So you have a toxic work culture – what can you do?

If there’s a toxic culture in your business it can seem an insurmountable problem. Perhaps negative behaviours appear widespread and entrenched. Maybe nobody else seems to recognise the issue. Or it could be that the leaders in the business are at the root of the problem.

So what can you do to address it? In this second post in our Toxic Work Culture series, founder at Culture at Work and management training guru Carol Wilson outlines the first steps you can take to start to change the culture of your organisation.

If you’d like to talk about toxic working practices and what you can do to remedy them, we’re offering a limited number of free consultations with coaching pioneer Carol Wilson.  


It’s one thing to recognise there is a problem with workplace behaviours that create a toxic environment for your business. But it’s another to try to fix it. Often the best way to start is small.

Quantify the problem

You may have recognised the 10 toxic behaviours we called out in our last post. Now you need to understand the scale of the issue in order to work out exactly what needs fixing.

Official sources

Employee surveys are a rich source of intelligence, and if carried out regularly will reveal trends in the workplace. What does the data show – is there evidence of problematic behaviour? Similarly customer feedback can be illuminating – customer satisfaction can be a close corollary of employee experience.

Unofficial sources

Often – particularly in workplaces with toxic leadership – staff won’t give feedback on those negative behaviours for fear of retribution or that no action will be taken. A recent survey of US employees found 63% had witnessed disruptive behaviour but hadn’t reported it1. If you feel that’s the case in your business, can you gather anecdotal or “unofficial” evidence of individual issues? Are there trusted team members that you can talk confidentially with who have the ear of their peers and can describe problems anonymously?

A wider business and industry perspective

It’s worth reviewing the evidence you gather within the context of your business challenges. When you review the culture issues in the workplace and the overall challenges the business is facing can you see a link? How is the organisation performing? Are sales where they should be? What is customer satisfaction like? What about employee health, engagement and retention?

And wider, are the issues you’re seeing prevalent through your industry? An eye on what is happening elsewhere can help to place your situation, to grasp what needs fixing and sometimes to act as a cautionary tale for what not to do, and ultimately what happens if you don’t address a toxic workplace.

So you’ve diagnosed a toxic culture and you’ve quantified the problem in your business. What’s the next step? Look out for the next post in our Toxic Work Culture series for our thoughts on getting your managers’ buy-in.

The Culture at Work team has helped many companies deal with performance and team-limiting behaviours in the workplace.

If you’d like to talk about toxic working practices and what you can do to remedy them, we’re offering a limited number of free phone consultations with coaching pioneer Carol Wilson.