We spend the majority of our days at work, which is why it’s so important to be employed somewhere where you align with the office culture and where the environment is good for your mental health. While it’s normal to have a bad day at the office, it’s not normal to hate the people that you work with and the behaviors that they exhibit. A toxic workplace is dysfunctional, emotionally exhausting, anxiety triggering, and simply unhealthy. 

If you think you may be working in a toxic environment, it’s important that you take action accordingly to protect yourself and your wellbeing. This article covers 10 red flags that you’re in a toxic workplace and explains how to deal with a toxic work environment. 

What is a toxic workplace? 

You know you’re in a toxic workplace when your place of employment becomes harmful to your mental health. Often, a toxic workplace is unproductive, dysfunctional, and stressful. Whether there’s excessive gossip, bullying or harassment,  or insensitive comments being made in your workplace, if your work environment makes you feel terrible about yourself, it’s toxic. In some instances, the leader in charge is on a power trip and bullies subordinates as a boost to the ego. In other instances, the company culture is founded on unhealthy and unrealistic work practices. Whether it feels abusive, inconsiderate, or mean, a toxic work environment is dangerous for your mental and physical health, and impedes on your happiness and satisfaction at work, as well as your personal life. 

Take note

Having regular one-on-one’s in Fellow will help build stronger relationships and provide an opportunity to give and receive feedback.

10 signs of a toxic workplace 

1 Buzzwords in job listings

Look for buzzwords or descriptive words used in job listings. This is going to give you some insight into the company’s culture, values, and expectations. Pay attention to how companies talk about themselves, what their company mission is, and what they pride themselves on. Be careful if you come across descriptions such as “work hard play hard environment” and “requires some late nights and weekends.” These descriptions may signal a toxic work environment. A considerate company might have buzzwords like “lasting relationships,” “care deeply,” and “support” in their job descriptions.

Learning how to decode job advertisements is important for reasons entirely unrelated to impressing the hiring manager with your resume and cover letter. Once you understand what the various buzzwords mean, you’ll have insight into the company’s culture, values, and expectations—all of which will help you figure out whether you really want to work there. 

2 Poor attitudes

If the people you work with have bad attitudes, there’s going to be negative energy in the office that’s going to feel uncomfortable. When there’s a somewhat somber vibe in the office, productivity, efficiency, and communication will be affected. No one is going to want to ask questions, share opinions, or ask for help from someone with a terrible attitude. 

3 Fear of failure

It’s normal to avoid making mistakes, but when you have a deep-rooted fear of making a mistake, that’s not healthy. Your workplace should be a place to learn and grow and in order to do so, you’re bound to make mistakes and occasionally slip up along the way to achieving your goals. If your mistakes at work make you feel threatened, and especially if these mistakes often result in punishments of some kind, this is a major red flag that you’re working in a toxic environment. 

4 High turnover rate

Before you take a job, do your research and look into signs of management turnover and previous employees on LinkedIn. On LinkedIn, see if you know anyone who has ever worked at the prospective company, find out how long they were there, and get in touch with them to hear about their experience. Read sites such as Glassdoor and Indeed that share employer reviews to gain a sense of what it’s like to work for the organization. High turnover is another indication of a toxic environment. 

5 Communication issues 

If you work somewhere that has persisting and constant communication issues, there is likely going to be a lot of confusion around the office, which will turn into a huge lack of motivation. How could you possibly feel driven when you’re not sure what you’re doing or what’s expected of you? Some examples of poor communication in the office, besides a general lack of communication, are: a constant lack of clarity on projects, passive-aggressive comments, poor listening skills, constant communication at odd hours, and different people receiving various messages that do not align. Communication can be improved by regular meetings and using a tool like Fellow can help by giving you a clear purpose for each meeting, a space to take notes and have a meeting history to look back on. 

6 Unclear roles and responsibilities 

If no one is clear on their roles and responsibilities, you’ve got an issue. Dysfunction and confusion are two major red flags for a toxic workplace, and they are often the result of poorly defined roles and responsibilities. Negative work environments are notorious for lacking trust and effective communications, which is why crossed wires become common and people are left out of the loop. Collaboration therefore becomes really difficult and relationships lack honesty, trust, and transparency. 

7 Poor leadership skills 

When an organization has poor leadership skills, it’s almost inevitable that toxicity will surface in the workplace. Bad bosses have many defining and different characteristics. Whether your boss is a chronic micro-manager who doesn’t trust your decisions; someone who doesn’t respect your time outside of your working hours, doesn’t take the time to know your name or what you do; someone who is very quick to blame mistakes and shortcoming on others; or someone who treats you like their personal secretary when you’re in a completely different role, they’re all toxic and you deserve better. 

8 Stifled growth opportunities

If you feel as if you’re at the same competency level as when you first started your job, there’s an issue. The inability to move forward or acquire new skills is a type of toxicity that can be extremely discouraging and make your work feel purposeless. When your movement within the organization ceases or stops, it’s a sign of a much bigger organizational problem. If you have approached the issue with your manager several times and continue to receive ambiguous responses with no action, it may be time to consider a new job. 

9 No work-life balance

Work is not your life, nor should it feel like it is. We all deserve to have a full life outside of the office so we can feel happy and fulfilled. If you feel guilty for not immediately answering an email that you receive after dinner; you feel nervous to take the vacation days you’ve earned; or you’re terrified of going to a dental or doctor’s appointment during the day, you’re probably in a toxic workplace. Having a work-life balance is essential for all of us. Being available and on-call at all times isn’t healthy or realistic. 

10 Unfair practices 

The worst kind of toxicity anyone could possibly experience has to do with unfair practices. Worse than toxic work environments, these are hostile environments where the actions within the organization may even be illegal. If you or anyone you know at work has ever been sexually harassed or excluded on the bases of race or sex; had negative comments made about their sexual orientation, race, age or disability;  or experienced bullying, and especially if there is no such thing as human resources, there is a major issue at hand that needs to be addressed. The best way to address any issue of this nature is to speak to someone high up in leadership. If this communication fails, you’re better off looking for a healthy, comfortable, and fair place to work. 

How to deal with a toxic work environment 

1 Focus on what you can control

  • Ask yourself if you have control over the situation
  • Focus on controlling your own behavior and reactions 
  • Stay focused on the decisions in which you have a say
  • Avoid situations that make you frustrated and drain your energy

2 Document everything 

  • Keep accurate records of your work and all conversations 
  • Track all decisions that are made during meetings and conversations 
  • Copy and paste any negative or inappropriate messages into a private document that you can present to HR if you need to 

3 Stay aligned with expectations

  • Stay aligned with what has been asked of you, but more importantly with your own expectations that you hold for yourself 
  • Be realistic about your goals 
  • Track your success by asking for feedback 

4 Provide honest feedback 

  • Speak up in any opportunities to provide feedback (like during surveys, one-on-one meetings, performance reviews, or at the end of meetings) 
  • Request feedback from leadership 
  • Request to give feedback on projects 

5 Consider your next move

  • Focus on networking in your current job 
  • Acquire as many new skills and competencies as you can before your move 
  • Explore other opportunities with reputable companies if necessary 

Parting advice 

You truly deserve better than to work in a toxic workplace, where you dread going to work every day. There are so many organizations out there who will value, support, and guide you in a fulfilling work experience and career. Be aware of the signs of a toxic workplace so that you can try to mitigate them or begin to prepare for your next career move. Your mental and physical health is more important than anything else, especially your job. Put yourself and your fundamental needs first. If your needs aren’t being met, it’s time to make a move.