30 Unmistakable Signs of Bad Company Culture to Look out For

Don’t ignore these red flags.

Reviewed by Chris Leitch

Signs of bad company culture

Interviewing is hard! Your mind is focused on getting through the tedious process without messing it up, and praying that the employer will like you. You happily accept the job offer without stopping to think if you actually like the company you’re interviewing for.

Did you notice that the receptionist was moody, there was a pile of boxes scattered all over the floor, and the employer had you waiting 30 minutes even though you were bang on time? Your nerves and desperation may stop you from noticing these tell-tale signs of a bad company culture.

More often than not, the interview is seamless, and the cracks don’t start to appear until you’ve officially started the job. Before committing yourself to being eternally unhappy, read through the list below to help you identify toxic work environments:

1. Strange interview process

Believe it or not, some companies don’t give employees the chance to interview with the head of the department that they’ll be working with. They also rescheduled interviews a number of times with different candidates and hire other members without an official interview. If you fall into any of these circumstances, it’s best to avoid the company altogether. It means they aren’t organized and don’t have a clear structure.

2. Sense of boredom and unhappiness

Do you look around the office and see a sea of sad faces staring out the window wishing of a better life? If so, alarm bells should be ringing in your head. You wouldn’t want to be that person desperately waiting for the clock to hit 5:30pm so you can go home for the day. Instead, the office environment should feel upbeat and positive, and you should enjoy being there.

3. The company believes their perks are culture

Many companies think they’ve nailed company culture because they have a fancy ping-pong table and offer free catered lunches. Yet they fail to notice the group of people near the water machine complaining of their workload and bad managers every morning. Don’t be fooled by the perks, and look at what the actual environment is like.

4. No flexibility

Most employees will need a few hours off here or there to go to a dentist or doctor’s appointment without wanting to chip into a full day off. But some employers lack the empathy to offer their staff the flexibility when it is truly needed. After a while, employees will get tired of the lack of understanding and will stop caring as much as they did to begin with.

5. Messy office

If the office is messy, RUN! Their working structure isn’t going to be any neater. A messy office shows that no one takes pride in their work or is happy in their current positions.

6. Office cliques

There’s a group of cool kids that have inside jokes, whisper in the corner and take frequent breaks together. Sadly, you’ve not been invited to be part of their group and are left as somewhat of an outsider. This, in turn, will make you feel sad and lonely, and will ruin your working experience. It’s important to be accepted into an office and have good relationships with most (if not all) your colleagues.

7. Too much competition

A new position has opened up in your department and you’ve applied for it, but so has your work best friend. Instead of following a correct interview procedure, your manager has asked you to battle it out by completing different tasks so they can decide who to choose. In this kind of environment, you’ll never progress, so it’s best to look elsewhere for a higher spot.

8. The boss is a bully

If your boss is making sexist comments like “I’m surprised you managed that, seen as you’re a woman...” or is constantly ridiculing a member of the team by shouting at them in front of everyone, then you’re better off without them. This kind of behavior will knock your confidence and hinder your chances of moving on to another position.

9. Your ideas are not taken into consideration

If one of your peers is completely disregarding any feedback or ideas you’re offering, then it’s a clear sign of a toxic company culture. You should be encouraged to voice your thoughts and share your knowledge in the workplace.

10. Broken promises

The problem with promises is that they’re very easily broken. When you joined the company, you were promised a six-month pay review, but it’s been a year and the answer you keep getting is that “it will be reviewed at the end of the year” and your manager’s “hands are tied at the moment”. This will leave you frustrated and discouraged to continue to work hard. When a promise is made, try to confirm it in writing so you have something to fall back.

11. Lack of process and leadership

While some of us may suffer at the hands of a bad boss at one point or other during our careers, having a bad manager is not nearly as damaging to a company as a lack of overall leadership. Without proper and effective corporate culture, a company lacks the direction, accountability and an overall steward to guide the organization. If you work for a company that has high executive turnover, signs point to an unstable future with conflicting instructions.

12. Employees dropping like flies

Are team members not even hitting the year mark before jumping to the next ship? That’s the biggest sign of a dysfunctional working environment. If employee turnover is a common pattern, investigate why employees are leaving when they haven’t been in their current role for very long.

13. Gossip girls

Do you remember the gossip queen in high-school that spread everyone’s business? Unfortunately, adult life isn't much different. If there’s a group of people spending their lunches trash-talking instead of building relationships based on accomplishments and goals, then the company culture is set to fail, as not everyone is included in this kind of negative activity.

14. Lack of respect

Is a supervisor or manager talking down to you? Do they completely disregard your ideas and brush them off like you're stupid? If so, the lack of respect is a clear sign of a toxic work culture. You need an environment where you are encouraged to share your ideas and grow professionally.

15. One way street

Another example of a toxic workplace is when managers and employees make up two completely separate groups that rarely interact. When they do, it's a one-way communication in which the manager tells the underlying what to do.

16. No full job description

If the job description is vague, and no one can explain what success in your role will look like, run in the other direction. Accepting a position without clear responsibilities and expectations is like stepping off a ledge and hoping there are cushions at the bottom to save you. Even for those of us who are comfortable going with the flow, a position that is this open-ended can spell frustration, poor performance reviews (if any) and definitely a lack of progression.

17. No praise

You’ve done an excellent job and landed a big deal with a client, yet you still don’t get a thank you. You might have just joined the company and are smashing it, but aren't aware of your success because management hasn’t told you. Eventually, you’ll end up feeling unsure and irritated and will start to shift towards the bad company culture that already exists. A way to avoid this happening is to initiate the conversation and ask for feedback if it’s needed.

18. Overworked employees

There’s always one employee that just simply works faster than the rest. If this happens to you and you’re in a company with bad culture, you’ll end up taking on other responsibilities with no pay or a different position to show for it. Another organization will appreciate your skills more than your current employers, so consider moving on to bigger and better things.

19. Lack of communication

A lack of communication similarly signifies a weak and unviable corporate culture. More often than not, leaders underestimate the importance of encouraging plentiful communication between themselves and their employees, and that leads to employees who feel like they’re not heard, respected or free to share their ideas. If you’re faced with this troubling issue, don’t try to avoid it; instead, speak to your manager to resolve it.

20. Lack of team spirit

Team spirit is important in keeping a company culture alive; without it, spending eight hours a day in the same environment can feel very monotonous. “You'll see a decrease in team morale; when you walk into a toxic environment, you might notice people don’t speak as nicely to people as they could,” psychologist Tegan Charlton tells the Brisbane Times.

21. Hierarchy

Another warning sign is when there is a clear hierarchy in the business. Anyone with an important job title is locked away in their office with no interaction on the working floor. They don’t even know most of the employees’ names, and you’ll notice that your colleagues run in the opposite direction when the boss takes a step out of their door.

22. Low pay and no benefits

So, you accepted the job with the hope that your pay will be reviewed and you’ll eventually be entitled to a number of benefits. However, you’ve yet to see a single penny, right? Well, look for another employment opportunity, and remember to thoroughly read through your contract before accepting your next job offer. A company that fails to invest in their employees will surely lose good talent.

23. Lunch is for layabouts

It comes to lunch time, but no one is getting up and taking a break; either everyone is too busy or the executives expect you to work through your lunch all the time. It’s so important to take a break from your work and to get some fresh air throughout the day; otherwise, you’ll end up getting bogged down, stressed and tired, which will eventually take an emotional toll on you.

24. Constant humiliation

Caitlin Pyle, the founder of Proofread Anywhere, told Fortune that before beginning her own business, she worked for a legal services company with “a sadistic bent. Whenever someone would make a mistake, it was common practice for whoever found the mistake to take a screenshot of our system screen and email it to the entire office as a lesson.” This kind of humiliation is soul-destroying, so if you witness anything of the sort, you should run a mile!

25. Bad reputation

The internet makes a reputation check easier than ever. Check sites like Glassdoor for reviews and you’ll get a great idea of signs of a bad company or not. Be sure to read all of them, and pay attention to facts mentioned. An even better source is if you know someone who has worked at the company or is currently there. Ask what it was like to work there, what was most appreciated or most frustrating, and listen well to learn as much as you can before making your decision.

26. They confuse fear with respect

Have you ever had a passive aggressive — or outright aggressive — manager? What about one who was friendly one minute and offensive the next? Or one that threw tantrums? Unfortunately, emotionally immature bosses who lack empathy are common. Because deep down they know they can’t earn people’s respect, they use fearmongering to force their employees into obedience. This, of course, is a major red flag.

27. No transparency

Do you ever feel like things don’t add up at work? You might not be able to tell why, but you have a hunch that your employer is hiding things from the team. Although big decisions do necessitate private conversations, a sign of a healthy workplace culture is transparency with everyone in the company, from the freshest newcomer to the oldest members of the team.

28. Trust doesn’t exist

Regardless of industry, bad work cultures often have one thing in common: lack of trust. When bosses don’t trust their employees to get their work done, they resort to micromanaging, which is damaging to their team members’ wellbeing.

29. They don’t respect your time off

Work–life balance is vital to people’s mental and physical health. When we have enough time to sleep, exercise and socialize, we’re better equipped to manage the stress that so often comes with working. In an unhealthy organizational culture, however, your boss might expect you to answer emails or phone calls outside your working hours. While this can understandably happen from time to time, it should be the exception to the rule and not the rule itself.

30. Lack of growth opportunities

A healthy corporate culture is one that sees bosses paying attention to their employees’ satisfaction. Annual performance reviews are a great way to help employees grow through feedback, as well as set and achieve new goals, and good employers know this. When you don’t have that, team members start to feel underappreciated and stuck. In most cases, they lose interest in their jobs and eventually leave. Indeed, lack of advancement opportunities has been identified as one of the biggest drivers of high turnover.

Final thoughts

A broken culture makes everything harder, due to the office politics, the unnecessary rules and the dark, fearful energy that flows through the workplace and bogs everyone down. To avoid being a part of the rotten wheel, look out for the evident signs mentioned above.

Have you been trapped in a company with a bad culture before? If so, how did you escape? Let us know in the comments section below.

Originally published on September 14, 2017. Updated by Electra Michaelidou.