How to Spot a Toxic Workplace


Few things are more damaging than a toxic workplace. You spend a lot of your time at work, so you want the environment there to be encouraging, motivating, and at the very least, safe. But unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for workplaces to do more harm than good. 


Surprisingly, it can be hard to spot a toxic workplace. Employees might justify or try to explain away the unhealthy behavior, for a number of reasons. That’s why it’s so important to know how to recognize a toxic work environment when you see one.


Here are a few of the telltale signs.


Poor communication

Good communication is vital to any workplace. A lot of problems in a toxic workplace stem from a communication problem. Issues with communication often include:


  • Unclear project direction
  • Vague or hasty feedback
  • Infrequent communication between management and employees
  • Conflicting messages from various leaders
  • Unwillingness to listen

If you notice any of these problems regularly occurring in your workplace—especially if nothing is being done to correct them—it’s a good sign that the environment is toxic. 


Workplace politics

Toxic workplaces are usually full of harmful office politics. One big way this manifests itself is in cliques that exclude other people. This can be extremely morally damaging to employees that feel excluded or left out, especially if the group gossips or spreads rumors about others. Politics can also include:


  • Using unethical behavior to try to get ahead
  • Favoritism
  • Infighting
  • Drama


If these behaviors exist among employees, that is probably enough of a sign that the workplace is toxic. If managers and leaders are participating in these behaviors, the problem is even worse. 


Frequent burnout

Sometimes, the best way to recognize a toxic workplace is to look at the employees themselves. If employees are frequently burned out or experiencing low morale, there is likely something wrong with the workplace itself. Signs of burnout include:


  • Physical fatigue or illness
  • Low motivation
  • Feelings of dread surrounding work
  • Low satisfaction
  • High stress


These are all clear signs that employees are experiencing burnout, which in turn is a sign that the workplace may create an unhealthy environment. 


Disrespect for boundaries

Another big sign of a toxic workplace is disrespect for boundaries. Whether it’s a boss, managers, team leader, or coworker, it’s important for everyone you work with to respect the boundaries you’ve set for yourself. Disrespecting these boundaries might look like:


  • Contacting you after your work hours
  • Consistently trying to get you to work through your lunch break
  • Denying you deserved time off
  • Invasions of privacy
  • Any behavior that makes you uncomfortable (physically or otherwise)


If you’re caught in a toxic workplace, recognizing it is the first step to fixing it. Once you do recognize it, work with your company’s HR department to see if there’s anything that can be done about it. If the problems go on for too long, or if at any point you realize that a toxic environment is bringing you down, it’s probably time to consider finding a new job

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