Your browser is not supported. We do our best to optimize our websites to the most current web browsers. Please try another browser.

These are the Top 5 Red Flags of a Toxic Work Culture: Study

woman in black dress leaning on a table with a paper in her hand

We typically listen to the red flags in a romantic relationship, so what’s stopping us from seeing red flags in the workplace? A bad day at work may just be a bad day, but a toxic workplace culture may yield much greater consequences.

In a study of more than 1.3 million Glassdoor reviews from US employees at large organizations from more than 40 industries, a team at MIT Sloan used text analysis to identify key characteristics that employees say make a work environment toxic.

So, when you catch yourself questioning the culture in your workspace, consider what the researchers identified as “The Toxic Five” red flags to watch out for before you make that decision — after all, studies show working for a company with little value for its employees may triple the risk of depression.

Related: 10 red flags to watch out for before you sign a job offer.

Red flag #1: A lack of civility and respect

While important in all aspects of life, it is essential for a workplace to have a culture of basic civility and respect — the study revealed that workplaces that lacked consideration, courtesy and dignity for others were rated 0.66 lower on a five-point scale.

Related: Canada’s 20 best companies to work for in 2022.

Red flag #2: A non-inclusive work environment

Inclusivity is another key factor in creating a non-toxic work environment. This speaks to a need for diversity and representation, as well as creating a space where everyone is treated fairly, feels welcome and is included in key decisions within the company. Glassdoor reviews assessed each inequity individually and its effect on the company’s reputation.

Failure to create an inclusive space for the LGBTQ community dropped companies’ culture rating by 0.65, disability and racial inequity lowered the rating by 0.58 and 0.59,  respectively, and other factors such as age and gender inequity lowered scores by 0.44 and 0.40.

Related: Experiencing work burnout? You’re not alone — and unsustainable work expectations don’t help: study.


Red flag #3: Poor ethics

While similar to respect, ethics are another fundamental pillar to creating a positive culture, and are necessary contributors in both organizational and individual levels.

The study reviewed company feedback, specifically comments about unethical behaviour (0.62), dishonesty (0.59) and lack of regulatory compliance (0.44) and calculated the negative impact on a company’s culture rating on the same five-point scale.

Related: Pandemic has a negative impact on women in the workplace: research.

Red flag #4: Competitive nature

In most workplaces, employees are considered teammates to some extent — all working collectively at a greater goal — so cutthroat, backstabbing behaviour and ruthless competition were leading factors in the decline of workplace reputations.

The number of negative reviews in relation to a lack of teamwork and collaboration resulted in a drop of 0.61 on the five-point scale. Nearly 10 per cent of employees sampled voiced concerns on one of these topics in their Glassdoor reviews.

Related: Can you afford to quit your job? Here’s what you need to know.

Red flag #5: Abusive management

Bullying, yelling or shouting at employees are all signs you’re working for abusive management. Belittling, demeaning and talking down on employees are other factors that contribute to this behavior.

Abusive behavior in the workplace — specifically by management — lowered workplace ratings by 0.50.

While it’s clear that above five factors can each contribute to creating a toxic work environment, all is not lost for employers and employees — by looking out for these red flags and making adjustments to avoid them, we can potentially gain control in the workplace and make you more likely to find a healthy work environment.

See also: Sign up for the Slice newsletter.

Latest News

This content is restricted to adults of legal age.
Please enter your birthdate to confirm.
Date of Birth