Toxic workplaces and leadership behaviors have very much been in the media spotlight these past few weeks. The use of social media and online platforms have amplified employees’ voices and their stories—accounts of both their positive and negative workplace experiences can now reach a wider audience. And at lightning speed.
The use of social and digital platforms means that potential candidates will now screen companies before applying for jobs and accepting job offers. This is both a boon and a bane for companies—those with a positive workplace culture find themselves overwhelmed by resumes every time they post a job vacancy, while others find it a constant challenge to attract and retain talent.
So how do you tell if you are working in a toxic workplace? From our experience, we have found that these are some common telltale signs to watch out for:
1. Politics and favoritism abound
• Politicking and backstabbing are the norm, and such practices are systematic across the company
• Discrimination happens—this could be due to age, gender, race, sexual orientation, or any other factor
• More significantly, management is aware and does not make any effort to address it
2. Well-being is just a word
• Management views employees as human resources, instead of human beings—interactions revolve exclusively around work deliverables, project deadlines, KPI targets—and there is no real interest in employees’ personal well-being, or what they must sacrifice to perform the work
• Employees do not feel that their role contributes to a bigger purpose, it’s “just a job” and they experience few opportunities for growth and development
• Employees experience constant tension and fear that they will be shouted at, bullied and/or harassed, and there is a lack of physical, psychological and/or emotional safety
3. Working in Grids and Silos
• Starting from the top and cascading down the ranks, invisible (and sometimes quite visible) lines are drawn—information is hoarded, there is low or no cooperation and rapport between individuals and teams, and different functions across the company work in silos
Conversely, when you are looking for a job (perhaps to escape a toxic workplace if you’ve just ticked off all the points listed above), what should you look out for? We found that companies whose employees trust their management, take pride in their jobs, and enjoy the people they work with, have successfully embedded the following elements in their culture:
• Employees are treated fairly and with respect, regardless of age, gender, race, sexual orientation, and position in the company
• Everyone has an opportunity to get special recognition—through both formal and informal platforms including everyday thank yous, and special shoutouts from managers and peers
• Office politics and favoritism are directly addressed and nipped in the bud before they have a chance to flourish
• Management shows a sincere interest in employees as individuals, not just an employee
• This is demonstrated in a variety of ways, from ensuring that employees have the right resources and equipment to do their jobs, to celebrating special events together, encouraging employees to balance their work and personal lives, and involving people in decisions that affect their jobs or work environment; they also often show appreciation for good work and extra effort
• Management and employees express a sense of winning together when times are good, and sticking together when times are tough
• This sense of unity also creates conditions for better employee cooperation
In companies with a great workplace culture, management is the key driver. They are intentional about building the desired culture and strive to cultivate high trust. These companies frequently have a “people” component explicitly articulated in their values—not because people are needed to get the job done, but because they value and prioritize the people who work there. Their values drive day-to-day interactions and behaviors, and when to comes down to the crunch, hard decisions are made with a people-first philosophy.
So, the next time you’re checking social media and online platforms for employee reviews and stories about their workplace experiences, before you apply for a role or accept a job offer, you’ll know what to look out for.
We are proud of our community of Great Place to Work-Certified™ Companies in Singapore—their employees have validated that these workplaces have a healthy, high trust culture, put their people first and care for their holistic well-being. Find out which companies in Singapore are already Great Place to Work-Certified™ Companies here.
Pamela is our Senior Consultant and Research Lead for Great Place to Work® ASEAN and ANZ. She has over two decades of consulting and policy experience helping organizations in their journey to become fair and progressive employers. She believes that every organization has the potential to be a great workplace, and works with data to distil insights and develop resources to help them. When she’s not burrowing down the rabbit hole of numbers and words, she’s probably immersed in a new K-drama or catching up with friends over a virtual drinks session.