20 Indicators of a Toxic Workplace

It sounds odd to identify lying as something that is common at some places of work. Withholding information, directing others down incorrect paths, “fudging” numbers / information, and playing multiple sides of a situation are all ways deception can happen at work. These actions erode trust. They also decrease service / product quality, which results in lower revenues.

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Toxic Commodities

Here are few “commodities” at work that, when valued over people and true collaboration, may indicate that a toxic culture pervades: Job grades, power plays such as making people always walk to you, protecting common information, gossip, and presuming the worst the most of others & having the freedom and audience to share it.  This list is not exhaustive.  

Ideally, commodities at work would include some of the following: ability to create solutions, being curious, willingness to seek others’ input, giving credit publicly to other people and teams, right-placing people in roles, and possessing a spirit of teaching and sharing knowledge.


I’ve been reading some material recently on the idea of re/entry after a major life transition.  I like the concept of re/entry because it lends itself to a deliberate, focused process.  It reminds us that sometimes we need to go slow to fully acclimate ourselves. 

Often, we want to rush. Rush into a new job.  A new project.  A new relationship.  Rushing may enable us to miss key information or risks.  

Give yourself permission to walk, not run through the process.


Transitions are necessary in life and in work.  It is an obvious statement that we better embrace transitions that we choose and struggle more with those that choose us.  When we feel that a transition chose us, it can create internal pressure that begins to push against those around us.

When you notice the struggle with a transition, it can be helpful to answer:

  • What might you be holding onto that you do not want to let go of?

  • Is there anything about this situation that is similar to prior situations?  If so, what worked then?  What did not work as well?

  • What may you see as a potential loss that may be a gain?

  • What goal do you want to reach and what needs to be sacrificed to achieve it?

  • If you put this situation into its full content, placed it on a platform, then stepped back from it 100 feet, what new insight can you see?

Building Trust

How do you foster trust?

  • Own your contribution to an issue / mistake.
  • Do what you are responsible for as best as you can.
  • Acknowledge and leverage the strengths of those you work with.
  • When issues arise / mistakes happen and are acknowledged, course correct.
  • When unsure about something said or done by another person, go to them first to discuss (being curious without blaming can be very effective).
  • Hire leaders who possess and know how to identify high integrity in others / Do not accept leaders who break integrity.
  • Be truthful (this does not mean “brutally honest” but delivering and communicating with “accuracy and rightness”).

Destroying Trust

Here are a few ways that trust can be eroded:

  • Sugar coating information.
  • Discounting skills and talents of those you work with.
  • Blaming others when something does not go as planned.
  • Speaking negatively about others when they are not around.
  • Keeping pertinent information to oneself vs. sharing broadly.
  • Breaking commitments without early and clear explanations. 
  • Making presumptions about others without sincerely listening to them.
  • Being focused on winning at all costs / being determined to get even with someone.
  • Not recognizing when you are excluding someone / justifying when you exclude someone.

Which is first: Trust or Conflict

In the book Five Dysfunctions of a Team Patrick Lencioni presents five principles that provide the foundation for a functional team.  His first component of dysfunctional teams is “absence of trust”. His second is “fear of conflict”.

I agree that these two elements are required foundational elements for a team to be productive.  I also believe that these two elements are so closely intertwined that one cannot necessarily be clearly placed in front of the other: 

In order to trust each other, teams much feel comfortable engaging in disagreements and conflict; In order to engage in disagreements and conflict, teams must trust each other.

In the next couple posts, we’ll look at some very specific examples on how trust can be broken as well as ways to build trust.

Dog fights at work

A little over ten years ago, there were headlines covering an NFL player’s indictment on charges of dog fighting and brutality.  There was righteous outrage across the country (as there should have been).

Too often the policies and procedures we use to measure and evaluate our people enable a form of “dog fights” at work. Physical violence isn’t the symptom, but behaviors such as favoritism and political maneuvering are the symptoms and result in:

·      Promotions of people who are not qualified and who treat others badly

·      Bonuses being awarded to those who have not fully earned them, while those who have worked very hard getting overlooked

·      Credit being taken by people without fully acknowledging those who contributed

These (and other) actions are difficult to stop and are actually encouraged as a way to survive at work.  The first step to correcting the policies and procedures is to recognize that these behaviors exists and determine if we want to do better.  It shouldn’t take us as leaders being a causality before we are willing to speak up.