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20 signs you’re in a toxic work environment and what to do

6 min read

Noisli - Toxic Work Environment

A toxic work environment leads to employee stress, burnout, fatigue, and illness. So, if you’re reading this, the chances are that you are probably facing a lot of big challenges at work that make you constantly feel anxious, stressed, tired, depressed or even ill.

If you’re feeling all this over a prolonged period of time and dread going to work every single day, it’s not just normal work stress, and it might be a sign that you’re in a toxic work environment.

But, you’re not alone and taking action is the only healthy way to deal with it as a toxic work environment can lead to severe burnout and really damage your self-esteem.

So, let’s take a closer look at the signs of a toxic work environment.

20 signs of a toxic work environment

1. Bad Leadership

If the leadership is dysfunctional and toxic, most likely the whole organization is as well.

Watch out for narcissistic leaders who just want that you always agree with them, who do not respect you or your opinion, just blame other people but never themselves, who stay above the rules or just spend their time micromanaging their employees without ever trusting them.

2. High Turnover

Having to work in a toxic work environment will ultimately lead people to leave.

How long have your co-workers held their position? How long did the person before you work in the company?

If employment times are short and you generally see a high turnover rate within the company, it’s a sure sign that something is not right.

3. Cliques

The workplace should be a place of inclusion where everyone is appreciated and valued as a team member.

Therefore, if you’re constantly feeling excluded, noticing a lot of different cliques and people gossiping or spreading rumors, it’s a sure sign of a toxic work environment.

4. Bad or lack of communication

Bad communication between employees and managers is the root cause of many problems within an organization.

If you’re faced with a constant lack of communication or constantly receive incomplete or confusing information, it can seriously hinder your work and motivation.

Communication does not only mean verbal or written communication, it also includes listening skills so as to comprehend what the other side is trying to communicate.

Try to also be mindful of how information is communicated: is it passive-aggressive or do different employees get different kinds of information?

All those things are signs of bad communication that contribute to a toxic work environment.

5. No work-life balance

There is time for work and there is time for play and leisure. Although it is getting increasingly harder to draw the line, there should definitely be one and your workplace should respect those boundaries.

Having a good work-life balance means you’re able to recharge your energies and can give both work and private life your full focus and attention.

If you’re constantly required to work long hours, be always on and available and people are constantly demanding work-related stuff from you during after hours or weekends, it sure means that your work-life balance is not respected and your mental and physical health will suffer.

6. No opportunity to grow

A healthy organization allows for opportunities to grow and further develop your capabilities.

Therefore, if you feel like a hostage in your position or see that there is a general lack of upward mobility with no perspective to move forward it might be a sign of a more widespread problem within the company.

7. Unmotivated employees with no enthusiasm

A toxic work environment wipes motivation and enthusiasm out of everyone. When was the last time you’ve been excited to go to work? Do you feel like your coworkers enjoy working there and bring in a lot of enthusiasm on a day-to-day basis?

If this answer is no, the work environment might be toxic and badly influence everybody’s motivation and output.

8. Frequent sickness of employees

As mentioned at the beginning, a toxic work environment has a very big influence on your mental and physical health. People will naturally burn out as stress and fatigue becomes unbearable and will call in sick more and more.

If you frequently have to call in sick or witness your coworkers having to do the same, it’s a sure sign that the workplace is not good for your mental or physical health.

9. Gut reactions

We’re human beings and we can sense when something just doesn’t feel right. Your intuition has probably already told you that something is not right with your workplace and that you might be dealing with a toxic work environment.

You can analyse all the aspects as objectively as possible, but if you’re still feeling unhappy at work, then it’s probably a good decision to look for something else.

10. Unethical practices

Witnessing unethical and dishonest practices on a daily basis toward customers and employees just sheds a bad light on the whole organization and makes working in such an environment unpleasant.

If others are being treated with dishonesty and unfairness, it’s probably a sign that at your workplace this is a generally accepted practice or of poor leadership that doesn’t step in. In any case, this is a clear sign of a toxic work environment.

11. Hard work is not rewarded

Hard work should be rewarded to keep you happy, satisfied and motivated.

If you’re constantly putting a lot of energy into your work, going the extra mile but always receive little to no recognition for all your efforts, it’s no wonder you’re feeling demoralized and unmotivated.

12. You do not have a voice

Another clear sign of a toxic work environment is when you feel like you do not have a voice, you and your opinion are not considered and nobody is actually listening to what you say or might have to say.

13. Poor pay

Fair and equal pay are signs of a good work environment. If you feel like the work you do is not matched by your pay or see that you or your coworkers are paid unfairly and can’t ask for a raise, it will just demotivate you and give you no incentive to do your best work anymore.

14. Harassment

Experiencing any form of harassment is a serious sign of a toxic work environment and should not be tolerated at all. This may include discriminatory, personal, physical, power, online, sexual, quid pro quo, third party, psychological or verbal harassment.

No matter the type of harassment, this is a big red flag which needs to be addressed as soon as possible.

15. You’re not feeling safe

Your work environment should be a place where you can feel safe and welcomed.

If the place itself or the people working there make you feel uncomfortable and unsafe, these are all signs of a work environment which is not healthy.

16. No freedom and flexibility

In order to do your best work, you need to have some freedom and flexibility. Constraints and rules are good but not if they are too rigid and limit or even hinder your work.

If you feel like you can’t work in a way that works best for you and where you can work to your maximum capabilities but feel like you’re constantly limited and bound by constraints and rules, it might be a sign of a toxic work environment which is too controlling and limiting.

17. You bring work home

A toxic work environment does not only have an influence on you and your work at work, but it usually tends to make you bring the work home.

This can be in the form of actual work that you have to do after hours or at home, or you having the need to constantly vent to friends and family about things that stress you at work.

Be mindful about how much your private life is getting flooded with work-related stuff, and take action if needed.

18. Unrealistic expectations

Pushing yourself to the limit can sometimes be a good thing, but not if this happens on a constant basis. Having to continuously work under pressure trying to meet unrealistic expectations set by your boss or management, will lead one way or the other to burnout.

19. No support from HR

The first step to address issues related to a toxic work environment is usually talking to somebody working in the HR department. But what if there is no support from HR? If you can’t resolve the issue with the people directly involved and you can’t talk to HR about it so that actions can be taken and a solution be found, then there is little hope that things will improve in the long run.

20. No care for employee wellbeing

Lastly, many of the issues above are a sign that there is generally little, if none, care about the well-being of employees.

Does your organization initiate programs to build relationships among its employees, openly talk about and remove the stigma around mental health, have a healthy work culture which isn’t built on the hustle culture and provide the means to take care of your overall physical and mental health?

If there are no signs and efforts being made to safeguard the employee’s wellbeing then there are no measures in place to prevent the formation of a toxic work environment.

Avatar photo Written by Sabine

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