Warning Signs of a Toxic Organizational Culture

If you hear coworkers say these things, your organization is in trouble.

Posted Aug 22, 2019

I have been collecting quotations from employees of various organizations that seem to capture elements of a bad organizational culture. Let’s look at each of these quotes and the implications.

“Our company talks about its positive values. They’ve even got them written on the walls. The problem is, they do the opposite.”

Analysis. All too often, companies will state the values that govern them, but the company’s leaders don’t live those values. For example, Enron’s company values – which were well publicized – included Integrity and Respect, while the company ripped off its investors and employees.

“Everyone here does at least two jobs.”

Analysis. This is an indication that an organization is understaffed, and likely under-resourced. Employees are likely stressed by the workload and by the scope of their responsibilities. Increased absenteeism and turnover are on the horizon.

“Our leaders are scary. Not scary in a mean way, but scary that they are so clueless.”

Analysis. It is important that employees have confidence in their leaders in order to be motivated to follow them. Unfortunately, this quote is also consistent with estimates that the majority of managers/leaders in organizations either fail (based on turnover rates) or are sub-par (based on follower evaluations). [More on this here]

“Who do you turn to for personnel issues if HR is the problem?”

Analysis. Human Resources departments are often conflicted. They have the dual role of caring for the organization’s employees (thus the title – taking care of the company’s valuable human resources) and ensuring that legal guidelines are followed in personnel processes. What often happens is that the latter charge – fending off possible litigation – becomes the HR department’s obsession. As a result, an adversarial relationship develops between HR and employees. This is a warning sign of poor HR functioning. [More on this here].

“I don’t really care anymore.” [from the head of a department].

Analysis. A sure-fire indication of burnout. A little context is needed for this one: This director was frustrated by constant stonewalling by the organization’s top leadership, and a lack of direction. As a result, little progress was being made – and the director was being negatively evaluated for lack of progress. In any case, when employees “check out” of their jobs, particularly those who are competent and intrinsically motivated, it is a glaring sign of a toxic organizational culture.

Share quotes that you have heard.

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