Ten Steps in Recognizing a Toxic Workplace

By: Matt Gainsford


One of the most important questions we ask candidates when we connect with them about new opportunities is “what motivated you to explore the opportunity?” You can learn a lot about a candidate from what is motivating and fueling their intrigue in the role.

Did something about the message stand out to them as exciting? Is this the next step in their career they have been waiting for? Are they in a difficult work situation they are looking for a way out of? Maybe it’s more than a difficult work situation, maybe it could even be described as toxic. We’ve all seen those Christmas movies where the company is wanting the overworked employee to work late on Christmas Eve at the expense of the family…

These can be some tough conversations to have as the candidate begins to open up about their frustrations, concerns and the challenges are facing.

Quite often there are candidates who feel trapped in a role. They are looking for the right opportunity to move into but are apprehensive about sharing their experiences with new employers in a candid way—there is the fear that being too open may hurt their chances of landing the role.

Here are the top 10 reasons that contribute to a toxic workplace.

  1. Poor communication. Expectations are not adequately set or followed up on. There is propensity for the last-minute urgency because of under planning. There is a lack of accountability, or there are major changes in company policy or procedure that leave employees in the dark.
  2. Disregard for employee’s personal life. The company requires long hours on a consistent basis.
  3. Unmanageable workload beyond the occasional special project.
  4. Office gossips and cliques that are exclusive of other employees.
  5. Rapid employee turn-over. Happy employees don’t look to leave unless it’s for a superior opportunity. Rapid turnover or churn and burn is a surefire way to see if a company takes care of its people.
  6. Stifled growth opportunities and/or favoritism. A Players generally show achievement patterns. But what about A Players who are blocked from growing or where the credit for their work is claimed by a superior or attributed to another colleague?
  7. Feelings of burnout and chronic stress. Do you dread Mondays? What about Tuesdays, Wednesdays… Do you dream about work or are you getting physically sick as a result of worry?
  8. Unqualified leadership: diminishers vs multipliers. One of our favorite questions to ask is: “What environment do you thrive in and what hinders your productivity?”. One of the main answers we get is: “I don’t like to be micromanaged.” Micro Managers can be well-meaning but contribute to a stifling and demanding work environment where the employee isn’t measured on defined performance objectives but by the subjective thoughts and whims of the manager.
  9. Being bullied. It does happen and it’s serious. When we speak with candidates in these areas, we encourage them to talk to HR and or get out quick.
  10. Unmotivated co-workers. Are the people around you unmotivated, lacking purpose or just riding the clock?

As consultants we seek to remain objective and empathetic, to give everyone a chance, and to protect the time and resources of our partners. By asking the right questions we can support both the candidate and the client and share enough information that will lead to the desired next steps.

There are candidates who are not in the right seats and who’s personalities or core values may misalign with role they are in.  Some candidates have attitude problems, may be entitled or challenging to work with, and blame others for their problems. These attributes will become apparent during the conversation.

If you are experiencing any of the above, or you’re seeing this on your team then it is time to consider your options and make a change.

Titus Talent Strategies and Manage 4 Performance are built on the principle that people come first. If you put the right people in the right seats and look after them, they will look after your partners, and the profits will take care of themselves. We work with companies to optimize their people strategy and to impact people and communities as we pioneer a people-fueled, connected movement for management optimization.



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