Signs You Work in a Toxic Workplace

woman in a toxic workplace, bored at laptop
woman bored at work, working in a toxic workplace

Impacts of a Toxic Workplace

A toxic workplace can damage a company in many ways. Employees leave, profits decline, and they earn a bad reputation. Truly, when morale drops, the people in charge of keeping everything running properly put in less effort. They are less motivated to fix broken things, seek out new tasks, and put in more than the bare minimum. And this issue isn’t their fault. If you were expected to work in an environment where you were constantly disrespected, micromanaged, and underpaid, you probably wouldn’t want to do more than what you need to earn your paycheck.

Ultimately, toxic workplaces rarely give their employees a chance to grow. That means no promotions and no or minuscule pay raises. Rather, toxic supervisors usually stack on extra responsibilities without giving their employees any extra compensation. In the end, the staff is working multiple roles while being paid less than the national average for their starting position.

But even in the cases where employees are being paid fairly, toxic workplaces can still emerge and cause havoc. Unfortunately, one single person can create a toxic workplace. Consider the places you’ve worked. When you think of the word “toxic,” does anyone come to mind?

Maybe they gossiped constantly, handed off all of their tedious tasks, or were just generally disrespectful. Perhaps it was a supervisor that always tried to call you in on your days off. Or a colleague that always pinned their mistakes on someone else and, boy, did they make a lot of mistakes. Thankfully, these issues can normally be fixed, as long as management is willing to take on the challenge.

Worried you work in or even manage a toxic workplace? Keep reading to learn the signs.

Signs of a Toxic Workplace

There are many ways a workplace can become toxic. Maybe it stems from a specific manager, an employee, a department, or upper management in general. Perhaps it comes from an outdated company policy that everyone hates but continues to uphold. Whatever the cause, the effects remain the same. The employees are disengaged and productivity takes a hit.

If you work in a toxic workplace, you may see some of the signs below. Notably, this list does not cover all of the ways toxicity reveals itself – just some of the most common ones.

Exit sign

1. There’s High Employee Turnover

A big sign of a toxic workplace is its turnover rate. Places that don’t treat their employees well or that have internal issues will struggle to keep workers, good or bad. Indeed, few people will willingly stay in such conditions for too long – normally the only constant employees are the ones who have been there for years already or the problem causers themselves. New employees will often recognize the signs and decide it’s not worth sticking around.

It may only take a few days or a few months, but without fail, the workers leave. Notably, some companies will be so disorganized that they won’t be able to even get anyone in the door. Whether due to their bad reputation or red flags in the job listings, few will even bother to apply.

This issue is not only demoralizing to the few employees that do stick around who get left carrying the extra load, but it’s also costly. New workers cost, on average, $1,200 to train. Some specialized positions are even more expensive. A company with multiple roles or a constantly revolving position can lose tens of thousands of dollars each year on hiring. Big corporations may see a loss in the hundreds of thousands. And, as they fail to fill the important jobs, more positions tend to open as others began jumping ship.

Overall, if you notice a company has a high turnover rate, don’t apply. If you already have, you might want to consider pulling your application. This issue rarely arises if there aren’t larger problems at play.

2. No One Talks to Each Other

Another characteristic of a toxic workplace lies in the company culture. Look around at your current job. Is everyone on the same page or are marketing and sales working seemingly against each other? Both on a personal and a work level, people will talk to each other in a healthy workplace. They’ll share big news, talk about families, keep everyone up to date on projects, and generally work together to ensure success.

If your company lacks this cohesion, if no one even bothers with small talk, you might work in a toxic environment.

Not everyone needs or even wants to be friends, but they do need to be working together. Marketing, sales, operations, administration, and so on all need to be on the same page. Otherwise, you’ll find that employees unintentionally start working against each other.

employee argument in a toxic workplace

3. Employees Despise Their Supervisors

Sometimes, employees do become friends with their managers, but it’s not exactly common. It makes sense as it often causes conflict in managing styles. Employees are given a less-than-desirable task and can take it personally, even though it may simply be part of their job. On the other hand, managers might start playing favorites, sparing friends from bathroom duty, and ensuring they get better pay raises or roles. Thus, these relationships are normally kept professional, but friendly. Good managers keep good employees and develop strong relationships with them, even if they aren’t really friends.

Yet, while employees may not befriend their managers, they also shouldn’t despise them. Animosity towards management is another good sign of a toxic work environment, especially if the feeling is shared by most of the workers.

Notably, just because one or two employees don’t like the manager doesn’t mean that they’re toxic. Sometimes styles clash, opinions differ, and people just don’t get along. It’s natural. As long as everyone can work together and everyone is satisfied with their jobs, it’s not too much to worry about. What you should keep an eye out for is when everyone but one or two employees detest management.

When you see these situations, chances are that the manager is playing favorites. They’ve picked their “good” employees that get raises, exceptions for showing up late, and so on. Everyone else is expected to pick up the slack.

4. There’s Gossip and Bullying

Opposite to the issue where employees aren’t talking is when certain groups of staff turn toxic. Notably, managers aren’t the only ones who can create a toxic workplace. Sometimes, even in professional environments, people form cliques. They’ll bully and bash and gossip about other staff members and customers.

Indeed, they might directly discriminate against a certain group of people or turn their focus on an individual, maybe someone that, in their eyes, doesn’t belong.

Unfortunately, management doesn’t always deal with these groups as they should. They’ll make it the responsibility of the victim or ignore it entirely. Which means this type of toxicity is twofold: both management and staff are to blame. No one cares enough to fix the issue, which often results in those high turnover rates from anyone not in the clique.

woman asleep at desk in a toxic workplace

5. Employees Have Low Morale and Motivation

Another key sign of a toxic workplace is the mood of most employees. Even if they’re working together as a functional unit, no one is doing more than the bare minimum. This issue may result in problems going unresolved, slow service, and missed deadlines. No one really seems to care about the quality of work they’re putting out. Basically, the employees are “checked out.”

When this issue is large-scale, it usually points to an issue with compensation, expectations, and management. Workers might be underpaid, undervalued, overworked, or dealing with an incompetent supervisor. Truly, people want to feel valued in their roles. If they aren’t, they’re less likely to put in the effort or stay with a company. No one will generate new ideas or optimize systems. They might allow a broken printer to sit there for months. This issue is deadly for companies, especially if no one cares to fix the problem. Indeed, hiring new people won’t solve it, as the new hires will just land in the same place after some time.

6. Everyone Feels Stuck in Their Roles

On the same page is when employees have no opportunities to grow. Most people expect to get chances to earn promotions and pay raises in most jobs. They’ll put in the effort and strive for excellence for that reason. So, if management doesn’t reward their workers, those workers will start to lose morale.

A toxic workplace will trap employees in their starting roles while giving them extra responsibilities of those other positions. This method allows businesses to minimize the number of workers they need to keep a store or company running while paying them the bare minimum. Again, workplaces like these often have high turnover rates. Employees must leave to get the promotions they deserve from other companies.

If your company won’t let you grow and reach your potential, you’re probably working in a toxic environment. Education, experience, and success should be celebrated by your supervisors, not dreaded or ignored.

micromanaging at work

7. Supervisors Treat Employees Like Children

Our seventh and final sign of a toxic workplace has to do with how supervisors treat their employees. Watch specifically for micromanaging. Do your managers allow workers to thrive in their positions, or do they nitpick over every step of a process?

These supervisors will likely also have little trust in employees. Maybe they’ll suggest that they’re the only ones who can do the job properly. They might even refuse to give any breathing room, such as work-from-home opportunities or flexibility. Each absence will probably require proof of some kind to be approved. Ultimately, they seem to think that their employees can’t take care of anything without oversight and are out to get them.

Working in a Toxic Environment?

So, what do you do if you’re stuck in a toxic workplace? That depends on your position and your company’s willingness to grow and change. Indeed, if you hold power at your job, you may be able to make a difference and turn the place around. Suggest valuable training sessions through HR, listen to employee concerns, and speak to management about ongoing issues. Truly, you may be able to not just save your company from failure but improve the lives of your coworkers and employees.

Notably, if you can’t make a change and no one is there to listen, your best option may be to move on. There’s a reason these companies have high turnover rates. After some time, people realize that they need to take care of themselves and find better options. If you’re unhappy with your job, find a place that values and respects you.

But before or after you go, try to make yourself heard. Consider using your exit interview to voice your concerns and writing honest reviews on sites like GlassDoor.

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