It doesn't matter what the company name is, the awards they have won, the size, great location or significant achievements; devastatingly, toxic environments can be found anywhere.

As soon as you walk through the door, you get that sick feeling in the pit of your stomach, you feel like you can't breathe as your energy rapidly disappears when you walk up to the reception desk to announce the person you are there to visit.

There is a lot to be said for first impressions. From the way you are greeted at the reception desk to the employees walking through the hallways and the overall vibe of the workplace. 

Recently, I walked into a well-known organization to a receptionist who looked like she was doing me a huge favor for simply speaking to me. She then proceeded to gossip with her colleague allowing me to hear every word.

The person I was there to see walked around the reception area without uttering a single word for up to ten minutes. A short time later, I was ushered into a meeting room and met with a frosty reception.

The High Cost Of A Toxic Culture

Sometimes, a toxic culture is glaringly obvious. At other times, it is masked behind the gossip, fake smiles, and the knife in your back as you walk through the meeting room door. A toxic culture generates significant problems for an organization anything from financial loss, high turnover, lower levels of engagement and productivity.

The  Access Perks Blog shows that in the United States 40% of organizations state the loss of personnel as a top concern, engaged employees are relatively low at 13%, employee turnover costs organizations $11 billion, with a massive 80% of employees reportedly being stressed out by work.

Here are 5 signs to look for prior to deciding to join a company or when you make the decision to type up your resignation and walk out the door.

1. Inauthentic Leaders

Inauthentic leaders who lack honesty, integrity and transparency.

They say one thing yet do something completely different. Live by the maxim - actions speak louder than words. These leaders are the first to speak and the last to take action.

In fact, employees find it difficult to trust them let alone believe a word they say. The Cornerstone On Demand report indicates that working with a toxic colleague encourages 54% of good employees to quit.

People naturally follow inspirational leaders who practice what they preach. Leaders who don't just simply say the right things, they also do the right things.

2. Unmotivated Employees

When employees disconnect from an organization it is usually very obvious. They are not connected to their work, they wallow, waste time and have little or no interest in the values or vision of the organization.

Subsequently, they spend more time gossiping, concocting ways to take extra time off or leave early and spend more time at the water cooler and coffee shop than they do working. These employees drain your energy as they are negative to be around and infect others with their constant complaints and looks of unhappiness.

They are highly unmotivated with little or no desire to be promoted. They are simply filling in their time until they decide it's time to move on or find another opportunity that has more 'perceived' benefits. 

3. Playing Games

Some leaders and employees may spend more time playing games, anything from complaining, blaming others, developing strategies to sabotage other people's careers, or devise a plan to remove them from the company altogether.

This may be achieved by building mutually beneficial relationships with other senior executives or becoming a part of a 'clique' that has significant power or decision making ability.

I once worked with a high profile organization that had a great brand, talented people and a long list of outstanding achievements. However, the tide had turned and they suffered from a toxic culture via ambiguous communication, changes in leadership, a vague vision, bad management practices, and leaders playing games.

The once highly successful organization suffered from negative press and massive financial losses which led to a high turnover, low levels of engagement and productivity and fearful employees. 

4. Zero Communication

When communication is reduced to a bare minimum, employees have no idea of what is really going on despite announcements being made and meetings being held. There is a lack of understanding with no-one knowing the 'real' truth of the current situation or what the future holds.

This leads to employee's feeling fearful, anxious, and nervous thereby accelerating gossip and 'stories' about what could or will happen within the organization. This leads to confusion, stress and major unhappiness. 

People love to be acknowledged, they want clear communication, to know and understand the direction of the organization which includes an inspiring vision for the future. At the end of the day, employees want to know that they are valued, that their contribution matters, and they are doing work that makes a difference.

5. Red Tape

In some organizations, the red tape is so entrenched, it would take years to untangle the mess.

Employees become really frustrated when they are constantly stopped or blocked by the obstacles created by red tape. The constant interruptions, endless processes and policies become overwhelming and exhausting for those keen to achieve and exceed their individual, team and organizational goals. 

Bear these 5 signs in mind, the next time you attend a job interview. Do your due diligence, ask lots of questions and take a good look behind the glossy facade.

Your happiness at work impacts every area of your life including your health, family and lifestyle. Be sure to make the 'right' choice for you.

Published on: Jul 28, 2016
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.