8 Signs You're in a Toxic Workplace

By Alana HuxtableJuly 15, 2019

Did you begin your career grateful and excited about that incredible job you landed, and eager to use your skills and talents to make a bigger difference in the world? Did you wake up excited and ready to make your mark, and looking forward to working in a team environment with other equally motivated people?

Well, for many people, their career hasn’t panned out the way they’d planned, because of something they never expected… negative workplace cultures. People have either endured, participated in, or fled workplaces because of this negative culture. In a world where globalization and competition for jobs are rife, many workplaces have embraced unhealthy values—values that disregard human respect and welfare—in the pursuit of organizational goals. In short, these environments have become so negative that they are “toxic” to employees and their families, society…and to themselves.

If you are unhappy and stressed in a workplace environment, here are 8 signs that you’re experiencing a toxic workplace culture:

  1. Chronic Stress. Either you or others, are experiencing stress from intense workloads and high expectations including the belief that you should work through illness and not take holiday leave that you are entitled to.
  2. Low Morale, which can exist due to a lack of job satisfaction and a leadership that doesn’t care too much for its people.
  3. Living to Work. Maybe you are having to work more than 40 hours per week without being remunerated for overtime. You might also be expected to work on weekends, which leaves little time for leisure, family and fun.
  4. Unrealistic Expectations. This is where you are expected to do the impossible and inevitably burn out. The workload and expectations are unreasonable for one person, but in a large organization, no one really cares.
  5. Distrust & Insecurity. These days, organizations have more options regarding who they employ, and where they do it. The truth is, they can take or leave you, and can always find cheaper labor options elsewhere, with some organizations even relocating their operations offshore. As a result, many organizations structure employment contracts that give them ultimate power over their people including the option to dismiss them at any given moment. This fosters a workplace culture built on distrust and insecurity.
  6. Immature Leadership. This can be a big contributing factor to a negative workplace culture. Having immature, dysfunctional leaders makes a positive culture unattainable. Some people in leadership positions can be extremely negative in their conduct, which sets a poor example to other employees and breeds a culture of bad behavior. Characteristics of an immature and dysfunctional leader can include excessive emotionality and reactivity; unreasonable expectations for productivity and goals; avoidance of confrontation and conflict; and a reluctance to listen to others.
  7. Bullying & Intimidation. If you notice bullying and intimidation where employees are belittled or openly criticized, then you are in a toxic workplace environment. In this environment, high performers are criticized for incompetence, and employees that leave are blamed for poor performance.
  8. Dysfunctional Relationships. In a positive workplace culture, teams work together in a respectful, unified and productive way. In a toxic workplace environment, relationships are characterised by cliques; nepotism or favouritism; insincere communication; and long-term grudge holding.

So what can you do if you’re stuck in a negative workplace environment? Well, one option is to try to endure it. Many people do; however, it’s a tough road. There are some who succumb to the culture and become active contributors to it, which definitely doesn’t fix the problem; nor do these people think good of themselves and it only makes the toxic culture stronger. Another option is to attempt to change it; but this can be difficult unless you are a key person of influence in the organization, such as a manager or director. If you are a regular employee, there is very little you can do to initiate widespread cultural change at a higher level.

Another option is to find a new job. While it may take time to find one that will put the feel-good vibe back in your stride, it's better than letting a toxic workplace destroy your happiness and well-being. It only gets worse if you stick it out, and then you'll feel completely exhausted by the time you finally jump the sinking ship. It is not worth the sacrifice! Despite the discomfort that comes along with job searching, finding a better workplace culture won't negatively impact your health or personal life, and as a bonus, it will actually help you grow and succeed in your career.

Most importantly, however, is your attitude and ability to keep your own mindset in check despite the negative and toxicity impacting upon your life. 

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© 2021 Alana Huxtable.