6 Signs of a Toxic Work Environment

By: Maysa Mohamed

All jobs have some level of stress, even on good days. However, if going to work (or just the thought of going to work) makes you tired, depressed, or even physically ill, that’s more than just general work stress; these are the signs of a toxic work environment.


The signs to look out for:


Employee Sickness: Toxic workplaces lead to employee burnout, fatigue, and illness due to high levels of stress that wreak havoc on our bodies. If people are calling in sick or worse, are working sick, that’s a good sign of a toxic work environment.


Narcissistic Leadership: Your superior’s demand that you always agree with them, tell them they’re right, and feel they’re above the rules. They expect everyone else to be perfect while they can meet lower standards.


Little to No Enthusiasm: Look around the office. Is anyone happy to be working there? Is anyone smiling? Are conversations positive and upbeat? Is anyone talking at all? A ”no” to these questions equals toxicity.

Lack of Communication or Negative Communication: You and others don’t get the necessary information to do your job. You work hard with no positive feedback and no recognition, and you might even be told to be glad you have a job at all.

High Turnover: When the work environment has nothing good to offer except dysfunction, poor morale, and sickness, people will start heading for the door to find a better situation. If you notice a high turnover rate in your company or department, take that as a sign of a toxic workplace.


Cliques, Gossip, and Rumors: Everyone seems to be out for themselves, and there are no genuine friendships among employees. There’s lots of infighting and paranoia as well as gossip and rumors.

How to handle a toxic work environment:

Since it takes time to find a new job and you can’t just walk away from this difficult situation immediately, it helps to develop ways to handle the dysfunction until you can step into a new job somewhere else:


- Find people who feel the same way you do. Develop friendships with people who feel the same way as you. The hope is that you’ll watch each other’s back and will share any news with the group.


- Do something after work that can help relieve stress. Go to the gym, do home repairs, or learn a new skill. The key is to make sure you’re living a fulfilling life outside of work to combat the drama of your 9 to 5.


- Create lists to keep yourself busy. A list can help you stay focused on your tasks instead of the toxic atmosphere and gives you a reason to keep going every day.

- Document everything you do. Save emails and write down comments and decisions from meetings, phone calls, and every person who interacts with you. If you need to file a complaint, you will need the evidence to back your claim.


- Start your exit strategy. It is possible that things could improve at your job, in which case it might make sense to stay. However, while waiting it out, begin your search for a new job. This will help you stay positive when things get rough. If you needed to leave yesterday, consider a bridge job that will keep you active while you find something in line with your career.


Knowing the signs of a toxic work environment and how to handle it will allow you to take your next step on your terms and in your time — so your next job will be a place you truly enjoy working.

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