10 Warning Signs of a Negative Corporate Culture

Having a strong corporate culture is an achievable goal for business. Yet, this doesn’t always just naturally happen. A corporate culture that is enjoyable for employees and enables their best work to be produced, is something to work on; in this article I’ll discuss 10 warning signs of a negative corporate culture and the warning signs they give off.


The effect that a negative company culture can have can be huge. Often contributing to increased employee turnover and decreased motivation. These can then influence their work, aiding in the production of work that is perhaps not as great as it otherwise could have been.

However, because a strong corporate culture is sometimes an afterthought, many companies fall into the trap of contributing to a negative corporate culture.

Because the trap of a negative corporate culture looms over every business, precautions must be taken to ensure they’re not a casualty. So when it comes to warning signs to look for, the good news is, you don’t have to look too far.

Businesses, management and employees can all employ tactics to ensure they’re working in a good culture. It’s this foresight that can ensure the longevity of the business, or lack thereof.

Here is a straightforward list of 10 warning signs of a negative corporate culture that you should look out for.

Poor internal communication

A lack of team spirit in the office can be toxic to a business. This is why it’s no surprise that poor internal communication is an undeniable sign of a negative culture. However, because your business aims to create a culture where everyone is friendly and supportive of each other, communication is key.

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Creating an atmosphere where internal communication is free flowing and easy is ideal for culture creation. When speaking to one another becomes difficult, forced and un-enjoyable, this is where a problem arises.

To positively influence your corporate culture, ensure the team is able to freely speak their minds. This can be fostered and easily achieved through the hiring process.


When under constant scrutiny from management, it can create an atmosphere full of tension. Regardless that micromanagement doesn’t work, all its good for is slowing down work and ensuring employees are under unnecessary pressure.

To avoid this, avoid micromanagement. Trust in your hiring process and trust in your employees. Creating a great company culture is easiest when the tasks are clearly laid out. But allowing the individual to work autonomously and at a comfortable speed.


When it comes to getting work done, competition can be great. In fact, little more beats a bit of friendly competition between co-workers. Unfortunately, it’s when it turns into unfriendly competition is when things can begin to drive wedges between employees.

By all means, implementing schemes such as ‘Employee of the Month’ can ensure more of your employees do their best work. But when competition gets too competitive, things can turn south, fast.


“Culture eats strategy for breakfast” – Peter Drucker

Bad habits

Bad habits can often start from the top. If the management of a company have bad habits when it comes to work, they can then bleed over to employees believing this is the correct way of going about the business.

For example, if a manager consistently comes into work late, employees will learn that this is okay to do. If industry standard practices aren’t taken when performing tasks, employees may soon follow. Eventually, this will make for an incredibly negative corporate culture.

If this isn’t the case, often bad habits can come about because of a failure to properly manage your employees.

Focus on profit

Ensuring the company has a good quarter can be important, but solely focussing on the bottom line can be detrimental to the culture and business all the same. In fact, “companies that don’t have a strong sense of purpose tend to focus more on the bottom line (69%) and short term results (52%).

Beyond this however, it’s believed that businesses that only focus on profit, leaving no room for employee engagement, tend to be those that people leave. Its easy to enjoy work when the business puts in effort for you.

Image: Margrethe Vesth-Wiersholm

Image: Margrethe Vesth-Wiersholm

Office gossip

Gossip is negative regardless what environment one is in. When in the office, it can be detrimental to the atmosphere, causing a shift in the culture and may even constitute bullying and therefore termination. Office gossip can be hurtful, spiteful and leaves everyone becoming closed off and guarded. Influencing a negative corporate culture can be easy when gossip starts.

To deal with this, the best thing to do is to speak directly to those in the office effected by it, as well as those who may be the culprits. Following this, it’s good managerial practice to speak to the office as a group, also.

Low office engagement

Employee engagement can be one of the reasons an employee chooses to move on. Unfortunately, low engagement among employees has the potential to be common. Still, to combat against this, can be easy, all the while breathing new life into the office with a great culture.

The solution? To celebrate birthdays, make time for non-business related chats and maybe get a ping pong table for good measure.

Lack of empathy

When it comes to human interaction, empathy is important. Yet, when it’s not there, it can appear even more important. Engaging employees and having empathy for them and their lives is fundamental to creating relationships as well as culture.

In the working environment it can be as important. For example, understanding and being empathetic towards co-workers strengths and weaknesses is of value. Know that although something may come easily to some, it mightn’t come easy to others.

Poor management and leadership

Like ‘Bad habits’, it can often be the management of a company that starts things on a downward trajectory. From setting a standard of bad habits, to not managing employees properly, the culture can often be the casualty.

To fix this, ensure the management and leadership of the company are setting the standard and get the best from the employees.

negative corporate culture

Image: Marc Mueller

Office discipline

A corporate culture that lacks discipline makes for a chaotic office space. In addition to this, often it can allow for unethical behaviour prosper. In many industries, being ethically sound is paramount. When it comes to finance, health, business, personal well-being and most other industries, being ethical is a part of life.

So when individuals don’t adhere to these rules, a response needs to be quick. Whether it’s a means of termination or a consequence not as harsh, management must take action. If this isn’t acted on promptly, other employees may see this disregarding behaviour go unpunished and opt to partake themselves.

Again, to avoid this, start by hiring the best. Ideally, the best also partake in the ‘best practice’. But if it’s already underway in your office, your culture may be under attack. Still, this is nothing to fear so long as action is taken to fix the problem.

In Summary

A negative corporate culture can be a disaster for a business. Thankfully, there are often many warning signs to be seen which can prevent you from falling victim to some of the pitfalls of such a culture. Given that a negative culture can force great employees to leave, lose clients or make for sub-par work, it must be taken seriously.

Still, even if your corporate culture is affecting your business, know that you can turn it around. When you do, you’ll be surprised how well your company can do.

Glenn Symmons

Glenn Symmons