Signs You Are in a Toxic Work Environment

There is a big difference between having a bad day—or week at work and being in a “toxic” work environment. According to Forbes, unhealthy or toxic workplaces are the number one reason people resign. So, how do you spot whether your work environment is toxic or not? Below are signs to look for, as well as steps to take.

Poor communication:

We aren’t talking about poor communication with a colleague or just one person, we are talking about poor communication across the board. If you are sending email after email with no response, or little follow-up on work that is due, that is poor communication. Do your higher-ups, the leaders in your company, not communicate? That is poor communication. When team meetings are irregular, there is little to no advice or direction, you don’t understand exactly what is needed from you, or you are the one constantly circling back on projects then this is a red flag for a toxic work environment.

There is no emphasis on work/life balance:

Even if you are a remote worker, work/life balance has become crucial to all work environments. If your employer or manager doesn’t respect your life outside of the office enough to see it as separate from your work, then chances are they won’t know boundaries. These days, no one works around the clock, and you shouldn’t be expected to answer emails or texts at all hours of the day. If you can’t take time off, are reprimanded for using vacation regularly, or are not given proper flex time for “community volunteerism” then odds are that you’re a part of a toxic work environment.

Moving upward is not an option:

Have you been at a company for a long time without a promotion or raise? Do you feel you are not allowed to ever make a mistake or ask for help? As passionate as one can be about their job, the lack of reward in return for hard work and teamwork, can be discouraging and can often lead to burnout. Lack of sufficient praise and reward for good work and dedication will lead anyone to question why they continue to work where they do. Ask yourself this question: If there is no room to move up or to receive a raise then what is my motivation for staying at the company? If you can’t answer it, chances are you are in a toxic work environment.


The other extreme of no communication is too much communication. Do you have someone constantly hovering over your shoulder—even virtually? Are you being badgered every day about updates on work progress or a client? Is a manager or colleague constantly questioning your work or changing it once you’re done? Micromanaging is when a manager or leader controls almost every aspect of an employee’s duties—so much so, that it creates mistrust and burnout. Managers need to lift up employees, praise them for hard work (even when making changes to something an employee has done), and tell their employees they have confidence in their abilities. If you’re dealing with micromanagement at work, you are most likely part of a toxic environment.

Fear of retribution:

Toxicity in the workplace needs to be fixed from a cultural point of view. If you are noticing a problem, there probably is and it will need fixing fast. The organizational structure should allow open and honest communication without fear of retribution or of tarnished reputations (basically not feeling gaslighted at every turn). Leaders need to find time to chat with employees and not wait to be told of a situation. If your leaders aren’t doing this, then it’s time to get out.

Steps to take:

Ask yourself these questions: How can I respond to toxic behaviors when I encounter them? What role—if any, can I play in shifting the toxic nature at work? What prevents me from finding another job? Is there anyone at work that can help me?

Most importantly have compassion for yourself. There are often a lot of “shoulds” when you’re dealing with a toxic workplace. “I should toughen up, I should know how to deal with this by now, I should speak out.” These are signs you aren’t being kind to yourself. You need to be honest with where you are at. If things aren’t going to change at work then you need to start planning your exit strategy.

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