Leaders: 12 Ways to Spot a Toxic Workplace

Toxic Eye

This article will benefit high-level leaders and company owners as they evaluate their organizational culture.

It will also benefit leaders and managers at all levels as they seek a new position.

How Do You Feel

How do you want your company (or the one for whom you work) feel to leaders, employees, and customers? Level 5 leadership requires that leaders be selfless and intentional to the tactility of the organization as well as issues such as professionalism, curb appeal, and profits.

What does the outside of your organization look like? It likely communicates a professional business. The professional licenses and certifications of personnel hang neatly on the walls and doors and nametags announce each employee’s official position.

How Do You Look

Many businesses put great emphasis on the outer appearance of their offices, brand identity, business cards, people, and even uniforms.

All of these communicate professionalism with one desired motive of recruiting new employees, managers, and leaders. However, before you accept a position you should look past the curb appeal and the impressive branding.

Perhaps you are an experienced manger seeking a position at another company and you have interviews scheduled for companies abc and xyz. Both positions appear fairly equivalent so how may you differentiate and make a choice?

You must choose, but choose wisely.

Do Your Research

A Google search will tell you mostly good things about the organization but you should learn as much about the company as possible before your interviews.

  • You can learn little facts such as how many offices do the businesses have and where are they located?
  • Do the locations of their offices suggest anything about the organization that will help you in your interviews?

Employers are often impressed when prospective employees know some details about their company. Yet, this only goes so far in helping you make a good choice.

You need to know about the culture but where can you find the best information?

  • What do detail sales people say? If you are a leader in a specific field, then you likely know detail sales people who service the competitor with whom you are interviewing. Detail sales people often know much about the companies they service and may offer useful information without violating any ethical boundaries.
  • What do other leaders say? Professional leaders within a geographical area often circulate between competitors and may share valuable information about the cultural feel or tactility of a workplace.
  • What do professional associates say? If leaders in your field require certification and continuing education units (CEUs), they may provide helpful information.

12 Questions to Ask

The following questions are not exhaustive and you should probably not ask them of the person doing the interview at your prospective new job.

However, the following questions will put you on the proper investigative path to learn some valuable things about the cultural feel at your probable new workplace.

The answers will help you know whether you truly desire to work there.

  1. How long has the CEO been in his or her position?
  2. In the last ten years, how many CEOs have there been?
  3. If there have been three or more CEOs in ten years, were two or more of them fired?
  4. Have mid-level managers been promoted from within or recruited from outside the organization?
  5. What kind of leadership training has the business provided to promoted mid-level managers?
  6. Do CEOs and upper managers micromanage and control or do they empower and develop leader-makers?
  7. Is guilt or intimidation used to “motivate” employees to perform?
  8. Are continuing education and conferences provided equitably to all employees?
  9. Are employees expected to work through breaks and lunch breaks on a regular basis?
  10. Are employees treated with respect when they need unplanned personal time off to take care of their children?
  11. What has been the turnover rate of employees over the previous 5 years?
  12. Would employees recommend their workplace to their friends?

A Toxic Workplace

A toxic workplace probably points to toxic leadership.

And here is #13:

Are employees’ answers to the 12 questions stifled and censured?

Troubling answers to two or three of the above questions is little cause for concern. However, if a pattern emerges from six or more of the questions, then the work culture is probably toxic. Be warned!

Is there a difference between the reputation you think your organization projects and the opinions of employees, sales, and customers? What are your answers to the 12 questions? What role does your Board of Directors play in the culture of your business? What steps would you take to improve the culture and tactility of your business?


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Learn, Grow & Develop Other Leaders

Dr. Tom Cocklereece
 is CEO of RENOVA Coaching and Consulting, LLC
He is an author, professional coach, and leadership specialist
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One response to “Leaders: 12 Ways to Spot a Toxic Workplace

  1. This is a great article with much to check out before accepting a position. May not be so easy to find the answers to the questions posed.


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