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

Aug 18, 2020

Written by Caitlin Proctor

Written by Caitlin Proctor

Career Expert, ZipJob

An average of 250 resumes are sent for a single opening. See how Zipjob uses professional writers and technology to get your resume noticed.

In a perfect world, the workplace would be 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 that 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 work environment, it’s almost impossible for employees to achieve their true potential.

Here are the top 7 signs of a toxic work environment, and 3 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 health. These are all symptoms of the workplace toxin leaching into unrelated aspects of your 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?
  • Have they 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 so, 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 peers and managers. Are people ignoring their co-workers? Do managers focus only on the negative, offering little positive reinforcement? That too could indicate a toxic work 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 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, as well as a culture that thrives on 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 environments. 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? 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 things you can do 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 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.

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 can help, and ensure that you don’t feel all alone. Be sure to leave the office environment 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 polishing up 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.


Once you identify your workplace as a toxic work environment, it’s up to you to act. In some instances, that 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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