Being in a toxic workplace can be incredibly stressful and discouraging.
Signs of toxicity in your work environment may include manipulation, intimidation, or bullying from a manager, exclusion from team activities, cliques among the staff, refusal to recognise successes, micromanagement and being expected to work long hours with little time off. Working in an atmosphere like this can make it hard to feel comfortable performing your job responsibilities.
When you're experiencing these issues at work, it's important to take action - not just for yourself but for your team as well.
How to spot a toxic workplace
A toxic workplace is one in which there are red flags on top of red flags. This can include a passive-aggressive boss, inappropriate comments from your coworkers about the person you replaced, non-existent boundaries, and gaslighting.
By definition, a toxic work environment is one where your psychological health and emotional well-being are threatened or harmed by conditions within your place of employment.
The negative atmosphere that exists in such an environment can create a strong sense of exclusion and unfairness. It can lead to feelings of resentment, guilt, and anxiety – all of which will reduce your productivity and morale.
This can therefore lead to a wide range of problems both inside and outside the company – in the form of distrust between colleagues; highlighting any differences between management and staff; low morale among workers; high levels of absenteeism; lack of motivation to complete tasks; loss of commitment to organisational goals etc.
In turn, this results in increased stress levels amongst working staff at all levels - from entry-level positions to CEO.
10 signs you're in a toxic workplace
1. Poor communication
When it comes to work and communication, having positive and healthy relationships with coworkers is of top importance. Communication is the foundation of successful organisations and poor communication can lead to a toxic workplace.
A toxic work environment often lacks effective communication between staff members, management, and clients. Effective communication involves listening skills on both sides. Employees should listen to management, paying attention to detailed instructions, or changes implemented. Managers should also listen actively to employees for their needs and feedback.
In addition, verbal communication should be respectful regardless of position in the organisation. Poor written communication, such as emails lacking clarity or important details can also contribute to a negative atmosphere in the workplace.
Understanding individual preferences on how they like to communicate can really help improve positive relationships within a company, whether written or verbal, in a group or one-to-one.
2. You feel excluded
A toxic workplace can feel like you're back in secondary school. Bullying and gossip are common in a negative work environment. Unfortunately, these activities can be carried out by otherwise professional adults. We should never have to put up with such uncomfortable dynamics as a normal part of our job.
Cliques within the office space are another problem that comes up in many workplaces. They can create an atmosphere where some employees feel excluded and left out. This involves more than just physical separation at the lunch table or the coffee machine. Those who are not included may suffer from a lack of communication and understanding which isn’t healthy for any team environment.
Also, gossipy behavior causes anxiety for anyone who is the subject of rumor-mongering. All this leads to further disruption in productivity and cooperation over time, making it hard for any meaningful task assignments to be undertaken; toxic politics take center stage instead.
3. Poor leadership
Bad leadership can be a tell-tale sign of a toxic workplace. It presents itself in many ways, but some common examples are a micromanaging boss who constantly corrects you or undermines decisions, the “Blame Game” boss who is quick to pass mistakes on to anyone besides themself, or a “No Respect” boss who emails at all hours and may not even know what work you do. These types of bad bosses can make any workspace unbearable and cause you to feel unappreciated, neglected, and generally unvalued.
The takeaway is that if the bad leadership cannot be fixed, for example through confrontation with HR or having upper management made aware of their issues—then you should take necessary steps to leave the unhealthy workplace for good.
Being aware of potential issues at work and taking action towards fixing them quickly is always the best option to ensure success both personally and professionally in the future.
4. Unmotivated coworkers
When coworkers become unmotivated in their jobs, it can have a very damaging effect on the workplace. Unmotivated employees often cause burnout in those surrounding them, as the rest of the staff has to take on more work and responsibilities to make up for their lack of enthusiasm or effort. This can tire staff members out, as they attempt to increase their own efforts, and discontentment will spread throughout the team.
This general feeling of dissatisfaction isn't just negative for morale; it can create overall toxic environments when left unaddressed. It can prevent creative ideas from taking root and stifle growth opportunities because few ideas or approaches are being shared or implemented in the first place.
Any issues within this culture can quickly boil over into other areas of the company such as customer satisfaction and employee retention — both key metrics in a business’s success or failure.
5. No opportunity for progression
It's important for employers to create an inviting work culture where employees feel appreciated and secure, while being provided with the necessary resources and tools they need for personal and professional development. When a work environment is hostile or toxic, it creates a negative atmosphere that does not serve as an effective space for growth.
Employees in a toxic work environment are less likely to gain knowledge or take advantage of essential learning opportunities for advancing their skills or career. Furthermore, even when promotions become available or mentorship is offered, they are likely not invested in the growth of their own professional journey due to having little motivation beyond simply completing tasks at hand.
Your job itself isn't always responsible for inspiring and motivating you, so it's up to employers to foster a safe work culture where employees have the support they need from their peers and superiors alike in order to reach their goals- especially those related to advancing within the company.
However, if you feel completely stuck with nowhere to grow, it might be time for you to seek out different opportunities elsewhere that promote professional development instead.
6. High employee turnover / low staff retention
When it comes to determining a toxic workplace, one of the biggest signs is rapid employee turnover. When you notice that several people have left a job, either through quitting or being laid off or fired, this can be a sign of some other toxic elements.
It could mean that the work environment is perhaps too demanding and not rewarding enough for the effort put in, or employees may face discrimination issues; or there might be a lack of proper communication between staff and management. All these things can lead to considerable numbers of employees leaving in a short period of time.
The takeaway from this is that rapid turnover is likely indicative of something bad going on in an organisation – or about to get worse – so it pays to take note when a large number of employees leave.
If you’ve noticed such behaviours then try speaking with former employees who left, were laid off, or even fired in order to gain further insight into what’s really happening in your company, as this can be helpful in recognising the true workplace environment.
7. No work-life balance
Do you feel like you constantly need to be checking your email, even at weekends or on holiday, and can't leave work on time without feeling guilty?
A lack of work-life balance is often a clear indicator of a toxic workplace environment. When employees are consistently expected to spend excessive hours at their jobs, without enough time for personal activities, relaxation, and family commitments, it can lead to negative physical and mental health effects.
A toxic workplace tends to prioritise productivity at all costs, disregarding the well-being of its employees. The absence of boundaries between work and personal life can lead to burnout, high-stress levels, and decreased job satisfaction.
In these environments, there is likely a manager who glorifies overwork and subtly discourages taking breaks or using your contracted holiday time.
Ultimately, a healthy work-life balance is essential for maintaining motivated, engaged, and resilient employees.
8. Staff burnout
Staff burnout is often a result of a lot of effort and no reward, an unchallenging and repetitive role, or a prolonged period of stress.
Staff burnout serves as a glaring indication of a toxic workplace environment. When employees consistently experience high levels of stress, exhaustion, and emotional depletion due to overwhelming work demands and unrealistic expectations, it points to deeper issues within the organisation.
9. No trust
Lack of trust between colleagues or micromanagement from higher-ups can be extremely challenging.
Trust forms the foundation of healthy professional relationships and effective teamwork. In a toxic workplace, suspicion can often damage interactions between employees and management. This lack of trust can manifest in various ways, such as micromanagement, secretive decision-making, and inconsistent communication.
When employees feel that their opinions and contributions are undervalued or disregarded, they become hesitant to collaborate and share ideas openly. This damages team unity, stifles creativity, and hampers overall productivity.
In an environment like this, the absence of trust extends beyond the individual level, impacting the organisation's ability to adapt, innovate, and retain talented staff. A toxic workplace's failure to foster an atmosphere of trust leads to a self-perpetuating cycle of negativity, hindering growth and progress.
10. No room for mistakes
Blame-heavy cultures leave little room for learning or growth. Employees are nervous about trying new things or asking questions in case of failure.
An environment where there is no tolerance for mistakes serves as a clear indicator of a toxic workplace. In such a setting, employees are often subjected to intense pressure to be flawless in their tasks and decisions. This unattainable standard creates an atmosphere of fear and anxiety, where individuals are afraid to take risks or innovate due to the potential consequences of making even minor errors.
The absence of room for mistakes stifles creativity and personal growth, as employees become preoccupied with avoiding blame rather than focusing on their professional development. Additionally, this environment hampers open communication, as employees are hesitant to admit their mistakes or seek help when needed.
Ultimately, a workplace that punishes mistakes rather than encourages them as learning opportunities is not only counterproductive but also contributes to low morale, high-stress levels, and decreased job satisfaction among its employees.
How to manage a toxic work environment as an employee
Toxic work environments can be a challenge to navigate, as it can feel like there is no escape.
The best solution is to work hard at finding a new job that will put you in a much better situation, but this takes time and proper planning. 'Just find a new job' can be much more easily said than done. In the meantime, it is important to develop techniques for handling the day-to-day toxic atmosphere.
It helps to have friends in similar situations who understand what you’re going through. Building close relationships with people who have similar experiences can provide support and an outlet for venting frustrations.
Taking care of yourself outside of work by participating in activities that bring joy - such as exercise, reading, or cooking - are also important for dealing with the stress of a toxic workplace.
Finally, making lists of tasks or goals that need to be accomplished can help structure your thoughts and allow you to focus on your job without getting overwhelmed by the negative aspects of your current role. These few strategies may not solve all of the issues related to a toxic work environment, but they can certainly help create some structure while working hard toward finding an enjoyable job somewhere else.
How to manage a toxic work environment as an employer
As an employer, it can sometimes be hard to notice your work environment is toxic before it's too late.
If you are finding it hard to retain staff and notice that the atmosphere in the office is less than warm, it may be time to assess the situation.
Look at your Glassdoor reviews, or send out a companywide anonymous feedback survey.
Using a neutral third party is also an excellent way to find out how employees truly feel about the work culture and they will have proven methods to improve the work environment.
A Workplace Change specialist can be an incredible asset to improve a toxic workplace, increase employee satisfaction, and ultimately, achieve your business objectives.