How to Change a Negative Workplace Culture

How to Change a Negative Workplace Culture

A 2021 survey conducted by the Workplace Bullying Institute revealed that about 30% of workers admitted to being bullied in the workplace, with 52% of these respondents holding down non-managerial roles. 

Bullying and other indicators of a broken workplace culture actively harm employees and companies alike; the majority of incidents usually end when bullied workers leave, either because they quit or their subsequent burnout leads them to getting fired. 

Smiling employees working together at a collaborative office desk.

Bullying is only one of the many signs of a toxic work environment, however. It just gets the most press due to its ubiquity and severity. Addressing these issues with care, compassion, and insight improve not only employee morale, but health as well. Toxic workplaces take their toll in so many insidious ways. However, it’s still possible to try and repair their damage.

Signs of a Toxic Workplace

Many toxic workplace environments aren’t immediately obvious to new hires. Companies usually put their best faces forward during the recruitment, interviewing, and onboarding processes. Alternately, recruiters and managers may not realize that issues are even occurring in the first place, and aren’t intentionally obscuring issues with individual employees or the overarching corporate culture. 

The signs of a toxic workplace include, but aren’t limited to, the following: 

  • Bullying, cliques, gossip, and favoritism
  • Failure to provide reasonable accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act
  • Micromanagement
  • Perfectionism and/or unrealistic expectations 
  • Ineffective, inadequate, abusive, or otherwise bad communication
  • No growth or training opportunities
  • Lack of accountability and/or blame-gaming 
  • Lack of tangible rewards and incentives for success, such as raises and bonuses

A broken workplace culture may still be repaired, depending on where the toxicity originates. If the red flags start at the top, or otherwise go unaddressed, however, the issues can expand and cause severe mental and physical distress to employees. Hurt workers hurt companies.

The Effects of a Negative Work Environment

Some negative work environments, though by no means all, are the result of outdated ideas of how an office needs to operate. Businesses understandably have to cut a profit to stay afloat, but placing this above the basic human needs of employees comes with deeply problematic consequences. Positive work environments invest in the well-being of everyone at every level. 

Failing to do so actively damages a company’s long-term goals. The most significant effects of a negative work environment are as follows: 

  • Burnout
  • More employees calling in sick more often
  • High employee turnover rate
  • Reduced productivity
  • Reduced creativity and innovation
  • Poor employee attitudes and outlook
  • Increased risk of accidents
  • Increased communication breakdown
  • A constantly churning rumor mill

A toxic workplace also takes a significant toll on employees at the mental and physical level. Some of the symptoms they may experience include, but aren’t limited to:

  • Insomnia or general difficulty sleeping
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • PTSD, depending on the severity of bullying experienced
  • Hypertension
  • Poor eating habits
  • Poor work-life balance
  • Poor self-image
  • Increased risk of substance abuse
  • Increased risk of cardiac issues

In Japan, the word karoshi describes the tragic phenomenon of working oneself to death, usually of a heart attack or stroke. No equivalent word exists in English, but the same principles exist in English-speaking office environments. Repairing the damage caused by a toxic workplace — or, better yet, taking preventative measures to make sure a toxic corporate culture isn’t established in the first place — actively saves lives.

How to Change a Negative Workplace Culture

Fixing a toxic culture at work can be an involved undertaking, especially at long-running companies where a negative, harmful corporate culture has become an established norm. “That’s just how things are” is never a valid excuse for neglecting all the red flags that a business doesn’t value its employees as humans.

Knowing how to change a negative workplace culture involves both undoing toxic traits that already exist, as well as preventing these traits from ever reoccurring. Aspiring or newly minted business owners can take this information as well and use it to craft a healthy, positive corporate culture from day one. 

The repair process for a toxic workplace usually involves the following steps:

Surveying employees. Problems can’t be fixed when key decision makers don’t have the information needed regarding what to fix. Anonymous employee surveys are one of the best methods available for gathering data on workers’ most pressing concerns, as well as the names of employees who might be at the root of creating and spreading toxicity.

Facilitating conversations. Broken corporate cultures often lead workers to feel like they can’t speak up about their concerns without facing ostracism or punishment. After collecting and analyzing data from anonymous surveys, HR personnel or other individuals tasked with crafting positive professional environments need to go about building trust in the workplace with active discussions.The space needs to be made secure and assurances made, in writing if necessary, that no punitive measures will be taken as a result of honest, open discourse. Employees who feel safe are much more apt to open up and provide insightful solutions regarding how they want the company to move forward.

Facilitating transparency. Workers like knowing what’s happening at work, particularly when it comes to information like the decision-making process behind how raises, rewards, and promotions are given out. Transparency helps facilitate a culture of trust.

Tangible metrics, outlines, and other data that isn’t critically confidential (such as social security numbers) give employees a better chance to gauge what they need to do to meet their professional goals. They also appreciate getting looped in on how their work fits with other teams and departments. Siloing isn’t necessarily an inherently toxic practice, but it does contribute to workplace alienation that may turn rancid over time.

Conducting investigations. When employees give feedback, use it. Their words aren’t meant to sit in drawers or email inboxes. React immediately to any reports of bullying, harassment, or other harmful behaviors and conduct the most thorough possible investigation into the accused. Workers who see HR and management taking their concerns about toxic peers seriously are less likely to quit and more likely to hold one another accountable in kind.

Implementing feedback. Trust in managers, HR personnel, and executives has to be earned. Employees put their faith in leaders who show that their concerns matter, and the best way to do this is actually applying the feedback they provide. The fastest way to erode trust in the workplace involves paying lip service to listening. Approach workers with an open heart and sincere intent. Don’t take things personally or get defensive when their reviews aren’t exactly glowing. Learn what they need to feel valued, included, and safe, then do it. This makes for the fastest way to build lost trust back.

Requiring additional training. If feedback reveals that employees feel discriminated against, harassed, or bullied, some company-wide training may be in order so problematic employees better understand how to fix their behaviors. The ones who don’t take their training to heart and continue to cause issues may receive additional coursework or be dismissed entirely.

Rewarding jobs well done. A broken workplace culture often leaves workers feeling punished for doing a good job. For example, being asked to take on more responsibilities because they’ve proven themselves valuable, but without any additional compensation or recognition. Resentment and burnout come from treating workers as means to a profitable end rather than humans. Make sure that good employees receive the rewards they rightfully deserve, whether that be flex hours, additional PTO, raises, bonuses, or promotions. Otherwise, they’ll understandably take their talents elsewhere. 

Detoxing a harmful workplace requires diligence. It isn’t enough to just fix the problems then declare victory. Healthy, safe work environments must be maintained to prevent people from backsliding into toxic habits. 

Continue with training. Even healthy workplaces still benefit from training modules from time to time. They help employees learn more about clear communication, inclusion, and other hallmarks of a happy environment. Training isn’t always a signifier that something is inherently wrong with a company. Sometimes it serves as an investment to make a good thing even better.

Conduct regular employee surveys and meetings. A consistent feedback cycle helps leadership get a stronger idea of how their feedback implementation is going. They can make adjustments from there depending on what’s working, what isn’t, and what could work with some tweaking.

Promote the positive. Healthy workplace environments are a top-down affair. Promote employees responsible for creating transparent and positive spaces that facilitate growth. Their influence spreads further the higher they rise in the company, and it shows workers that good attitudes lead them to the roles they want.

Recruit positive people. Like attracts like, as the saying goes. Establishing a reputation as a great place to work inspires talent to leave their own toxic companies and pursue opportunities elsewhere. It sets a precedent. If competitors want to keep up, they’ll have to make some culture changes of their own.

A toxic work environment doesn’t have to be permanent. No matter how high or how deep the problems permeate, there are always solutions available to put a company back on track. 

Training Courses that Can Help Fix a Toxic Work Environment

The responsibility for undoing the effects of a negative work environment fall largely on managers, HR personnel, and the C-suite ranks in charge of holding bullies accountable and establishing a corporate culture that disempowers bullies. Every employee, no matter their level, can still benefit from an in-depth understanding of the signs of a toxic workplace, however.

KnowledgeCity offers courses that can assist with both recognizing the most common signs of a toxic work environment and what needs to be done to prevent and mitigate harm. Some of the most relevant and useful options include the following: 

New Managers and Fostering a Supportive Work Culture: This course targets new managers hoping to create a positive corporate culture and needing guidance on building trust in the workplace. Even more experienced managers may find some valuable advice here as well.

Effective Communication: Poor communication is one of the root causes of an ultimately toxic workplace, but it isn’t an insurmountable obstacle. Learning how to improve communication skills, set and maintain boundaries, and express needs can go a long way in repairing a broken workplace culture.

The Problem of Workplace Bullying: Go in depth about what workplace bullying entails and how it negatively impacts employees on micro and macro levels alike. Learning the signs of bullying makes it easier to design stronger protocols to keep victims protected and hold offenders properly accountable.

Coping with Stress at Work: Workplace stress amplifies bullying behaviors and exacerbates the stresses experienced by their targets in kind. Healthy work environments take pains to mitigate stress wherever possible. Employees stuck in a toxic culture at work may need the skills found in this course to protect themselves while they search for a new opportunity.

Emotional Intelligence: So much emphasis has been placed on academic intelligence and the questionable science of measuring IQ (intelligence quotient), many people have forgotten how integral emotional intelligence is to professional and personal environments alike. Workplaces that prioritize emotional intelligence in leadership, culture, and employees enjoy more compassionate, balanced, and healthy lives in and out of the office.

Each of these courses is designed with the health of individuals and the company on the whole in mind. 


Toxic work environments understandably inspire many employees to give up under the assumption that things won’t improve. When the signs of a toxic workplace begin to emerge, that’s the time for HR, managers, executives, and other major decision makers to take action. The health of workers and the company on the whole hinge on taking responsibility for company culture issues.

At KnowledgeCity, our training modules provide training and education in subjects relating to a wide variety of business topics. We invite you to browse our complete video course library to find exactly what you need for fixing a broken workplace culture and beyond.

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