For a lot of us, we dedicate a good deal of our lives to finding a job that we love and to doing work that we’re passionate about. All our years in school have been leading up to this, and once we do achieve it, it’s an absolute dream come true. But what happens if the company your work for turns out to be a nightmare?
With all the long hours we spend at the office, the workplace is like a second home to many of us. We spend our 9-to-5 there, with only our colleagues for company. So when we’re a toxic work environment, it can be incredibly damaging to our job engagement, work satisfaction, self-esteem, and personal happiness as a whole (Chamberlain & Hodson, 2010).
A toxic workplace is one where you feel unhappy, unappreciated, and undervalued. It may involve bullying, intimidation, public humiliation, harassment, favoritism, or other subtler forms of mistreatment and hostility. On that note, here are 7 telltale signs that your work environment is toxic:
1. They All Seem Miserable
If you find that you’re not as happy as you used to be at work, it may be because of the organizational climate. Does everyone around you seem unhappy? Is there no life in the office anymore? Do your colleagues have a bad attitude? A work environment like this isn’t conducive to productivity or employee morale at all. When there’s no enthusiasm or positivity going around, there’s likely to be high turnover rate and plenty of employee complaints. No one seems to love working at the company, and over time, you may find that it has lessened your passion for your work as well.
2. They’re All Unprofessional
Another sign you have a toxic work environment is when your colleagues act unprofessional and don’t take their work seriously, which can prevent you from doing the same. Nobody you work with seems to have a good work ethic, whether it’s in terms of punctuality, productivity, integrity, or even common courtesy. Instead, there’s competition, infighting, and backstabbing that seems to be going around the office. This kind of unprofessionalism can make it hard for you to focus and to get any work done at all.
3. You Feel Threatened By Them
Whenever you try to voice your opinions or suggestions about something, everyone around you is quick to dismiss it. Rather, your colleagues and superiors repeatedly remind you that you should just feel lucky you have a job at all and leave it at that. They undermine your concerns about the compensation, benefits, work schedule, employee treatment, opportunities for growth, and so on. They try to scare you into staying quiet and submissive by bullying, intimidating, or controlling you.
4. There’s Poor Communication
Good communication is integral to an organization’s success ((Van Vuuren, de Jong, & Seydel, 2007), so when there’s no clear communication, everyone in the company suffers. Management doesn’t properly disseminate information to their subordinates, so there’s plenty of company events, meetings, and announcements people don’t find out about until the last minute. Meanwhile, employees are given little to no feedback about their performance and aren’t given an efficient means of reaching out to their supervisors. While this may not be intentional, it can be harmful for a number of reasons – employees feel voiceless, helpless, and unimportant. When there’s no clear channel of communication, chaos and disarray can often ensue.
5. There’s Bad Leadership
Effective leadership is the key to good employee morale, relations, motivation, and efficiency (Klann, 2007). So when a company lacks a strong leader at their helm, it often results in a number of problems like confusion, anxiety, and conflict within the ranks. Meetings seem like a waste of time; there’s no proper delegation of tasks; no one gets anything done; and projects turn out poor, disjointed, and failing. When you have a bad leader who isn’t around to help solve your problems, doesn’t acknowledge them, or worse, even causing some of their own, then it will be nothing but disorganized chaos everyone involved.
6. There’s Abuse of Power
The only thing worse for a company than having a bad leader is having a toxic one. Is your boss always micro-managing you and constantly breathing down your neck? Do they refuse to listen, and instead, impose their choices and beliefs on you? A tyrannical boss is someone who loves being in charge and in control, and rules over their subordinates with an iron fist. They demand too much of you, have unrealistically high standards, set you up for failure, and never give you praise or credit for your accomplishments.
7. There’s Too Much Competition
You love the work that you do, but your co-workers seem to treat it all like a competition. They’re all incredibly competitive and driven, determined to get ahead of everyone else. Relentless and self-centered, they put their own interest and personal agendas ahead of the greater good of the workplace or the company. They don’t work well in teams because they always want to outshine everyone. And some of them may even resort to playing dirty (by taking credit for someone’s work, sabotaging your chances of success, etc) just to stay on top.
8. You Have No Work-Life Balance
Studies show that a good work-life balance leads to greater work satisfaction, productivity, and employee engagement (Lockwood, 2010), so when your supervisors and co-workers can’t respect the boundaries between your work life and your personal life, it’s a serious problem for you. They always want you to work on weekends or overtime; they don’t want you to take sick days or go on a vacation leave; and you’re constantly getting late-night calls about office emergencies. Because of this, you may feel burnt out, emotionally exhausted, and overwhelmed with work-related stress and anxiety.
No one should ever have to constantly put their mental health at risk by working in a toxic environment. If you find yourself relating to any of the signs mentioned here, you shouldn’t take it lightly. A lot of people trapped in a toxic workplace tend to accept it over time because they think that’s just the way things are and there’s not much they can do about it.
Spot the signs and become aware of the harmful practices and problematic patterns in your workplace so you can find a constructive way of responding to it. Think about what you can do to change the circumstances surrounding you; whether it’s by reporting it to the management, confronting the people responsible, or finding a home for yourself at another company.
- Chamberlain, L. J., & Hodson, R. (2010). Toxic work environments: What helps and what hurts. Sociological Perspectives, 53(4), 455-477.
- Van Vuuren, M., de Jong, M. D., & Seydel, E. R. (2007). Direct and indirect effects of supervisor communication on organizational commitment. Corporate Communications: An International Journal, 12(2), 116-128.
- Klann, G. (2007). Building character: Strengthening the heart of good leadership. John Wiley & Sons.
- Lockwood, N. R. (2003). Work/life balance. Challenges and Solutions, SHRM Research, USA.