to punish it 

Many organisations take the view that it’s OK to fail – it’s part of the natural cycle of innovation and, well, you gotta break a few eggs to make an omelette. But not in a toxic environment. In these, failure is weakness and should be punished. The result is a culture where people work in ways that avoid mistakes – risks are not taken, there’s no bravery in the organisation and people over-engineer what they do to ensure they don’t end up in the firing line. This creates a culture that sees people suspicious of each other, and lots of Machiavellian plots to ensure personal success.

 Look for:

·   A real fear of getting something wrong – with harsh repercussions

·   People ‘passing the buck’ to avoid taking the blame

No one cares

In poor cultures, people just don’t care – facilities are mistreated, people bad-mouth the company, theft is common, unnoticed mistakes are left, people scoff at the ‘purpose’… it’s a long list. But, the biggest signal is that people leave for the smallest reason. Statistics say that we will leave a job we don’t really love for just a 10% pay increase. In toxic cultures, people leave because the commute is five minutes shorter, or they get dental, or a desk… or it’s just a different company.

 Look for:

·   A lack of care around the basics – tidy offices, desks, facilities

·   Negative talk about the organisation and what its aims are


Five tips if you are facing ‘Toxic’:

  1. Don’t feel the need to ‘swim with the flow’ – stick to your principles
  2. Find like-minded people and combine forces – create a bubble of ‘good’
  3. Remember your rights and call out when they are infringed
  4. ‘Be the change you want to see’ – set a tone and standard that others can copy
  5. Walk away – no job is worth your wellbeing, so be ready to move on

Contact Us

Give us a call or drop our team an email and we will contact you. We endeavour to answer all inquiries within 24 hours during business days.