When an employee is in a toxic work environment, it can feel nearly impossible to get out of it.
Leaving a toxic work environment does have its challenges, but it can be successful when executed correctly. Even though there are multiple concerns – such as interruptions in career trajectory, concerns about stability for employees and their families, and potential financial implications – a toxic work environment is not good for anyone.
Signs of a Toxic Work Environment
There are common themes across industries that occur in a toxic work environment. Whether you are in engineering support at a technology company or mid-level management at a digital health firm – and anywhere in between – certain types of behaviors and situations can be present that make the day-to-day ultimately intolerable.
Common signs of a toxic work environment include:
Bad leadership can come in many forms. From the micro-manager that is constantly undermining and correcting employees, making it extremely difficult for workers to do their jobs, to the manager that always blames others for mistakes, never taking responsibility for their poor performance – bad leadership can lead to a dysfunctional, unhealthy, and even toxic work environment.
Multiple Co-Workers Who Are Suffering Burn-Out
Everyone has an occasional bad day at work. But when there are rampant problems with team members suffering burnout, and many people are unmotivated to conduct and complete their projects and adhere to their responsibilities, that is a big red flag. An individual may feel like they are alone in a “sinking ship,” but there could be many employees looking desperately for a “lifeboat.” Have conversations with co-workers to see how they experience the work culture (virtual or in the office).
If there is a “revolving door” for employees at the company, this is another red flag for a toxic work environment. When working for a large corporation, this might be a little more difficult to discover. Keeping an eye on job boards and communicating with connections in various departments can be incredibly helpful.
Harmful Office Gossip and Online Bullying
Interpersonal dynamics at work can make a big impact on job satisfaction (or dissatisfaction). Continual office gossip that causes strife, humiliation, and difficult relationships can be a real contributing factor to a toxic work environment. If most or all the employees are working from home, online bullying may occur. Disengage any bullies as soon as possible and do not participate in gossip in company chat rooms and message boards.
No Work/Life Balance
A huge motivation for leaving a toxic work environment is little or no work/life balance. A manager may expect employees to be available 24/7 for a client issue, company meeting, or complete a project outside of normal working hours. This balance has become increasingly difficult when working in a virtual environment from home where living rooms are offices, and there is nowhere to “punch out.”
Reasons for Leaving a Toxic Work Environment
When an employee questions whether to stay and deal with a toxic work environment or move on the greener pastures, there are several key things to consider.
Poor Physical & Mental Health
A toxic work environment can take a toll on physical health. Increased stress, particularly daily, can negatively affect sleep and diet, cause headaches, and other health problems. Mental health can also be affected, causing anxiety and other related issues that can impact the quality of life.
Stalled Growth & Limited Opportunities for Advancement
Trying to enhance a career in a toxic work environment is challenging. It is not uncommon for these unhealthy workplaces to have no or low growth options for employees. All of the above signs may also affect personal performance, contributing to an employee getting stalled in their career.
When Toxic Becomes Hostile
A workplace can be unhealthy and even toxic, but that does not mean your employer is breaking the law. When employment laws are broken due to employment discrimination and hostile work environments, work situations become truly untenable, and leaving the job may not only be the right decision, it could be necessary for an employee’s quality of life.
Hostile work environments occur where an employee (or group of employees) is subject to discrimination, offensive comments, bullying, or unwanted sexual advances — creating an oppressive, intimidating atmosphere where the employee may be even fearful of going to work because of the behavior of the harasser.
These are three primary areas that cause employees to leave their job in a toxic work environment. Other situations may also act as a motivating factor to make a change.
Leaving a Toxic Work Environment
When leaving a toxic work environment, continue working hard and being mindful of taking care of physical and mental health. Doing so will create a strong “springboard” for the next position. Making the decision can even act as a mood-booster and energizer, propelling employees to take actions to find a better job and a better fit.
Current employees seeking new employment should update their resume and LinkedIn with their most recent positions, accomplishments, and skills. If there is time, professional development courses are also a good action item to increase competitiveness, including technical, leadership, and managerial courses depending on the current industry and employment level.
Bouncing back after dealing with a toxic work environment is challenging but having a strategy and action plan is an excellent start to a new type of work life. It is normal to fret and complain about a toxic work environment but doing the due diligence it takes to escape a bad situation is an ego-booster and powerful motivator.
Be selective if financially possible. Taking the first available position might be jumping right into another unhealthy situation. If others in your business network have worked for the company that has the open position, talk with them about the workplace. Remember that revolving door?
Leaving a toxic work environment leads to deeper job satisfaction, a stronger career path forward, and a much better quality of life for employees and their families.