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Signs of a Toxic Workplace & How To Avoid Them

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The ideal office accommodates our needs and lets us grow in our careers.

However, that’s often not the case. At times, we may have found ourselves in a toxic workplace.

The symptoms of a toxic workplace might be subtle, and you won’t notice it at first. Or they could be immediately obvious.

Either way, you’ll want to know how to deal with the situation until you either get to quit or your workplace changes for the better.

What is a Toxic Workplace?

A toxic workplace has unfriendly behavior and corruption ingrained into its culture.

This affects the ability of employees to work effectively.

In addition, you’ll feel anxiety before work as you expect another work day of toxicity.

In addition, there’s a lack of cooperation and regard for employee health.

Miscommunication is rampant, and the company seems to focus only on pure productivity.

What Causes a Toxic Work Environment?

A combination of poor leadership, toxic employees, and unhealthy company culture can cause a toxic work environment.

It can also be one or two of these factors.

1. Poor Leadership

A boss that can’t give a clear direction is ineffective in leading. Without proper leadership, a company will go nowhere.

A mean boss that relies on intimidation to motivate employees is also a poor leader. Employees won’t work well in that environment.

2. Toxic Employees

The biggest trait of a toxic employee is excessive competitiveness; they see their coworkers as obstacles to being number one.

Toxic employees will break rules and refuse to play along with others.

They might be competent workers, but their self-centered attitude makes them bad team players.

A toxic coworker might try to bring you down. It won’t be long before you see signs of sabotage from another employee.

3. Unhealthy Company Culture

An unhealthy company culture stifles innovation and heavily criticizes employees.

This prevents employees from learning and growing, driving away otherwise talented workers.

Is a Toxic Workplace Illegal?

A toxic workplace is illegal in the United States.

However, a mean boss doesn’t immediately qualify as illegal and toxic.

Legally, the things your boss should never say to you include derogatory comments and unfair treatment based on:

  1. Gender
  2. Race
  3. Religion
  4. Age
  5. Disability
  6. National Origin

Other cases that qualify as illegal workplace toxicity include:

Lack of Legal Complaint Procedures

When you’ve been harassed or abused by your superiors, you should be able to privately and safely complain to HR.

The HR in a toxic workplace may then notify your boss of your complaints, and eventually, you’ll get fired.

Depriving Employees of Rights

Some employers may neglect to inform their employees about the rights they’re legally entitled to.

They may not know that they can take family or sick leave.

It could also be that company culture looks down on those that take leaves.

Worse, employers may fire those who take leaves.

It’s illegal for employers to deny your legally protected rights, whether explicitly or implicitly.

Can You Sue for a Toxic Work Environment?

You could sue a toxic employer either for yourself or on behalf of a coworker that had been receiving abuse.

If you were fired for reporting abuse, you can file for a wrongful termination lawsuit.

What Are Signs of a Toxic Workplace?

There are big ten signs that you’re in a toxic workplace. Depending on your position, some may not be apparent to you at first. If you notice one or more, chances are, other signs are manifesting elsewhere in the workplace.

1. Lack of Clear Communication

There’s no clear direction from the higher echelons of the workplace, whether it comes to deadlines or feedback.

This can lead to friction and low team morale.

2. Cliques and Gossip

Employees with similar perceptions and personalities may band together in cliques. They could gossip about other groups or their superiors.

Or the “inner circle” of a clique may secretly despise and gossip about one or two “members” of the group.

While it’s normal for employees to form friend groups, employees with preconceived biases due to gossip won’t be effective team players.

3. Poor Leadership

Generally, signs of poor leadership include an inability to communicate properly and a reliance on intimidation tactics.

It could also be refusing to listen to employee concerns and a lack of accountability.

4. Lack of Opportunity for Growth

A toxic workplace may limit innovation, preferring to stick “to the book.”

As a result, employees feel that they can’t try anything new.

5.   High Turnover

When a workplace is toxic, employees will hate working there. Employees will quit if a good opportunity presents itself.

A high turnover rate is what happens when a large proportion of employees quit while leaving vacant positions.

Usually, a turnover rate of over 20% is considered high in any industry, though the aim of most companies is around 10%.

6. No Work-Life Balance

A toxic workplace may require you to constantly take overtime, sometimes without extra pay.

On top of that, being mandated to always be “on call” outside working hours is also a sign of toxicity.

7. You Lack Motivation for Work

A combination of the above factors will leech your motivation for work.

Every day becomes a slog that you want to get over with and get home.

8. You Lack Enthusiasm About Your Work

A lack of enthusiasm goes hand-in-hand with lacking motivation.

You think of work with dread when you wake up, and nothing about it is exciting.

9. You Feel Stifled at Work

A toxic workplace will silence concerns and feedback from you.

You feel like you’re not being listened to in any way.

10. You Are on the Verge of Burnout

The accumulation of all the previous signs and factors will inevitably lead to burnout.

You’re going to feel tired (even if you just woke up) and negative most of the time.

How Long to Stay in a Toxic Work Environment?

In any job, it’s recommended that you stay for a year, at least.

Leaving within a few months can jeopardize your chances of finding stable employment in the future.

If your records show that you jump jobs a lot, employers won’t see you as a safe pick.

How to Handle a Toxic Workplace

Handling a toxic workplace is a matter of protecting yourself from its worst effects.

Some factors, such as the attitude of your boss and coworkers, are out of your control.

In workplaces that don’t take feedback, you won’t be able to air your concerns about company policy and get any positive change done.

You’ll have to hold out by using the following tactics.

How to Protect Yourself in a Toxic Work Environment

By utilizing these strategies, you can survive your workplace and maintain your health until you either see improvement or quit to find a new job.

1. Get Support

While many of your coworkers might be toxic themselves, you may find like-minded and non-toxic individuals that you can trust.

Stick with them, but don’t make your clique exclusive.

2. Focus on the Tasks at Hand

Some people at work might be toxic, but it’ll do you good to ignore them and instead focus on your tasks.

This can help take your mind off the toxicity.

If you have to, block your toxic coworkers on social media.

3. Take Care of Yourself

Don’t neglect your diet, exercise, sleep, and hygiene. If you do, it’ll add to your stress from work.

4. Adjust Your Perspective

Try to see the toxic workplace as a challenge rather than a punishment.

Knowing how to deal with toxicity can help you in the long run.

5. Focus on Work-Life Balance

Despite what a toxic company culture might claim, you don’t owe them all your time.

If you’re on leave or at home (unless you work at home), you shouldn’t have to answer every email and text that comes in.

6. Avoid Gossip

You shouldn’t partake in gossiping for the sake of not adding to the toxicity.

In addition, if you don’t gossip, your non-toxic coworkers and managers may see you in a more favorable light.

7. Change What’s Within Your Control

Interact well with your coworkers and boss (even if they’re toxic), as burning bridges with your current job can have negative future effects.

You can also try venting out your frustration elsewhere, whether through a hobby or someone that you trust.

Don’t add to the toxicity. Be clear on your communication; if you’re lucky, your coworkers might pick up the same habit.

8. Talk to Your Supervisor

You can reach out to your supervisor for your concerns.

If your superiors aren’t too bad, you might be able to arrange for a positive change in the workplace.

9. Leave Your Job

If nothing improves in your workplace, consider it a dead-end job.

Note that you don’t have to leave the company itself; you can switch departments instead.

How to Leave a Toxic Workplace?

Once you’ve been in the job for at least a year without any improvement, consider quitting.

1. Get Help

If the toxicity took a toll on your mental health, it’s a good idea to go to therapy.

That’ll help you recover from your experience.

2. Reflect on What Makes it Toxic

Assess what made your previous workplace toxic.

Look at your job prospects, and see if any of them have the same signs of toxicity.

If you’re being referred by a friend that’s currently working there, ask them how it is in their office.

3. Look for Other Jobs

Before you quit, make sure that you already have a prospect.

You can either look in job hunting websites, check advertisements, or ask a friend for a referral.

4. Resign

Even if you had a bad experience, try not to part on negative terms with your employer.

Remember to give your notice at least two weeks prior and write a formal resignation letter.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the Three Types of Hostile Work Environments?

The three main types of hostile work environments vary in subtlety. These are:

  1. Verbal/Written: Derogatory comments and offensive jokes are some examples of this.
  2. Physical: Inappropriate physical contact or offensive hand gestures are included in a physical working environment. It can be subtle, so it may be a while before you notice.
  3. Visual: Some may think of the offending visual as a joke, while others may find it offensive.

What is Unfair Treatment at Work?

This is when your employer doesn’t treat you as a valued member of the company. You may be harassed, gossiped about, not promoted, or paid lower for an arbitrary reason.

Wrapping Up

A workplace can get toxic either through poor leadership, toxic employees, or unhealthy company culture.

Signs of a toxic workplace can be subtle, but you’ll notice before long.

You’ll have to employ the strategies above to protect yourself.

If the situation doesn’t improve after a year, consider quitting for a less toxic job.

As always, leave a comment below when you have a question.

Never forget that you deserve a healthy workplace that supports and respects you.

You’re a valued member of the company you’re with, and should be treated as such.

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