Top 7 Signs of a Toxic Work Environment and How to Handle It

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ZipJob Team

7 min read

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In a perfect world, the workplace would feel like a pleasant, respectful, and mission-focused environment. Employees would be free to focus on using their talents to the best of their abilities, in pursuit of a singular common goal. In such an ideal environment, the only stress would be directly related to the job.

Unfortunately, this is not a perfect world. Far too often, the workplace can be a negative environment that disrupts every area of your life. In such a toxic workplace environment, it’s almost impossible for employees to achieve their true potential.

Note for remote workers: a toxic workplace can also be a toxic workplace culture. You don’t have to physically be in an office to feel the effects of workplace toxicity. In fact, working from home makes the repercussions of a toxic work environment more insidious because you don’t have the buffers of space or time.

Here are the top seven signs of a toxic workplace environment, and three tips to help you handle it. 

What is a toxic work environment?

A toxic workplace is any work environment where the people, culture, and atmosphere are so negative that it disrupts the company’s efforts and even spills over into employees’ personal lives. Sadly, however, too many people fail to recognize the signs of toxicity. Fewer still understand how to fix a toxic work environment.

Often the first signs indicating that something is amiss manifest as physical symptoms for the employee. 

  • You may struggle to sleep at night, as your mind lingers on negative emotions from work. 

  • Sometimes, you may even feel unsafe, on edge, or suffer from a sense of impending dread. 

  • Your stress levels may increase, affecting your eating habits and overall mental health. 

These health problems are all symptoms of the workplace toxin leaching into unrelated aspects of your personal life.

Toxic work environment 2

When you experience any of these physical symptoms, it’s important to take time to determine whether your workplace has become toxic. Begin by considering the chief toxic work environment characteristics, and whether your workplace exhibits those attributes.

The 7 top signs of a toxic work environment:

1. Ineffective leadership

One of the most obvious signs of a toxic work environment involves ineffective leadership. Ask yourself:

  • Are the leaders and managers in your company narcissists?

  • Has my boss created multiple standards that are applied unequally?

  • Do they reject constructive criticism and only listen to their own counsel?

  • Worse, are they neglectful and dismissive toward subordinates?

If the answers to any of these questions is yes, it’s almost a given that their attitudes help to foster a toxic work environment.

2. A lack of positive communication

You might also notice a breakdown in positive communication among your colleagues and managers. 

  • Is there low morale? 

  • Are people ignoring their co-workers around the office? 

  • Do managers focus only on the negative, offering little positive reinforcement? 

That too could indicate a hostile workplace environment. These breakdowns in communication become especially damaging in the case of remote work environments. Yes, you can be part of a toxic remote workplace! Look for signs of remote workplace toxicity like lack of trust, lack of empathy, and lack of transparency. 

3. Office cliques

If your formerly cohesive office has now broken down into cliques, then that’s definitely toxic. These types of environments usually create inter-office conflict among employees, as well as a culture that thrives on office gossip and resentment.

4. Persistent absences due to sickness

A toxic work environment is so stressful that it can make people physically ill. If your office has a higher rate of sick leave, chances are that’s the reason. The employees are likely to feel burned out and fatigued.

5. Increased turnover

Toxic work environments are often characterized by a high rate of employee turnover. Many people simply quit rather than deal with such toxic workplaces. High turnover is especially prevalent in the technology, media, and retail industries.

When you see your company’s turnover rate rise, you can bet that toxicity is at least part of the reason why.

6. Decline in employee enthusiasm and engagement

In a toxic work environment, you may be so depressed that you fail to recognize that you’re not alone in those sentiments. 

  • Are your co-workers less-than-enthusiastic these days? 

  • Has there been a decline in input during meetings? 

  • Is there a general sense of malaise? 

That’s a sure sign that the workplace has become toxic.

7. You no longer feel welcome

When was the last time you felt as though you were appreciated and welcome at your company? When you feel out-of-sorts, underappreciated, or just unwelcome, consider that a clear sign that your workplace is a toxic environment. Even if you’re the only one who feels that way, it’s still a toxic work environment for you.

3 ways to deal with a toxic workplace

You might wonder how you can fix a toxic work environment or survive a hostile work environment. The best option often involves escaping a toxic work environment and never looking back, but that’s not always something you can do right away. 

Here are some tips to help you deal with a work environment that has become toxic.

1. Find ways to relieve your work stress

That could mean exercise, walks in the park, or a new hobby. Just find some way to get your mind off work during your personal time and improve your overall well being.

Look for opportunities to set healthy boundaries between work and not work, whether that is a full disconnect from emails and Slack or limiting your availability outside of working hours.

If you’re working remotely, consider adding in a buffer such as a dedicated place for work (and only work) or a “fake commute.” Your work from home commute can be a walk around the block before and after your work day, a quick drive, or another ritual that helps you separate the time you spend on and off the clock.

2. Look for co-workers feeling the same way

In a toxic work environment, it’s usually easy to find others who are affected by the negativity. Sometimes, talking it out with each other can help, and ensure that you don’t feel all alone. Be sure to leave the office environment--or office chat room--before you start ragging on your employer, though!

3. Plan your escape route

Obviously, you can work to try to improve conditions, but a toxic work environment usually doesn’t change easily or quickly. As a result, it’s vital that you consider your options and start to improve your resume to look for a better opportunity. Be discrete but start preparing for the next stage of your career. Sometimes, having a plan can help you push through the worst days.

Summary

Once you identify your workplace as a toxic work environment, it’s up to you to act. In some instances, that work culture may turnaround, but it won’t happen overnight. Meanwhile, you will need to either learn to cope or start looking for a new job. In the end, the important thing is to recognize the problem and choose your own solution.

Use your experience to redefine your professional goals so you can avoid toxic workplaces in the future. You might find some additional useful advice in this article from FairyGodBoss: “4 Ways To Tell A Job Is Actually A Fit *Before* You Apply.”

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Written by

ZipJob Team

The ZipJob team is made up of professional writers and career experts located across the USA and Canada with backgrounds in HR, recruiting, career coaching, job placement, and professional writing.

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