5 Signs of a Toxic Work Environment and How to Solve Them

    5 min read time


    A toxic workplace is more than just a job you hate going to each day.
    We all have bad Mondays, challenging weeks, and even frustrating months. That’s just the cyclical nature of a career. But, you’re usually able to make it through a bad Monday, survive a challenging week, and learn valuable lessons from a frustrating quarter. 
    A toxic work environment is like having all of these challenges on repeat, without a break. These environments breed unrest, competition, low morale, constant stressors, negativity, sickness, high turnover, and even bullying. Even worse? Toxic workplaces rarely stay at work. Who hears me? - They typically follow you home. They take over your conversations with loved ones, steal away much-needed sleep, and generally cause worry and stress.
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    Here are some signs of toxic workplaces and what you can do about them:
    1. Bad Communication
    Insufficient, confusing, or aggressive communication is the culprit of so many (solvable) problems in the workplace. I don't know if you know this, but communication skills are the most important skills needed in any successful organization. Why?
    So much falls under the communication umbrella—including listening (both as a manager and an employee), verbal communication, written communication, preferences on how to communicate—the list goes on! 
    So, how do you tell if bad communication is leading to workplace toxicity? Here are a few examples of bad communication.
    • Constant lack of clarity around projects 
    • Different employees receiving different messages 
    • Passive-aggressive communication
    • Failure to listen 
    • Walking on eggshells
    Bad communication often leads to confusion and a lack of purpose for employees. And then what happens? Employees start leaving.
    Solution: If your company has bad communication methods, hold on tight. You can improve by learning your own personality and those you closely work with. Knowing how to communicate with others, whether of the same or opposite personality can save your relationships, and ultimately the company!

    2. Cliques, Exclusion + Gossip 

    “I want the workplace to feel like eighth grade all over again,” said nobody, EVER. So when it does, it can be frustrating.
    We all know what a clique looks like. It’s the group of people—whether at work or at school—that sticks together, grabs each other coffee, laughs at inside jokes and generally excludes anyone outside of their circle. And, while we are all adults here, it can feel alienating to exist on the outside of an active clique. 
    Let's just say it as it is: cliques are counterproductive. While having workplace friends and acquaintances is good, but any behavior that can be described as “clique-ish” is best to be avoided. Here are a few warning signs of cliques:
    • Constant feeling of exclusion from a group of people
    • The same group goes to lunches, grabs coffee, and organizes happy hours together 
    • Projects are offered to a particular group, regardless of talent or experience
    • Large parts of the workday spent whispering or chatting on messaging platforms
    Solution: Avoid cliques. Avoid gossip. It has no place at work. Contact HR. If you recognize that clique-ish behavior includes management and executive-level employees, then again, try to address HR and if you don't get anywhere, start finding a new place to work because that's as toxic as it gets.

    3. Bad Leadership

    Here’s a big one. There’s the old saying, “You don’t leave a job, you leave a bad boss,” for a reason.
    Terrible leadership can integrate itself into every fiber of an organization—and it often does. Although you may think that your boss is a bad boss, sometimes a bad boss is the product of their bad boss—and so on. It’s this hierarchy of bad bosses that make the overall workplace—you guessed it—downright toxic. 

    Bad bosses wear a variety of hats. You might have the micromanager, who constantly corrects you, undermines your decisions, and ultimately disempowers you from doing your job. Or you have the “Blame Game” boss, who is quick to pass mistakes on to anyone but themselves. -never taking ownership. Maybe you're lucky enough to have the “No Respect” boss, who emails at all hours, forgets how to spell your name, and doesn’t even know what all that you do. 
    Solution: Bad leadership is definitely a bad sign, but it's not impossible to overcome. Work on learning their personality - coming at them as a friend, edifying them for what they do, and seeking to help them. Many of us don't realize how much a manager or leader has on their plate, and how much they appreciate someone trying to help THEM out.  
    4. High and Rapid Turnover

    While high turnover is a pretty decent sign that a workplace is toxic, leaving a job is a tough decision to make. When you notice that several people are making that decision, then something is up.
    Now, if employees are constantly being laid off or fired, this can be a sign of a few other elements. High employee turnover usually means there’s disorganization, lack of direction, bad leadership, or little opportunity. 
    Solution: High and rapid turnover is a big sign that things are bad—or about to get worse. Seek to understand WHY people are leaving. Ask them and see if you can provide a solution - perhaps you will be a bigger asset to the company for solving their problem!
    5. Burnout
    Burnout is serious. The World Health Organization now recognizes burnout as a legitimate medical diagnosis. Sad.
    Burnout can be a sign of a toxic work environment—or at least a work environment that doesn’t “work” for you. Here are three types of burnout (from Career Contessa):
    • Frenetic Burnout: Frenetic burnout is experienced by employees who put a ton of energy into their work in the hopes that the output will be rewarding. After a sustained period of dedicated work, the frenetic worker does not find positive outcomes.
    • Underchallenged Burnout: This type of burnout occurs when an employee feels underchallenged and bored at work. Being unable to find any satisfaction in a job, the underchallenged employees find themselves in a lowered mood. 
    • Worn-out Burnout: The worn-out employee is someone who is resigned about their work after experiencing consistent work stress over a long period of time. Having experienced negligible rewards, the worn-out employee feels disillusioned and uninspired by the job at hand.
    Solution: If you’re suffering from any of these types of workplace burnout, seriously consider fleeing your workplace. Or re-evaluate your workload - speak up! Sometimes bosses don't realize all the work they are giving people. They don't know what they don't know!
    My biggest challenge to you in thinking that your workplace is toxic - is check yourself. Your attitude, your behaviors, your thoughts. Sometimes, what we think is a toxic EXTERNAL environment can be cured by working on our toxic INTERNAL environment. 

    Now no person or job should ever make you feel like you're not smart enough or good enough for the position you are in, especially when you're giving it your all. Sometimes bosses are just not good leaders and you should try not to take it personally. You might feel nervous all the time, and worried that everything you do is wrong. It's common to take it personally and begin to question your own worth. Never let that happen and get to that point.

    Just because you have a job doesn't mean you need to deal with a toxic work environment. If you find that you're dealing with the majority of these signs, it might be a good idea to make some changes in your career. Remember: your personal well-being should be FIRST priority, and just because it's not working out at this current job doesn't mean it won't work out with other jobs.