For quite a number of people, the workplace can be like a second home. You spend the majority of your waking hours dedicated to your work, hitting targets, and building a great career. Your co-workers and team may likely be the people you interact with the most in your life, after family or a spouse. In fact, some of your best friendships and relationships are from your workplace. In spite of the psychologically safe haven your workplace offers, we all have bad days at work －those days where things just don’t go as planned and work stalls. We have those days where we feel burnt out or just plain tired and we want to sleep in. These are normal occurrences even in the best of workplaces and in itself, that’s not a problem at all. A toxic workplace, however, is a whole new level.
It’s impossible to be effective and feel fulfilled in a toxic workplace environment. Regardless of whether you work remotely or not, a negative work environment can affect you because toxic workplaces transcend physical walls. A positive or negative work environment is more of an emotional atmosphere that can extend beyond physical walls; an intangible quality of the workplace. Everything from your self-esteem to your personal life can be affected by the intangible qualities that classify the workplace as healthy or unhealthy. It is why it is important to identify a toxic workplace early on in order to protect yourself. I have personally worked in a toxic workplace for about two years and in those two years, my mental health deteriorated so badly that by the time I quit, I had to undergo a healing process. It is why this article is very dear to my heart. Here are seven common signs of a toxic workplace based on my experience:
1. Employee turnover rates are high:
Loyalty is one of the virtues many organizations enjoy from their employees when they take the well-being of employees into consideration. It becomes even more difficult to leave a workplace when you find fulfillment and psychological safety there. When you hear about high employee turnover rates in an organization, it’s best to put your antenna out to find out why this is so. You just might be walking into a thunderstorm.
2. You have a narcissistic boss [or colleagues]:
This is one of the most emotionally draining experiences in a toxic workplace because it is tricky to spot. Narcissistic bosses/colleagues expect that you always agree with them, tell them they’re right, and do not respect the rules. They set stringent standards and expect perfection from everyone else but themselves. While they hold others to a higher standard, they fall way below those standards they set and even go as far as justifying their actions. A narcissist loves showing everyone that he or she is in charge by wielding their power. They usually won’t be willing to lend a hand to help with tasks or give you credit for a job well done. If you feel as if your boss would expect you to come to work even if you were on your deathbed, you might be experiencing a tyrannical and toxic boss. Run!!!
3. There’s poor communication:
Communication is the lifeblood of any relationship, even more, in the workplace. A breakdown in communication is very costly. It can make you feel literally incompetent and position you for failure. Do you feel like you’re left out of the loop regarding important information? Yet, when a problem emerges from that pervasive communication, you’re blamed for it? That’s a red flag right there. A pervasive lack of communication characterizes most toxic workplaces. You may get little to no feedback about your performance, and when you do, it’s often negative and harsh — not the constructive type. Also, you may be doing the work of two, three, or four people, yet it’s not unusual for your boss or colleagues to take credit for your accomplishments. This is one easy sign to spot!
4. No growth systems in place:
Nothing is more frustrating for a career person than stagnancy. Many start-ups begin without clear-cut roles and you may sometimes find yourself managing multiple roles at a time. That’s not entirely a problem. It’s one of the advantages that start-ups bring; allowing you to have a feel of all the departments before deciding on what role suits you. However, when there are no progressive growth opportunities [after a period of time for startups], something isn’t right. Here is a litmus test. Have you approached management or HR several times regarding a lack of recognition and growth opportunities (such as promotions, raises, and challenging assignments), and have seen no changes? If you said yes, it may be time to leave.
5. You’re told to feel “Lucky You Have A Job”:
If you’ve ever heard this statement from your boss, it’s a major red flag. Your boss feels like they’re doing you a favour which isn’t the case. It’s a trade; value and time for a salary. Without you, his/her business will crumble because no entrepreneur or company can run his/her organization without help. It’s impossible. This scare tactic is a means of threatening you into staying in a marginalized position and is symptomatic of an organization that thrives on bullying behaviour and control. You’re not lucky to have a job. You have value to deliver. They’re lucky to have you as much as you’re lucky to have them. It’s a mutually beneficial relationship.
6. Dysfunction is normalized:
Do meetings feel like a waste of time, inevitably devolving into disorganized chaos where nothing gets accomplished? How disjointed and inefficient are the company’s operations? Toxic workplaces are full of confusion, arbitrary deadlines, lack of focus, and a general malaise that “this is the way it’s always been done.” Colleagues forming gossip cliques is also another form of dysfunction. The experience of working in a clique-dominated office can feel like going back to high school where you feel a sense of anxiety and paranoia that your colleagues are discussing you behind your back. They turn what should be a friendly workplace competition into a hostile, dog-eat-dog situation. Rumours and gossip are always circulating around the office; misunderstandings, favouritism, and infighting are commonplace. It’s not normal, this is toxicity.
7. Sexual Harassment
A situation is considered sexual harassment when an employee, supervisor, customer, coworker, and/or manager tells inappropriate jokes, talks in lewd innuendos, or touches you inappropriately. In many toxic workplaces, sexual harassment is a major occurrence. Unfortunately, when employees are on the receiving end of this harassment, it is difficult for them to open up or talk about it because of the fear of being sacked or not believed. The importance of not downplaying or ignoring incidents of sexual harassment, however, cannot be overstated. It should be reported to your human resources department and/or the appropriate authorities. You may feel ashamed or guilty and experience complicated emotions, but remember that sexual harassment is never your fault and you have a right to be in a workplace that is free of harassment.
There are many more signs that can alert you to the prevalence of a toxic workplace culture but you must learn to rely greatly on your instincts too because not everything is black and white. There are a lot of grey areas that only you can identify. If your intuition says, “DANGER!”, trust that something is off. What other signs do you suppose characterizes a toxic workplace? What are your thoughts?