1. High Turnover – You have a turnstile at the front door. Employees leave the business as fast as new ones join. Exit interviews are conducted, but employees are tight-lipped. They don’t want to say anything negative for fear of retaliation by way of a bad reference. On-line comments are anonymous and not flattering.
  2. Union Grievances – A large number and steady stream of grievances may be an indicator of a toxic work culture. I was the HR Manager for one company where we averaged a minimum of five grievances a week. (That’s more than 260 grievances a year!) Grievance meetings were a day long affair where the union bitterly argued every point as if it were a final session of the world debating championship; winning the argument was a matter of life and death.
  3. Lack of Respect – This applies not only management to employees and employees to management, but between employees. It includes words and actions that are not acceptable and harmful.
  4. Micromanagement – Every employee action is supervised and scrutinized down to the smallest detail. In some cases, management stands over the employee’s shoulder and issues directives throughout the work day on how to handle the smallest details.
  5. Silence – Employees fear for their jobs so they either remain silent and say nothing about anything or become “yes persons”. I worked at one company where there was a culture of knocking people down if they spoke up or bucked the trend. If you voiced an opposing opinion, you were considered insubordinate. Needless to say, everyone kept their comments and thoughts to themselves.
  6. Rules – Policies and procedures have been written and communicated, but are not followed. They are just window dressing. Management and employees do what’s expedient. To hell with the rules! It’s a free for all.
  7. Modelling– Management doesn’t walk the talk. They do what’s comfortable and convenient.
  8. Values – If the company has them, they are not followed or modelled. They are just words on nicely framed wall hangings in the lobby designed to impress visitors. If pressed to name all of the company values, no one can do it.
  9. No employee involvement – Management makes all the decisions. Employees don’t participate in solving problems or developing strategy. Management know best.
  10. Bottom Line Obsession – As Gordon Gecko in the movie Wall Street said, “Greed is good.” The focus is on making money and senior executives achieving their annual bonus. Customers don’t figure into the equation. Costs are managed ruthlessly.

There are extremely tight controls on spending. Every expenditure has to be justified 10 ways from centerThere are many more signs, but these are the ones I have experienced throughout my career.

What are some others that you would add to this list?