You may experience a “bumps in the road” at work. Bad weeks happen. But if you are in a toxic work environment, it is relentlessly stressful and can make a huge impact on your professional and home life.
What is a toxic work environment? Multiple signs serve as a “caution light” if you can recognize them.
Are You In A Toxic Work Environment?
1. High Turnover at Your Workplace
Turnover is one of the biggest telltale signs of a toxic workplace. If your company is constantly having people quit and needing to rehire and onboard new employees, there is an issue larger than one person, or a “bump in the road” driving this pattern. It is more than you personally having major difficulty at work.
2. Poor and/or Unhealthy Communication
Communication is essential in the workplace. Employees need to have clarity on the parameters of projects, their roles, and their employers’ expectations to do their jobs well and thrive. When managers and even colleagues do notcommunicate well, or there is different messaging to team members, the workflow is difficult and stressful.
Some managers will engage in passive-aggressive communication patterns that can leave you constantly on edge. They may be terrible listeners or primarily provide negative feedback, attempting to hold you accountable for goals that were not appropriately communicated to you, which can promote a toxic work environment that is untenable.
3. Sick Employees
Do people at your workplace frequently call in sick? High levels of stress can do a lot of harm to our physical and mental health. It can contribute to poor sleeping patterns, fatigue, and anxiety and lead to burnout. A toxic work environment can wreck our bodies and make it difficult to perform well. Even worse, people may often feel like they have to come into work when they are sick, risking their team members’ health as well.
4. No Work/Life Balance
Whether you go into the office or work from home, you have a right to a work/life balance. In a toxic work environment, it is not uncommon for managers to make it difficult for employees to take any leave – bullying or making them feel guilty for taking their rightful paid leave to make a doctor’s appointment, go to their child’s ball game, or just take a personal day to rest.
They may expect you to be available 24/7, “In case something important comes up.” They may require you to attend meetings or make lead generation calls outside of your normal working hours. If this sounds familiar, you could have a toxic work environment.
5. Growth Suppression
Healthy workplaces typically have good mobility. You work hard and perform well – you have the opportunity to move up the ranks. You may be in a toxic work environment if growth is not supported or continually suppressed. There is no mentorship or coaching that supports your professional growth and serves as a contributor to overall organizational strength.
6. Consistent Infighting
Does your workplace feel like high school? Are cliques prevalent and rumors rampant? It is not uncommon for coworkers to be competitive with one another, which can encourage high performance. But when the work culture is defined by people gossiping, spreading rumors, and consistently infighting, this could be a sign of a toxic or hostile work environment.
Does your boss encourage this type of behavior between teams? Some managers intentionally pit people against each other, encouraging infighting and malicious behavior in an unhealthy attempt to drive sales goals.
7. Leaders That Feel They Are Above the Rules
One of the most difficult things to experience in a toxic work environment is dealing with leaders that feel they are above the rules. They always think they are right. They expect you to agree with everything they say. They are narcissistic.
These leaders are often bullies and can create a toxic work environment, behaving in ways that can violate employment laws against harassment and discrimination. Their behaviors usually intensify over time if they are not held accountable.
Have you been repeatedly bullied and berated at work by a leader who feels they are above the rules? No one deserves this.
8. Unmotivated & Unenthusiastic Coworkers
Observe how other people act in your workplace or virtual work environment. Do your colleagues seem stressed, unfocused, and unhappy? Do they ever smile on your Zoom calls? They may be feeling similar feelings as you do but are just not saying it.
You may notice a lack of enthusiasm about projects, with people trying to pass off work, wanting to take excessive breaks, or scrambling and barely meeting deadlines because they just were not motivated to get the project completed, a prime example of an unhealthy workplace.
How to Deal with a Toxic Work Environment
Most people do not have the luxury to immediately quit a job when they have a toxic work environment. But there are things that employees can do to control the situation — and create a path for a better future.
Communicate with your coworkers. — If you feel you are in an unhealthy situation, there are most likely others. Reach out, make friends, and communicate in safe spaces about your concerns. There could very well be an institutional problem that needs to be dealt with. It will also give you much-needed support.
Document. Document. Document. — Keep track of what is happening at work. Save emails, memos, reviews. Make notes of meetings, who attended, and any conversations you felt may have been inappropriate, offensive, or filled with bullying language. This type of documentation is extremely valuable if you (or a group of people) file a lawsuit against your employer.
Seek out strategies to relieve stress. — Try varying ways to blow off steam after tough days at work. From playing silly games with your kids to working out to meditation in a quiet room, you need to allow yourself some time to relieve stress while you are figuring out what comes next.
Make a plan. — Consider what is right for your situation. If the situation has become untenable, begin your new job search. If you feel that your employer violated your and/or your coworkers’ employee rights, consult with an employment law attorney. Taking action will help relieve current stress and give you the peace of mind that you will not have to deal with a toxic work environment much longer.
Taking a “bridge” job for financial reasons to get out of an intolerable situation, including bullying or harassment, might be a good option for you as well. No one deserves to stay in a toxic or hostile environment, taking the punishment day after day. You should not have to continue to work in a constantly unhealthy environment due to fear of losing your job. Consider your options carefully, and then take the next step to a better future.