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Work Culture: Positive vs. Toxic

 Work Culture: Positive vs. Toxic


Toxic work culture is a lot like catching a nasty bug. It can spread quickly, and before you know it, everyone's feeling under the weather.

These toxic vibes have a habit of racing through an organization, with people picking up on bad habits and negative attitudes. Fortunately, the same can be said for positive vibes! And that is the type of work culture you want to foster and promote within your organization. The key is to quickly pick up on the signs of a toxic work culture and help employees replace noxious behaviour with practices that promote harmony and positivity.

The best first step toward combatting a toxic culture is understanding what culture elements typically give rise to toxicity and what positive behaviours you want to nurture and reinforce instead. This will help you discern where your organization is at right now, and where you need to get to.

What are the key signs of a toxic work culture?

A toxic work culture is typically characterized by a lack inclusion, a lack of respect and little support or encouragement to grow. Such an environment can lead to high employee turnover, low morale, and decreased productivity.

Key indictors of a toxic work culture include:

  • Unfair treatment or discrimination
  • Exclusionary behavior or cliques
  • Lack of workplace trust and support among team members
  • Excessive workload and unrealistic expectations
  • Poor communication and lack of transparency
  • High levels of stress and burnout
  • High employee turnover

The following are some common examples of how inclusion, respect and encouragement in the workplace can yield toxic versus positive results.


People feel like their ethnicity, age, race, or sexual orientation impact everything from how they are treated day-to-day, to whether they are promoted and even how much they are paid. People know that they are valued no matter their background or experience, and they trust they will be accepted for who they are no matter what.
People feel like managers play favourites whether that means the best assignments go to the same people, some people’s bad behaviour is continuously excused, or only certain people are included in meetings and conversations. People believe they will be given the same opportunities as their peers, that people will be held to the same high standards, and that if they feel like they have been treated unfairly they will be given an opportunity to discuss and appeal decisions that are made.



People regularly work under tight deadlines, feel over worked, experience a lot of stress and don’t have sufficient time off to deal with personal issues as they arise. Managers understand that work-life balance is important and they provide enough time off when people need it and they monitor workloads to ensure fairness and respect.
People feel micromanaged and they are told what to do with very little input into decisions that are made. People regularly provide input into decisions and have appropriate levels of authority and responsibility to achieve the outcomes expected of them.
People use tactics like politicking and backstabbing to get attention and get ahead. People value team work and trust that everyone will have an opportunity to be recognized and rewarded.



People are reluctant to share ideas or try new ways of doing things because if something doesn’t go as planned, they fear the consequences. People are excited to provide suggestions and make changes knowing that management understands that mistakes are all part of the improvement process.
People toil away at the same job for years with little to any opportunity to learn, grow or try new things. People are encouraged to grow and are provided many different options to advance their careers and achieve the success they deserve.


If toxic work culture is the problem, can it be fixed?

In short, yes. But it will take time and consistency. A key tool in the process is employee surveys.

Just like a doctor uses tests to identify what's causing a patient's symptoms, organizations use surveys to get to the heart of issues within the workplace. Surveys can help pinpoint the problems that are creating toxicity and preventing a more positive environment:

  1. Gather honest feedback: Surveys give employees a safe space to share their thoughts and experiences, confidentially if needed. By encouraging honest feedback, you can gain valuable insights into how people truly feel about the work culture and identify areas that need improvement.
  2. Spot patterns and trends: By analyzing survey results, you can identify patterns and trends in engagement, collaboration, and willingness to recommend their workplace. This information helps recognize potential issues, like favoritism, lack of recognition, or poor communication, that may be contributing to a toxic work culture.
  3. Inclusivity and representation: Surveys ensure that everyone's voice is heard, no matter their role or position within the organization. By including all employees in the process, you can better understand the unique experiences and challenges faced by different individuals and groups.
  4. Measure progress: Regular surveys allow you to track progress over time. As you make changes to address the issues uncovered in the surveys, you can gauge the effectiveness of your efforts and make any necessary adjustments to keep moving in the right direction.
  5. Encourage open communication: Surveys can help foster a culture of openness and transparency, demonstrating that leadership values employee input and is committed to creating a positive work culture. This can encourage team members to share their concerns and ideas more openly, both during the survey process and in their day-to-day interactions.
  6. Identify strengths and opportunities: While surveys are excellent for spotting problems in a toxic work culture, they can also help you recognize what's working well. By celebrating strengths and building on them, you can create a more resilient and positive culture that benefits everyone.
  7. Build trust and collaboration: When employees see that their feedback is taken seriously and leads to meaningful change, it can strengthen trust and collaboration among team members. This shared commitment to creating a healthier work culture can bring everyone together and make the organization stronger.

Is your workplace showing signs of a toxic culture?

The Great Place To Work® Trust Index™ Employee Survey can be your secret hidden ace in diagnosing a toxic work culture. Gather honest feedback, spot patterns, and measure progress, all while fostering trust and collaboration. Ask us today about how we can work together to help you create a happier, healthier workplace for everyone.

Nancy Fonseca
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