10 Toxic Workplace Signs

10 Toxic Workplace Signs

The workplace has changed over the years. A growing number of workers are reporting they do not like their job. A decline in values for respecting people and their happiness has been overcome by the desire to succeed and profit at all costs. A changing work environment increasingly moving to a more global model combined with technology can leave workers disconnected from human interaction. This model appears to be setting the new standard.

Gone are the days of most businesses being mom and pop shops that feel a sense of responsibility and pride to help people provide for their families. Values of right and wrong replaced by what is right for me and at a cost of not caring about anything or anyone else. The business model is increasingly becoming a goal of more with less placing mounting stress on workers and their families. Having a work-life balance for many people is non-existent.

Poll shows 70% of workers hate their job. Toxic work environments are more prevalent than ever.

With all of the issues in the workplace today it is not surprising that according to a Gallup poll 70% of people dislike their job. This does not come as a surprise with employers decreasingly treating workers fairly, paying a good wage, and providing a quality work environment. It is often not even important to put out exceptional products or provide great service for customers. But more about making profits and getting what is mine to a select few. Toxic work environments are more prevalent than ever.

What are some signs that you may be working in an unhealthy toxic atmosphere?

1. Bad Leadership and Narcissism

People at the top make the decisions that impact company culture. Poor leadership is one of the biggest contributors to an unhealthy work environment. Company leaders have the authority to hire and fire and shape a company into a place people want to work or do not want to work. They make decisions on an employee’s compensation and set the standards for expectations.

Leadership by Default

Unfortunately, sometimes leadership roles get filled by default with people that do not have experience as leaders. Often jobs with high turnover result in assigned leaders by default. This is the result of being the last person standing and the only one with the experience on the job. This very regularly is an outcome of a person that has experience doing the job, but no understanding of being in a leadership position.

Leadership by Association

Management or leadership positions are also filled regularly with people that have a great network of contacts. It is not uncommon to see workplace friends promote one another up the chain. This again creates a position with someone that is not a leader but has assumed the position by association.


A leader that will rarely listen to ideas, take credit for other people’s work frequently and consistently blame others for their mistakes is lethal toxicity. They often get angry when questioned or criticized. This type of person that seems to always talk about themselves and doesn’t like the idea of listening to others will kill a company’s culture and morale.

Unfortunately, many leaders have some bit of narcissism. It can be a challenge to determine the level of this trait with it many times confused with confidence. Often just saying a boss is narcissistic does not qualify a work environment as toxic, but it is a combination of workplace issues.

2. A Sick Workplace

No one wants to go to a workplace that is toxic. A sure sign of issues is everyone is sick and they are calling out for a sick day repeatedly whenever one comes available to use. It may be that an employee just does not want to be there and deal with all the issues. Yet, it could be more serious with a person actually being ill from stress or burnout.

Also, if people are always working while they are sick, this shows a lack of concern by an employer for the health and well-being of their employee. No job is worth someone’s life and health. If this is something that seems to be the norm, it should be a warning sign of worse things to come.

3. High Turnover

A swinging door of workers leaving and newly hired employees is a dangerous warning signal of a possible toxic working environment. There are reasons people leave and it is seldom for just something as simple as a better offer. Statistically, people will work harder and be more engaged in a company they truly enjoy working for. Money is not always a deciding factor to leave as well. Workers will often sacrifice a modest decrease in pay for a better environment and balance in their life.

High turnover should not only be a sign of something being wrong in the workplace. It should also be one of the questions asked when interviewing for a new position. It can easily illustrate if there are potential problems.

4. Bullies

If bullies seem to run the office like a Tyrannosaurus Rex on the rampage, this should be a real warning sign of a toxic work environment. No one wants to constantly be working with these types of people. They are easily recognized by their steam roller mentality of running over anyone in the way and will often have traits of narcissism themselves. In addition, if bullies seem to run the office, it can be a serious signal of disconnected leadership. Leaders that do not care as long as the job gets done.

Do Billies Run Your Office Like a T-Rex? If the answer is yes, you are probably working in a toxic environment.

Bullies will often use threatening tactics to get their way and in a management position, they will kill morale. They often tell people to just be happy they have a job. If bullies run the show, it is time to immediately plan an exit. They will suck the life and health out of an employee.

5. No Excitement or Enthusiasm for Work

When no one seems happy at work there are reasons. There will always be people that never want to be at work, but do most appear unhappy or disconnected? Is everyone a clock watcher waiting for the last minute to go by so they can immediately leave? These can all be signs of a toxic work environment. If no one ever seems to come in early or happy to stay late to complete a goal, there is an issue.

6. Negativity and Communication

Are the majority of the people working negative? When no one has anything positive to say it is a sign there is nothing good to talk about. A little bit of constructive criticism can be good. This makes improvements, but pure negativity is a bad sign of toxicity.

Bad Communication is another indication of something is not right. This often has a correlation to people just not caring or having any pride in their work. With employment that is dependent on teams of people working together to accomplish goals, bad communication can drain the life out of someone.

7. Office Rumors and Circles of Cliques

There will always be rumors and cliques with the water cooler being a standard meeting ground at the office. However, when taken to the extreme this can be damaging to the workplace. Rumors that are just plain untrue can be damaging to a person’s career and their ability to provide for their family. Thus, this may result in an unfriendly working environment.

People at times will make life-long friendships in the workplace and there is nothing wrong with this. We spend a majority of our lives with the people we work with so it is not uncommon. But there are occasions when taken to the extreme with friends promoting friends that may be unqualified for a position or using the advancement of a person’s career for self-benefit. Office relationships based on just this premise for advancement can be toxic to everyone surrounded by it. It leaves people feeling as though there is no opportunity which can lead to a decline in productivity and enthusiasm for the work.

8. There is Just No Way to Get Ahead

It is not only cliques that can be toxic to feeling like there is no way to get ahead, but often a plan is already established for a worker’s future in advance without the idea for promotion. This can be a sure sign that nothing good is going to come out of a position. If you feel that no matter how hard you try there is no way to move up, it may be time to leave. This will eventually leave a person feeling angry and bitter creating an internal toxic environment. The result will be a great deal of stress and disappointment.

Often times people that do a great job at something do not get promoted. Instead, an employer advances a person that may be mediocre. This is due to an employer recognizing the contribution and value of the great job a person does in the place they are.

Maybe more productivity is accomplished by keeping a person where they are. If you are a great performer and always get passed over for someone that is known to not be great, recognition is due. Being passed over repeatedly for a person with fewer accomplishments is a bad sign and it ultimately falls on leadership positions to allow it to happen.

9. Transparency

Transparency, honesty, and integrity seem like lost values for many employers today. Profits and profitability often take the place of being transparent. If there is no clear communication of how an employee is measured on performance or expectations are set unrealistically, this can be a warning sign of a toxic environment. Performance at work is how people are compensated and there should be a clear representation of this.

Sales positions are frequently much easier to measure because they many times result in the bottom line. The more sales made the more money a company may profit. Positions such as customer service or clerical can be more challenging to measure. However, there is always a correlation within the team of an organization to accomplish an overall goal. If unrealistic goals or performance measurements are not ever attainable, it is an indication of there being some real underlying issues.

Honesty and integrity are also important in an employer. Without these, a working environment may not only be toxic, but it may also be damaging to a person’s entire career. If you have an uneasy feeling that an employer may be breaking laws or unethically treating its customers, it is best to plan an exit as quickly as possible.

10. Overworked

Being overworked is what many people experience on a daily basis in today’s world. One person’s interpretation of this may be very different from another. However, there is a point where this can begin to be a real issue on the health and well-being of a person.

It is one thing to work extra time here and there to get the job done. But if there is a pattern of increasing working hours with no sign of it slowing down, this could be the sign of the beginning of a work environment that will be majorly toxic.

More with less is one of the ways companies have begun to operate in today’s world. This is partly due to technology making this possible, but also the greed and need for more profitability. If you work for a public company, which would be one that has shareholders, and you see that their profits are increasing each year but they are letting workers go, this is a damaging sign that profits are much more important than the people working for them.

The new corporate culture of more with less to increase the bottom line is not a place a person should work and is a clear indication that its leadership has no regard for its employees. Planning an exist in this situation is important for a person’s health and family. Having a good balance between work and life is enormously important.

What Should You Do if You are in a Toxic Workplace?

It is always easy to tell someone that if their job is toxic, they should just leave. This is regularly easier said than done. Sometimes the paycheck is sizeable and it can be difficult to leave. Other times people believe things will get better.

The truth most often with a toxic working environment is it starts at the top with leadership. These are the people that either knowingly let it happen or are just incompetent. As long as a ship is being steered by a captain that has never successfully sailed or is not concerned about the crew, things will not change and its crew will be lost at sea.

The best practice for leaving a job is already having the next one lined up before making an exit. This should be an example to follow. This is one of the reasons it is important to stay debt free and save for emergencies. Toxic work environments are unhealthy and they can even kill a person. Plan for an exit if you are in a toxic environment and plan to leave as soon as possible. If you have been wise with planning financially for an emergency, working in a toxic environment may just be the emergency.


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