12 Signs Of A Toxic Work Environment

Christina J Colclough

By Christina Colclough

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Walking into the office with a flurry of gossip and prying eyes from your co-workers, ever feel like you’re trapped in a daily grind of burnout and negativity? If yes, there is a high chance that you are part of a poisonous work environment.

Toxic Work Environment

Still unsure? Below are 12 surefire signs to help you envision how a toxic workplace looks!

12 Signs Of A Toxic Workplace & Tips To Deal

1. Lack Or Poor Communication

Lack Or Poor Communication

Effective communication sets the stage for the success of a team or a company. Ever feel like your boss isn’t on the same page? Or are there only scattered meetings among team members? If yes, a lack of communication might be brewing a toxic workplace. Here are some other red flags you can encounter:

  • Team discussions turn passive-aggressive.
  • You (or other co-workers) are unclear about the ongoing projects.
  • You receive different information compared to your colleagues.
  • Team members have weak listening and comprehension skills.
  • There are frequent chats or texts outside of work hours.

How To Deal

First, determine if the poor communication is from your boss or co-workers or is part of the culture. Let’s say the root cause is from one or several toxic employees. Bring this up in the next meeting. But when you see bad communication methods applied on a large scale, carefully plan for an exit, as they are the breeding ground for many other problems in an organization.

2. Role Confusion 

Contrary to a cut-and-dry job description with clear responsibilities and goals, you are now swamped with tons of workload out of nowhere. One minute, you’re crafting website copy; the next, you’re wrestling with design software for a marketing campaign.

This constant shifting can leave you feeling stressed, confused, and ultimately, undervalued. Such an unhealthy working environment also fuels team members’ conflicts and unhealthy competition and worries them about their manager’s expectations. In the end, this workplace dysfunction will lead to nowhere and might fail to meet the company’s objectives. 

How To Deal

Talk to your boss or team leader about this issue and ask for clearly defined responsibilities and goals for your position. Doing so will not only help you excel in your role but also ensure the team is working efficiently towards shared goals.

3. No Boundaries & Lack Of A Work-Life Balance

Tired exhausted fatigue business woman

A toxic culture exhibits no clear boundaries between work and life. Management sets high expectations for you and requires frequent OTs. The constant ping–pong of off-hour messages and never-ending email chain keep you on your toes all the time. 

Your life seems to revolve around work without space for your personal matters. This repetitive grind is the recipe to drain your energy and work ethic. You might even feel guilty just because of taking a well-deserved day off or switching off notifications on weekends. That’s an obvious indicator of a negative work environment.

How To Deal

Set up clear and healthy working hours with your boss. Be open with your management about whether you’re willing to work overtime. Discuss how focused work during your designated hours will lead to higher quality results and less overall time spent. If they still don’t respect your boundaries, that company is not the right fit for you.

4. Absence Of Mutual Trust

Picture this: You work in an office where your colleagues refuse to listen, and your boss closely keeps track of your actions. Sometimes, you might be kept in the dark about important decisions or other information in the company.

That lack of trust is definitely the fastest way to dampen your motivation, leaving you with a bunch of negative thoughts and doubts. Am I not good enough for their trust? But before you start questioning your abilities, consider this: the problem might be rooted in your workplace, not you.

How To Deal

The first thing you can do is schedule a one-on-one with your manager or colleague and express your concerns. This open communication can clear the air and help identify any underlying issues that might be hindering trust. Next, seek opportunities to team up with colleagues on projects. Working together towards a common goal fosters communication, understanding, and, ultimately, trust.

5. Bad Boss!

toxic boss

Well, this is an urgent sign! A toxic boss might appear differently in people’s eyes, for example:

  • They always ask for reports about what you’re doing.
  • They keep sending messages and emails and assigning tasks outside of work hours.
  • They rarely recognize your contributions but continually criticize you for your mistakes.
  • They undervalue your ideas and decisions.
  • They set unrealistic expectations for you.
  • They try to hog all the glory of the team.
  • They prioritize power over the team’s growth.

The list goes on, and a bad boss might exhibit even more red flags. 

How To Deal

It’s time to reach out to the company’s HR department about your boss’s poor leadership, or you can request a transfer within the company. Once you see little to no opportunities for growth in that workplace, go find a good boss elsewhere.

6. No Room For Mistakes

We all make mistakes and learn from them. However, a small error can take you from a respected and valued employee to the target of blame in a dog-eat-dog environment where all members strive to stay ahead of the curve. You might feel suffocating from chasing the rat race and always dreading mistakes and failures. 

Over time, employee morale will erode, leaving a hollow that’s only filled with anxiety. Working in such a blame-obsessed atmosphere hinders people from stepping out of their comfort zone, which can drag the team’s growth.

How To Deal

Self-reflection is crucial here. Course correction might be necessary if your mistakes are truly hindering the team. However, if your boss sees minor errors as excuses for relentless criticism rather than chances for growth, you might consider leaving that unhealthy environment.

7. Cliques, Gossips, Or Bullies

I know it’s uneasy to see a group of co-workers sipping their coffee, gossiping, and laughing behind your back. You become an outcast in all of their stories. Workplace bullying is even out of the question.

These toxic behaviors only lead to feelings of alienation and a communication breakdown, making the workplace more negative and stressful. Social isolation soon translates to poor communication and a drop in employee productivity. Here are some other signs to look out for:

  • Most of the working time is spent gossiping in group chats.
  • You feel estranged from other colleagues.
  • Most projects are only assigned to particular members of a team.

How To Deal

Ask yourself this question: Can you completely shield yourself from negativity? If yes, just focus on your work and stay out of all the drama. However, constantly dealing with a toxic environment can be draining; consider requesting a transfer to another team or department.

8. Unmotivated & Unsupportive Co-workers

Jobs For People With Social Anxiety

One way to determine if your workplace is unhealthy is to look around. Do your colleagues usually slouch on their chairs and mindlessly scroll through social media instead of working? Do they spend most of the workday chatting and eating? Do they let their tasks carry on from day to day? If it’s a yes to one or more of these questions, you’re likely surrounded by unmotivated colleagues—a clear indicator of a toxic environment. Believe it or not, this lack of drive is highly contagious, and the team’s productivity plummets as a result.

Likewise, an unsupportive workplace is full of blame, uncertainty, insecurity, pressure, frustration, and even anger, making it difficult to find one’s place there.

How To Deal

Keep a healthy distance from your colleagues! Be courteous, but limit unnecessary conversations. Respond only to them if they speak up first. Steering clear of those sources of negativity in the hostile work environment helps you concentrate on your work. 

9. The Shadow Of Gaslighting

Gaslighting is simply sowing seeds of doubt in you, making you question your perceptions or feelings. 

For example, you’ve completed research for the next product launch, but your boss claims they never gave you such an assignment. Or, you open up about how a coworker expresses discrimination on your black skin, but others keep telling you that he/she doesn’t mean to hurt you and that you are just overreacting.

Regardless, gaslighting can damage your self-esteem and work performance.

How To Deal

When facing these negative behaviors, it’s important to document instances of gaslighting as concrete proof. Additionally, consider talking to a trusted colleague or HR representative or even seeking external support.

10. High Turnover Rate

Need more solid evidence of a toxic workplace? Take a look at the company’s employee turnover rate. Even when the shadow of toxicity hasn’t embraced you yet, a high turnover rate offers a window into the rotten work environment, which might involve bad leadership, lack of direction, disorganization, or little to no opportunities. 

If one person leaves their job, the reason might stem from themselves. But once many employees quit, it’s a huge red flag you should pay attention to.

How To Deal

Reach out to the employees who quit their jobs or get fired and ask about the reasons behind them. If most problems come from the company, you should seek a new environment to pursue your career.

11. Constant Stress & Burnout

Mental Health Problems in work

Does the stress seem to follow you home? If you feel trapped in the relentless cycle of pressure and burnout, your workplace might be putting heavy pressure on your shoulders. While stress is normal when working, excessive and constant chronic stress can take a toll on your mental and physical health. 

Here are three types of burnout you might experience at work:

  • You feel bored and under-challenged, leading to a lack of motivation.
  • You have to deal with tons of workloads for an extended period of time.
  • You have put in much effort, energy, and time, but the results are not as expected.

How To Deal

Take a step back and embrace your inner self first. Prioritize what inspires you the most and spend quality time relaxing and healing. 

12. Little To No Room For Growth 

A great company should offer ample opportunities for employees to grow personally and professionally. If you have dedicated years working there but feel stagnant with no opportunities for advancement, like a salary raise, promotion, or learning new skills, that workplace might not be the right one for you. Working without clear career goals can easily strip away your morale and motivation. 

How To Deal

Take initiative and ask for new challenges at work, like a new project or transferring to a new branch, to see whether you can develop more. If not, seek chances at other companies.

FAQs

How Does An Unhealthy Workplace Affect Employees?

Working in an unhealthy environment for extended periods can take a real toll on employees’ well-being.  Excessive fatigue, depression, stress, anxiety, and burnout are all common consequences. A 2023 Work in America workforce survey revealed that 19% of the respondents considered their work environment toxic and 22% felt their workplace could lead to mental health issues. This leads to a significant drop in productivity. 

Is Working From Home Less Toxic?

Working from home doesn’t translate to less workplace toxicity. Your boss and coworkers’ negativity can travel through emails and video calls just as easily as through the office walls. Online meetings might make it harder for some to speak up. And there might be no boundaries when working remotely, such as receiving an email or a text from your manager outside of working hours.

Conclusion

I hope you can now determine if you are working in a toxic environment or not. Remember, while some stress is normal at work, it shouldn’t follow you home every day. If you feel suffocated, it’s time to reconsider whether the company culture is the right fit. Feel free to share any lingering thoughts you have—I’m all ears!


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Christina J Colclough

Christina J. Colclough

Dr Christina J. Colclough is an expert on The Future World of Work and the politics of digital technology advocating globally for the importance of the workers’ voice. She has extensive regional and global labour movement experience, is a sought-after keynote speaker, coach, and strategist advising progressive governments and worker organisations.

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