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Signs Of A Toxic Culture (and when to leave)

We have all seen these signs and some of us have left companies because of them. This is my list of the toxic signs that I see the most in start-ups and when it’s time to leave.

(1.) Walking on eggshells is a symptom of a toxic culture. When you are nervous or have to be overly careful to say or do something because of the reaction or response from your boss or another co-worker can cause an unhealthy environment.

Most of the time having to walk on eggshells around someone has to do with personalities or an unresolved conflict. Most people will avoid conflict in the workplace, but when an unresolved conflict or personality causes you or another person to feel uncomfortable it’s time to address the elephant in the room.

Request time with HR or seek outside assistance from your employee assistance program to address what is going on. Most conflicts start with a miscommunication or misunderstanding and if caught and addressed early they can be resolved. However, left unaddressed will create toxicity in your culture.

If you have been walking on eggshells for a while and have tried to address the issue, it might be time to open yourself up to the idea of leaving.

(2.) Stagnation means a prolonged period of little or no growth. A lot of companies go through this, especially startups. The more a company becomes stagnant, the more “stuck” the environment will feel. This creates complacency in both the leadership and employees.

One way to decide if it’s time to go is set up a few minutes with your CEO or leadership and share your observation regarding the stagnation and ask about the action plan moving forward. If they can’t give you specifics on how to get “unstuck”, it’s best you look for a new job.

(3.) Anger is a normal emotion, we all have our days, however, if you notice a pattern and anger becomes a regular theme in you or within your company, share your concerns with HR and see if they can help address them.

If this goes on, it’s time to leave. Being in any environment where tempers and anger go wild isn’t healthy or safe.

(4.) Isolation in a company is a culture trap. A lot of start-ups have a “heads-down, headphones up” mentality. The best way to spot isolation is by gauging how involved you feel in your day-to-day combined with the overall week.

Feeling isolated can go both ways. This means putting effort into being involved in what’s going on and the company promoting an environment of inclusion.

If you feel isolated, first ask what you can do to be more involved in whatever area makes sense. If you still feel isolated, write down some points and send them to your CEO or HR. If you don’t feel comfortable doing either of these because of #7, it’s time to go.

(5.) Fear is the main reason people stay in toxic cultures.

This translates into being afraid to ask to take off for a few hours because your child has a doctor’s appointment to being afraid to take a vacation because you might come back to being replaced. If this is a lingering feeling, it’s time to leave. If this has just started, bring it up to your manager and send a recap email of what was discussed.

If this is a common theme within your culture, it’s never too late to fix it. Realize that life happens, and people are human. Set realistic boundaries and expectations early (or as soon as you can) to avoid any grey areas. Let your employees know they are in a safe environment, and you are growing and learning just like they are.

(6.) Criticism just for the sake of if is not productive and causes conflict. People that feel the need to criticize without providing a solution are contagious, and this often leads to the blame game. This is not only counterproductive, but it dirties the environment with negativity that goes nowhere.

This isn’t an easy thing to correct because a lot of it stems from personalities, but it can be controlled when it’s your turn to offer feedback.

If you are doing your part and things don’t improve, it’s okay to look for something better.

(7.) Lack of Integrity is not something many cultures want to admit, but it happens. Integrity can be a value on the wall, but it only matters if it’s lived out. If the CEO or Leadership lacks integrity, the rest of the organization will soon follow. Working at a company where the morals and values are corrupt makes it hard to do your job, meaning everything will suffer.

Recognize the signs early and address them if you feel comfortable. It’s 100% fine to leave if nothing changes or it gets worse.

(8.) Feeling drained is one of the most common signs of a toxic culture.

If you wake up drained before you even go into the office, I can 100% guarantee you that you have a toxic culture or environment. We all need to make a living, but at what cost are you willing to make your living?

We all have our days, but overall, those days should matter enough to us to not waste them in a place that drains us.

You have so much flexibility in life don't limit yourself to environments that are unhealthy. There is better out there and you deserve it. Most never realize this and continue to stay in toxic cultures or environments which will go beyond the work-life and infect our quality of life.

About Culture Circle Humanity. Ubuntu. Efficiency. These key values create the foundation for inclusive and healthy workplace cultures. U.S-based Culture Circle, founded by Charisse Fontes, is the only Black-owned, Woman-run Culture Consulting Agency that transforms the employee experience through the lens of anthropology and humanity. Connect with our tribe here.



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