October 14, 2019

A pinball machine in the office, company-wide scavenger hunts, and free in-house massages. Contrary to popular belief, these things do not make a great work culture. Beneath these surface perks could still lurk a toxic workplace environment that drives good talent out the door and the remainder of the employees perpetually grumpy and disengaged.

Yet, it’s also possible for managers to believe their subordinates are happy, given how agreeable they are on a daily basis and the positive facade they put on at work. In reality, they’re just too afraid to be honest about their dissatisfaction, and will likely offer a false (but more palatable) explanation when they eventually leave.

Before you shrug it off as a non-issue, companies with culture problems suffer too. It can kill the business altogether if the problems persist and the higher-ups continue to ignore or be blind to the energy of their office. A good culture is based on behaviours, systems and practices that align with the core values that drive the business. Here are some signs that point to the lack thereof, and the perpetuation of a company culture that’s outdated, ineffective and toxic.

High Turnover Rates

One of the clearest signs of a bad or nonexistent workplace culture is a high turnover, where employees are constantly coming and going, never staying for more than a year. This could be indicative of an ineffective manager who either scares off employees with ill treatment or is merciless in firing anyone that steps a toe out of line. It could also be a symptom of a much larger cultural issue that drains the individual so much that a long-term stint wouldn’t be feasible.


If all the team leaders do is supervise and handhold their juniors, in a way that stifles their individual voice and creativity, they’re no better than military dictators giving orders with no room or tolerance for feedback or suggestions. Managers should be offering guidance and empowering employees to grow and expand their potential. If they were to be feared as disciplinarians, it would lead to total communication failures and one-way operations that leave the staff feeling unseen and unheard. The only culture that’s present will be one that resembles that of a harsh boarding school.

No Work-Life Balance

In Paris, employees can be reported to HR for sending work-related emails after hours, and the HR department might respond with free movie tickets to encourage the workaholic to get a life. In Singapore, traditional companies are more likely to expect employees to forgo their personal time, work after hours without extra pay, and settle their personal problems on their own before entering the office without any help from the company to do so. As a result, with these ingrained notions, employees willingly stay past working hours, are hesitant to use their leave days, often eat lunch at their computers, and then complain about their toxic office on the weekends. No matter how hard they try though, unhappy workers won’t last long.

Bad Internal Communication

Every healthy relationship requires open and clear communication, and that includes relationships between managers and employees. In fact, the intern should be able to speak directly not just to their direct manager, but the CEO and founder of the company as well. This reflects a culture of transparency, instead of a painfully hierarchical and dehumanising one. Not to mention, it’s a lot more efficient if a message doesn’t have to be repeated across multiple levels, risking miscommunication. Bad internal communication could also result in wasted time and effort in accomplishing tasks that have already been tackled or removed from the action plan. And it’s a mark of lacking teamwork.

It’s All About the Bottom Line

Employees can tell whether their bosses truly care about them, or if they’re more concerned about making money. Not to say that the bottom line is unimportant, but prioritising the dollars and cents over the health and wellbeing of the people earning you those assets is not a kind or smart move. It points to the lack of core values or a genuine, central purpose that defines the company culture, which makes employees feel like they’re just another lifeless cog in the money-making machine. Whoever brings in the most profit stays. Those who fail to meet their KPIs are immediately let go.