Do you dread your job as much on Friday as you do on Monday? Do you dread going into the office or interacting with a particular co-worker? Are you chronically stressed out or anxious at work?
We often continue working in a job even when the culture is making us unhappy. It’s like that old analogy of frogs in hot water: If you put a frog into hot water, it would jump out. But if you put it into cold water that slowly starts to boil it would happily sit there until it is cooked.
What started out as a good job and a positive work environment can change over time. Maybe a boss changes or the environment changes, and before we know it, the water is boiling and we are getting cooked in a toxic stew.
If you’re feeling stressed or unhappy, it can be good to take a check and look for signs of a toxic culture at work. Some warning signs are immediate red flags—you should never stick around in a job that is illegal or dangerous to your health—but others might be easier to miss and could signal that you should take another look.
Immoral or illegal activities. This is a huge red flag. If something the company or an individual is doing is wrong, you don’t have to be a part of it. If actions don’t sit well with your moral code—or worse, are patently illegal—get out as soon as possible. The person watching a crime happen can be just as culpable as the person committing it.
Physical danger. If you or others are put at risk due to unsafe working conditions, you should leave ASAP. No job is worth risking your life or long-term health.
Blatant unfairness. As a kid, you probably heard, “Nobody ever said life was fair,” which is true, but you should expect some amount of fairness in the workplace. If employees are treated radically differently, co-workers steal your ideas or work and claim credit, or failures are blamed on others, this could be a sign of a highly toxic work environment.
Abusive bosses or co-workers. Sexual harassment, racism, sexism, ageism or any other kind of discrimination should not have to be tolerated. This might also include high aggression or bullying, intimidation, unreasonable expectations or a blatant lack of empathy.
Dysfunctional relationships. Sometimes the combination of personalities in a company can result in a toxic environment, creating gossip, cliquish behaviors, favoritism, grudges, backbiting and unwarranted criticisms.
Pervasive poor communication. If you get little or no feedback or only negative feedback, you get left out of the loop on important information, or bosses and co-workers are excessively cold and distant, that can also contribute to a toxic workplace.
Relentlessly high stress. Some jobs are innately more stressful than others, but if you are routinely exposed to high-stress situations with no opportunity for “down time” or a fear of bullying if you need to recover from stressful situations, that, too, can be toxic. If you are continually expected to work more than 40 hours per week without extra compensation and have no opportunity for work/life balance, you should consider a move.
Sometimes you can address these problems with a supervisor to try to remedy the situation,but sometimes the supervisor is part of the problem. If your requests for intervention or suggestions to improve the work environment repeatedly fall on deaf ears, it’s certainly time to find a healthier workplace.
Another truth of toxic work environments is that they are rarely as successful in the long term as healthier ones.
Have you had experience in a toxic work environment? Did you leave right away or try to stick it out? I’d love to hear your experiences in the comment section.