5 Signs of a Negative Work Environment and How You Can Change It

Did you know that on average, people will spend around 328 days of their life socialising and spending time with their friends?

We’ll also spend something like over 4 years eating, 7 years trying to sleep and 8 years watching television shows. All pretty big numbers, right? But they’re nothing compared to how long we work for.

Compared to the time we spend living our lives, the amount we spend at work comes second to only how much we sleep. In total, the average person will spend over 13 years of their life working - that’s a hell of a lot! Especially when you consider that people these days are working harder and longer than ever before.

With work now taking up more of everyone’s precious time, it’s up to all employers to ensure their people are just as comfortable in the workplace as they are in their home environments. And this isn’t just for the sake of comfort or bragging rights over who’s got the funkiest office!

If you have a negative or poor work environment, you could be contributing to poor staff engagement, low productivity and higher staff turnover more than you realise…


The simple fact of the matter is that whilst many employees are prepared to work for longer, they’re also not willing to stick around in jobs or environments they don’t enjoy; with the Millennial generation – whom now make up over 50% of the current UK workforce – now happy to hop from job-to-job if it means having a better quality of life.

For example, one survey of 2,000 UK employees found that ‘too much stress’ was a key reason for wanting to switch jobs – second only to wanting a better wage. Now, there’s obviously no-one answer to what causes stress in the workplace, but a poor working environment or unhealthy company culture certainly don’t help!

This is why knowing the signs of a negative work environment (and how to change them, of course) are so important. By knowing the warning signs, you can nip any issues in the bud instead of letting them fester and become ingrained in your company’s culture.

Think about it: If you enjoy the time you spend at work and don’t have a feeling of dread every morning, you’ll be more likely to stick with your employer for longer. Plus, you’ll be more likely to be attuned to your employer’s visions, goals and ambitions – which is great for productivity, retention, engagement… Yup, you get the idea.

So, what are the key warning signs of a negative working environment and, more importantly, how can you change them?


No one likes being left out the loop – especially when it comes to their career. Receiving little to no regular feedback about your work or performance not only seeds self-doubt and uncertainty; it can also mean that small, easily rectifiable niggles can become much bigger problems later down the line.

If you’ve ever received harsh or overly negative critiques completely out the blue, you’ll probably know what we’re talking about here. That feeling of ‘if only I’d known sooner’ or ‘why tell me now??’ These are both key indications that your company’s culture or environment may not be up to scratch.

It’s not just a lack of regular feedback which can harm your working environment.

A lack of recognition for going above and beyond the call of duty can also contribute to a poor working culture. After all, why bust a gut taking on extra work or giving up your own precious time if it’s not acknowledged or recognised by the powers that be?


Make sure that your employees have regular and consistent catchups in the form of official 1-1s or even just regular 15-minute informal catch ups. This ensures that your people are getting the feedback they need to develop in their role and feel more confident in their abilities, too.

Also, make these conversations a two-way street: this way, your employees can feel empowered to highlight issues bubbling away under the surface and change their working environment for the better.

For the people who are going above and beyond on a regular basis, ensure their efforts are not ignored! Simple acts of recognition can go a long way and can really make a difference! If someone has stayed late to help a colleague, why not give them some precious time in return in the form of an early finish or opportunity to work from home? If someone has smashed their sales targets, highlight their effort in your internal comms!

The more people see their work makes a difference, the more they’ll be more inclined to go that hallowed extra mile.


You’ll always have one of those ‘bad days at the office’ – no matter how good the company you work for! But when mutterings of discontent, apathy and complaining start becoming the norm, it could indicate a far deeper problem with your work environment or culture.

A general cynicism about work may not seem like a big deal, but if left unchecked, it can lead to more destructive behaviours; including distrust, passing blame, inaction or simply failing to take responsibility for their actions. Eventually, these behaviours will cause your people to become withdrawn from responsibilities, stop interacting with others, or leave your business altogether.

Once these types of behaviours become commonplace, they become incredibly difficult to combat. This is because they can become embedded in your company’s culture and can spread like wildfire; harming your employee’s engagement and become an accepted norm for both your long-termers and new starters.


A great place to start is by reviewing your own company values. These should dictate the ideal behaviours you want to see from your employees and should also directly help you reach your vision and goals. And don’t just mention them on your website or stencilled in a meeting room somewhere; they need to impact and be visible with every aspect of your business.  

In addition, you can also recognise and reward the behaviours you want to see in your organisation.

By identifying and rewarding the individuals who make a positive contribution to your business efforts and uphold your values and mission statement, you’ll be able to more easily

motivate your employees to exhibit the all-important positive behaviours you really want. Plus, they’ll also be more inclined to overcome challenging situations and maintain focus on your business objectives. Nice, right?

FREE Employee Satisfaction Survey Guide and Template   There's no better way to understand and measure your current level of employee  engagement, than asking directly. Click here to get started with your free  employee satisfaction guide!


Your leaders and managers have a huge part to play in the working environment of your business. If they’re not living your desired values or showing the leadership qualities your organisation needs to succeed, they could be your biggest problem hiding in plain sight.

Ineffective leaders and managers can be a magnet for negativity. At their worst, they’ll they take credit for others’ successes or simply manipulate others to ensure their back is covered when times are tough. These behaviours are pure kryptonite to positive working cultures as they quickly erode trust and can cause teamwork to deteriorate.

On the other side of the coin, you can also have the more insipid leaders: ones who rarely engage with their teams, don’t communicate clearly or aren’t clear in their objectives. These behaviours can be more difficult to spot, but can be just as damaging to your employees’ motivation and harmful to your working environment.


Your leaders need to live and breathe your company’s vision and values. Their behaviours, attitude and actions can filter from the top down; so, if they’re not displaying the types of behaviours that are conducive to success, then it may be time to review whether they’re right for the role or if they’re really generating the employee engagement you need.

Another way to get a true understanding of the effectiveness of your leaders are exit interviews. These can provide a goldmine of valuable insights from employees who have decided to move on to pastures new. Whilst you’d hope that they’re moving because of a ‘too good to refuse’ opportunity, you may also discover they’re more willing to be open about their experiences of their role and if their managers have been helping them to succeed in their role.



Do you ever find it difficult to get consistent answers about your company’s internal procedures? Or perhaps everyone you ask just gives a despondent shrug?

It might not sound like much, but it’s often a sign that there’s major problems with policies and procedures being implemented correctly – and disengaged or unengaged staff can be a root cause.

It’s often the case that when policies and procedures are not followed or even bothered with internally, this will filter down to your customers and end users: be it in the quality of your customer service, to the quality and consistency of your products.

It may be frustrating dealing with unengaged colleagues, but your customers certainly won’t stand for it!


A well-executed recognition and reward strategy is one way to ensure your policies and procedures are not just known by everyone, but shared and advocated by your employees, too. Implementing this type of strategy means it's possible for you to encourage and incentivise your people to change their behaviour in a measurable way. You know what's being improved, and people know what they need to do to receive rewards – easy.

You can do this by identifying the major policies and procedures in your business which should be rewarded - and it could be anything: from your health and safety policies, to GDPR, complaints handling, quality control… We could go on…


Finally, a real warning sign that something could be wrong with your working environment is if your personal life becomes adversely effected. This could be constantly worrying about your job or your future, to consistently having to deal with problems outside of normal working hours.

Whilst it’s not uncommon for people to deal with work issues outside their regular hours, it can potentially have serious consequences to your mental and physical wellbeing – especially if you work in a mentally challenging or demanding role.

Not being able to ‘switch off’ from work can have a detrimental effect on your employees’ emotions; leading them to become discouraged, irritable and easily angered. At the very worst, they could begin to suffer from anxiety or even depression.


There’s no blanket fix when it comes to looking after people’s emotional and physical wellbeing; however, ensuring the rigours of the 9-5 are not transported back to people’s personal lives is certainly a step in the right direction.

Asking your employees not to answer calls and emails outside of normal working hours is a simple and effective place to start. But if your people do need to deal with work issues in their own time, at the very least give them back the time they’ve given up for you!

Going further, implementing a company-wide health and wellbeing programme with a range of employee benefits can stimulate positive wellbeing. Discounted gym memberships, counselling services and free health screenings are just some of the ways you can show that the wellbeing of your employees is a top priority, and a brilliant way to support positive engagement and healthy working environments.

Get started by downloading our free Employee Satisfaction Survey and get to the core of what matters to your people.

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