20 signs you have a toxic work environment

WHETHER you have a dysfunctional relationship with your boss, the turnover at your job is sky-high, or corporate culture is based on the survival of the fittest, you know something’s not right at work. Don’t be so quick to dismiss that gut feeling you have when faced with all these red flags. If you are feeling undervalued, undermined, and downright uncomfortable at work, chances are it’s not you, it’s them. The company or organization you work for might be toxic, and there are a few signs that point to this.

Toxic work environments are places where poor communication, conflict, unfair competition, undesirable leadership styles, discrimination, and exclusion reign. These workplaces make employees feel underheard, and negatively impact their psychological and physical well-being. Toxic environments are spaces where self-interest and disregard for others thrive. Drama, dysfunction, and a disrespect for others are all amplified in these types of professional environments. This is where employees are rarely seen or valued as people, and managers fail to step in to improve conditions. People working in a toxic culture will feel like they don’t belong, and that their ideas, needs, and contributions are being completely ignored.

So, if you’re wondering if the crushing weight of a toxic work environment has been the cause of your discontent at work as of late, take a look at the 20 signs you have a toxic work environment.


Constructive criticism comes in the form of insults

When co-workers and supervisors are enabled to act unprofessionally in the work environment, insulting one another rather than providing useful, constructive criticism, this signals a toxic workplace where hostility and resentment can brew. Managers can provide performance-related feedback to help define their expectations of their employees and offer actionable advice on how to respond to these expectations. It’s up to the leadership team and the corporate policies to ensure that this feedback is given in a respectful, just, and positive manner.


Company policies are unfair

Human rights codes for employment, like this one in Canada, protects professionals from discrimination or harassment due to such things as race, gender, sexual orientation, ethnic heritage, and more. With these legal protections in place, companies must embed diverse, equitable, and inclusive practices to create safe and just working environments where their employees feel seen, valued, and appreciated.

Company policies are not enforced

Companies are only as diverse, inclusive, and equitable as the policies they enforce. If they don’t actually walk the walk, organizations are only virtue signalling with empty promises. Companies need to enforce policies and procedures to promote respectful, equitable, and inclusive behaviour in the workplace in an effort to create a safe working environment that leaves no room for toxicity.

Your boss has undesirable leadership skills

In many cases, people don’t leave bad jobs or companies, they leave bad bosses. Toxic work environments tend to nurture leaders with undesirable skills, traits, and management styles. Toxic bosses exhibit certain traits, like low emotional intelligence, lack of accountability, and reactive decision-making. This type of leadership has impacts on productivity and team morale.

Your boss is abusive

Verbal, psychological, physical or sexual abuse should not be tolerated in any environment. One study discovered that workplace psychological aggression has an impact on job performance and an employee’s overall health and attitude toward the job. While more and more companies provide protections from physical abuse and harassment, it is verbal, psychological and sexual abuse—and harassment—that continue to exist in toxic work environments.

Your co-workers are unprofessional

Gossip, cliques, and all the worst aspects of high school can infiltrate your work environment, rendering it completely toxic. If co-workers throw each other under the bus rather than collaborate and band together, it’s important to recognize whether or not this is nurtured from the bottom up or the top down. If leadership turns a blind eye to this behaviour, or joins in on the gossip, you can take steps to stop perpetuating this type of culture by actively avoiding office gossip and being transparent with your co-workers at all times.


You feel undervalued

You’ve developed negative self-talk and you frequently undermine your worth and your work in conversations. This could be one of the signs you are being gaslighted and undervalued by your supervisor. You might be feeling like the work you do each day has no meaning or purpose. This has serious implications on your mental health and overall happiness at work. There are things you can do to steer clear of this feeling, like bringing more visibility to your work, encouraging others to do great work, and talking to someone you can trust.

Your health has become a concern

People who are undervalued or fighting to survive in their own work environment tend to experience more health problems. A toxic environment can literally make you sick. There are things that happen to your body when you hate your job, like sleeplessness, headaches, muscle pains, stomach issues, and a host of mental health concerns.


There’s no such thing as work-life balance

Many people experienced burnout, physical discomfort, and work-life conflict as a result of working from home during the pandemic, according to one survey. You may have had troubles balancing your work and personal life well before the global health crisis. Sometimes the companies and leadership teams in toxic work environments will demand that employees devote all their time and attention to work. That’s when many professionals experience difficulties managing their personal lives, family obligations, and any opportunities for self-care. This caused many women in the workplace to experience burnout as they took on the brunt of household tasks and childcare while balancing their careers during the lockdowns.

There’s no respect for your boundaries

It’s crucial for one’s mental health and performance to set boundaries at work. In toxic environments, not only is work-life balance not achievable, there are no boundaries. Calls and emails on the weekends, late-night requests, overtime, and a host of other boundary-busting actions by employers can lead to high burnout levels, and even higher turnover. There are ways to set firm boundaries at work, starting by being clear, concise, and identifying non-negotiables like time off on statutory holidays.

There is no psychological safety at work

Psychological safety in the workplace refers to an environment where employees can openly and comfortably express their ideas and feedback without fear of negative repercussions. Companies that prioritize this are more innovative, adaptive to change, and enjoy the benefits of diversity.

The lines of communication are severed or broken

There are no excuses for poor communication in a working environment. With more tools to communicate than ever before, companies can adapt to everything from remote work to dynamic workflows and ever-changing deadlines. Leaders, especially, need to communicate the details of a task or project, ask the right questions, and determine what their employees need to get a job done. Failure to do so can cause managers to micro-manage and steamroll their teams, and ultimately, cause their teams to miss milestones and fall short of goals.


You don’t want to go to work

Have you been wanting to call in sick more often? Perhaps you have been on auto-pilot at work. If you find yourself waking up every morning dreading the workday, this is common; however, it’s not something you should completely disregard. According to Psychology Today, there could be a few reasons why you don’t want to go to work. In addition to burnout and work-life balance issues, which are both typical of a toxic workplace, factors like your perception of what work should be, how you get along with your co-workers, and the connection you have with the actual work all play a part in your attitude towards your profession. Time to get out your journal and write out some of the issues that are plaguing your 9-to-5.

 Your colleague takes credit for your work

If you have heard whispers that a colleague you have been collaborating with is presenting your ideas to senior management as their own, then you’ve got a problem. If this is part of the culture, and you’re not the only one whose work goes unnoticed or miscredited, then this has got toxicity written all over it. If the same people are being applauded for work they only partially did, and none of their collaborators come up in the conversation, this kind of toxicity can eat at an employee’s self-worth, job satisfaction, and productivity. To avoid becoming the office pushover, confront your co-worker and prevent them from stealing the credit for your work.


Your supervisor is holding you back

Harvard Business Review suggests that a boss who won’t advocate for you can block your career opportunities and interfere with your professional growth. Your boss doesn’t have to be your mentor, coach, or biggest champion, but if they are clipping your wings and getting in the way of your career trajectory, then you will need to seek out support from other people within the organization if you want to continue rising through the ranks. While you’re seeking a mentor and guide, make sure to document all interactions with your current boss in case you need to provide evidence that they have been holding you back.


Your feedback and ideas are ignored

If your ideas and feedback are being completely disregarded, there could be systemic and organizational factors at play. For marginalized professionals, speaking up in a boardroom can be a challenge, especially if the work culture does not already make space for their voices. In a toxic work environment where most underrepresented and underheard professionals aren’t even invited to the table, this exclusion can lead to reduced productivity, and even loss in profits. Companies that value diversity and inclusion perform better, and diversity of thought leads to more innovation, says a study.


Workplace conflict is encouraged

When you bring people from different backgrounds, experience levels, and walks of life together to work on a project, you are inevitably going to encounter conflict at some point or another. A toxic work environment that encourages conflict will see this culture spread throughout the organization, affecting customer relations, collaboration, and stress levels. Whether an organization is dealing with issues like a manager’s leadership style, conflicts with customers, personality clashes, or discrimination, effectively managing conflict can help a company make its employees feel heard, seen, and safe.

 You are being micro-managed

When the pandemic lockdowns caused a massive shift to remote work, employees reported more headaches with their managers. Managers that were slow to adapt to the remote working conditions feared that their staff would slack off or lose motivation. This led many leaders to resort to micro-management, hampering creativity and causing resentment. In toxic work environments, employees don’t feel empowered and feel like their every move is being scrutinized.


Loved ones have noticed you’re unhappy

If we spend a third of our adult lives at work, and we are miserable during that time, it’s easy to see how this could permeate other parts of our lives, making us miserable all the time. If loved ones have expressed concerns for your long hours, your mood swings, and your overall unhappiness at work, it’s not something you should ignore. Sure, they are not in your position, nor do they know what goes down each day in your job, but they have the advantage of seeing the signs that you’re miserable at work as outsiders looking in. By checking in with your physical, emotional, and relational well-being, you can determine if you’re heading in the right direction or steering into full-blown burnout territory.


Microaggressions aren’t called out

Microaggressions in the workplace not only cause toxicity in the culture and ranks, over time they can compound to impact an employee’s experience, as well as physical and psychological well-being, says the Harvard Business Review. Microaggressions can come in the form of casual statements like “I don’t see colour” or “your name is so exotic.” By deterring a culture of inclusion, they can make co-workers feel “othered” and reinforce white privilege. When leaders and management do not confront these microaggressions through inclusive practices, it undermines the damage these interactions can have on their employees, further fuelling a toxic culture.—EsspressoCommunication




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