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What is Toxic Workplace Culture and Ways to Avoid it?

Organizations strive to create a positive work culture to drive employee engagement levels, which is essential for business growth and competitive advantage. However, there is a fine line between a driven work environment and a hyper-competitive one with a toxic workplace culture.

What is toxic workplace culture and the best ways to avoid it

What are the Characteristics of a Toxic Work Culture?

Contrary to popular belief, toxic workplace culture is not just about inefficient and unproductive employees within the organization.

Rather it is more about a workplace plagued with infighting, falling productivity, unhappiness, and dissatisfaction among employees.

In most cases, the elements of toxic work culture are out in the open and thus easily identifiable.

They often remain hidden and require significant effort from the senior leaders to be uncovered.

The most common signs of toxic organizational culture are as follows:

1. Low employee morale


When many employees show little interest in their work or surroundings, it often indicates growing toxicity at the workplace.

Lack of energy and enthusiasm among employees should be taken quite seriously by the leaders.

Hence, they should focus on finding the reasons for the same and rectifying them at the earliest.

2. Lack of open communication

Case Study: Employee Recognition at a Financial Services Company

Lack of effective communication between the employees and the management is another significant indicator of toxic work culture.

Employees often feel afraid to ask questions to their supervisors and simply choose to follow their instructions.

Hence, this can build their sense of distrust and even make them feel disengaged and undervalued.

3. Growing discord between employees

Impact of Fun @ Work Activities on Employee Engagement

The growing discord between employees also indicates that not all is well at the workplace.

An increase in misunderstanding between co-workers, the decline in collaboration, and growing distrust and dissent among employees are all red flags.

Hence, organizations need to notice and respond to them as soon as possible.

4. High employee turnover

Early Bird

One of the critical indicators of a toxic corporate culture is an increase in the turnover of employees.

Most employees prefer to leave their jobs rather than being bogged down by the stressful environment at the workplace.

High-performing and sincere employees tend to avoid workplace politics as it affects their performance.

What are the Ways to Avoid the Development of a Toxic Work Culture?

toxic culture can have drastic consequences for an organization, including a dramatic fall in productivity and market goodwill. 

Moreover, it can destroy the ethos of the organization and promote undesirable behaviors that will hinder business growth.

Hence, organizations must take the necessary steps to prevent the development of a toxic organizational culture.

The following tips can prove beneficial in this context:

1. Promote honest and transparent communication

Honest and transparent communication, both vertical and lateral, can help prevent the development of a toxic culture.

Hence, sharing timely information about business goals, processes, and policies with employees helps the organization in gaining their trust. 

It also allows employees to freely express their opinions and ideas and strengthens their emotional connection with the organization.

2Ensure timely employee recognition

Fun Awards

Appreciating employees for their efforts and achievements effectively is key to keeping them happy and motivated. 

Such employees are less likely to indulge in activities that may disrupt the growth and profitability of the organization.

Hence, a good employee recognition program can ensure that employees’ contributions to business success are recognized and appreciated.

3. Offer equal and ample growth opportunities

Also, an organization needs to provide its employees with fair and ample career growth opportunities across levels.

Hence, organizations need to avoid bias or favoritism, as this can breed dissent within the workforce.

Otherwise, it can lead to a significant drop in employee engagement and cause detachment and emotional disconnect.


Organizations need to ensure that avoid the pitfalls of a toxic work culture that is detrimental to the growth and profitability of the business.

Sagar Chaudhuri

Lead author: Sagar Chaudhuri, the Co-Founder and CEO of HiFives. He is an HR Tech Evangelist with over 25 years of corporate and entrepreneurship experience. In the past, Sagar has worked in leadership roles at companies such as Genpact, Infosys, and ICICI Bank. He has an engineering degree from IIT Kharagpur and an MBA from IIM Lucknow. Connect on LinkedIn

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HiFives is a global employee rewards, recognition and engagement SaaS platform that enables organizations to digitize, automate and transform their employee experience. It is used by 100+ large enterprises, small businesses and startups in manufacturing, retail, technology, financial services and media, across 25+ countries.