Signs of a Toxic Work Environment (Plus Tips on How To Deal)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 30 November 2021

A healthy work environment where you can prosper, professionally develop and make lasting professional connections is crucial. If your workplace becomes toxic, it can be difficult to focus your energy on your professional development. There are many strategies that you can employ to professionally and emotionally mitigate workplace toxicity and promote a healthier work environment. In this article, we explore the signs of a potentially toxic work environment and share tips you can use to handle this type of negativity effectively.

Related: Types of Work Environments (Plus How To Improve Yours)

Signs of a toxic work environment

A toxic work environment can look and feel different depending on several contributing factors. Learning what signs to look out for can help you identify workplace toxicity. This is the first step in learning how to effectively handle these types of situations. Broadly, a toxic workplace is an environment, either physical or virtual, where the overall atmosphere impacts your ability to perform tasks to your usual standard and causes disruption to your career development. Some common signs of workplace toxicity include:

Poor communication

A common sign of toxicity in the workplace is a lack of effective communication, which is likely necessary to perform your job to the best of your ability. You may find that you're working hard without getting feedback to assess how you're doing or you may not be receiving recognition for your efforts. Not having proper communication may cause confusion or insufficient understanding, and this may result in a lack of focus and productivity.

In the workplace, effective communication requires active listening skills, strong written communication and clear verbal communication from both managers and employees. Some examples of poor communication can include a repetitive lack of clarity regarding your role and daily responsibilities, contradictory communication from different colleagues, poor listening skills or emotionally driven and reactive responses. Poor communication can result in an overall lack of purpose and a consistent state of confusion for employees.

Related: 7 Ways to Communicate Effectively at Work

2. High turnover

The rate at which the company you work for cycles through employees can also indicate a toxic environment. A high turnover rate can indicate a lack of satisfaction for employees who've decided to find a job that makes them happier. If your colleagues are consistently anxious, stressed or feel unheard and decide to leave, this may indicate an overall atmosphere of toxicity.

3. Exclusionary behaviour

If you notice your workplace harbours clique-based behaviours and unprofessional social hierarchies that exclude others, it may be a sign of toxicity. Feeling excluded can lead to a sense of alienation which can negatively impact your self-esteem and ability to do your job well. Signs of an exclusionary work environment can include pervasive feelings of alienation, groups of employees who form cliques that remain closed to others, projects being offered to employees regardless of their capabilities or a persistent atmosphere of gossip.

4. Unproductive leadership

As an employee, you look towards those in positions of leadership to guide appropriate workplace behaviours and standards of conduct. When the leadership at your company is unproductive or dismissive, it can impact every other aspect of the company. Signs of poor leadership can vary and may include micromanagement from a supervisor who frequently undermines your decisions, a manager who blames others instead of taking responsibility or a leader who fails to show employees respect. Signs of the latter can include forgetting your name or emailing you after work hours to demand that you complete a task.

5. A lack of employee growth and development opportunities

Your workplace may be toxic if it appears dismissive of your needs, development and growth as an employee. Growth and development are important aspects of feeling a purpose and value in your work, and without these opportunities, you may feel unvalued or underappreciated. Signs that your workplace lacks this important aspect include not offering learning or further training opportunities and not following through on previous offers regarding development pathways.

6. Unmotivated coworkers

If your coworkers appear unmotivated and lack excitement about their role, this may be a sign that your workplace has made them feel unappreciated. A lack of motivation in your colleagues may indicate a much bigger organisational issue and can directly impact your drive to do well. If your coworkers don't find purpose in their tasks, it can be much harder for you to find purpose as well. If you're taking on extra work as a result of your colleagues' attitudes, you may develop resentment towards those who've become disengaged.

7. Burnout

The psychological impact of workplace toxicity can be significant. Burnout can happen if your workplace isn't providing you with the resources you require to do your job well. For example, you may experience burnout if you take on a big task that requires dedication and attention to detail, and then don't receive recognition or positive outcomes. Or, you may feel bored with your daily tasks, which can result in a loss of satisfaction and leave you questioning what value you hold within the organisation. Overall, burnout leads to feelings of disillusionment and a lack of trust.

Related: I Hate My Job: How and When Should I Quit?

Tips for handling a toxic work environment

Although workplace toxicity can present various challenges, there are several ways that you can equip yourself to handle these setbacks and return to a productive and positive mindset. The first step is identifying and defining toxicity when it arises. The next step is to begin building a strategy to address this toxicity within your workplace. Here are some strategies you can use to handle toxicity positively:

Find a way to relieve stress outside of work

A good way to minimise the amount that your toxic workplace impacts you is to remind yourself about the things that you like doing outside of it. Focusing on something that betters you personally, such as going to the gym, taking a yoga class, rediscovering your hobbies or learning a new skill can help put your workplace back into perspective. Remembering to live a fulfilling life outside of work can lessen the impact that negativity in the workplace may cause.

Build a network of trusted coworkers

Finding coworkers who you feel comfortable opening up to and being yourself around can make toxicity less impactful. Try to build connections with people who aren't judgemental or manipulative. With a solid network of individuals who you can turn to for support and empathy, you may feel better equipped to handle difficult situations in a healthy and objective way.

Related: Forming Relationships With Work Colleagues

Stay positive

Staying positive is a fairly simple solution in this type of situation and can make a significant difference to how you interpret and handle toxicity. Try to keep in mind the aspects of your work that you enjoy doing and the parts of it that make you grateful. This can make you less vulnerable to toxic behaviour and may help you refrain from contributing to a toxic atmosphere.

Meditate

Taking moments for yourself to recalibrate and re-centre can help you push toxicity away. Focusing on rhythmic breathing can help to relieve physical tension and stress, which can lead to mental clarity. You may wish to try meditating for a few minutes during a break or at lunch. Meditating can equip you with the peace you require to make it through the rest of your working day.

Leave work toxicity at work

While it may be a release to unload your work stress on family or friends, it's a good strategy to define the boundaries between the workplace and the rest of your life. When you practise leaving work behind at the end of your day, it can help you remember all the positive parts of your life that you can focus your attention on. It can also put you in a better mood and leave you in a healthier mental state to handle toxicity overall.

Avoid workplace gossip

Although interacting with your coworkers is normal and healthy, indulging in gossip can make you part of the toxic atmosphere you're trying to avoid. Remember to practise building professional relationships with colleagues and set appropriate boundaries to avoid this harmful tendency. Avoiding gossip can help you focus on your tasks and remain a part of a healthy environment.