30 Signs of a Toxic Work Environment
We tend to believe we’d recognize a toxic work environment like a giant slap in the face. But while a toxic workplace might seem clearly dysfunctional to outsiders, it can feel “normal” to employees.
While Hollywood tends to set the bar high for workplace toxicity — ahem, “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” for example — whatever industry you’re in, you’re almost guaranteed to work in a toxic office at some point in your career. The older you get, the easier the signs will be to spot, but here are 30 that are begging you to update your resume, stat.
1. Do you get assigned projects with a bare minimum of information?
A well-functioning workplace will be clear about how each person’s responsibilities fit in with the rest of the organization.
2. Do people communicate clearly and directly in your workplace, or do they issue passive-aggressive barbs?
These suggest something’s wrong with your organization’s culture and you needn’t put up with it.
3. Do you find yourself responding to emails or messages long after the workday is over?
You shouldn’t need to check emails late at night or on weekends unless you’re scheduled to work at those times.
Only toxic people will expect you to not prioritize work-life balance.
4. Is your manager constantly checking over everything you do or issuing highly detailed instructions for tasks that you could carry out independently?
Being micromanaged can be hugely demoralizing, stressful and even affects your mental health.
So, if your manager can’t trust you after long enough on the job, it’s time to bring it up with the human resources department (if your office has one) and, hopefully, find a new one.
5. Is your manager impossible to get a hold of during work hours?
On the other side of poor management are the hands-off bosses who not only avoid micromanagement, they avoid management altogether.
Perhaps you can’t even get in touch with your boss when you need them.
6. Is your office full of gossiping coworkers who love to make drama or exclude others?
While this might have been expected in high school, it’s definitely not normal in well-run workplaces.
7. Do you have room to grow and progress in your role?
Or does it feel like a dead end, with no path upward or even any options for online training or certification?
8. Do you get berated or made to feel guilty by your boss for taking vacation time?
Or perhaps your colleagues make passive-aggressive comments about their workload.
Vacation time is one of your job benefits, and you should be entitled to enjoy your personal life, guilt-free.
9. Are you regularly working long hours?
While some jobs will occasionally need some overtime, it’s a bad sign if you’re constantly being expected to work long hours.
Being expected to constantly stay late or arrive early is a worrying sign.
10. Do you feel totally burnt out even after a long weekend?
If you or fellow members of staff feel burnt out then, that can be a sign of a toxic workplace.
Perhaps you’re being expected to work really long hours — or you have to cram loads of work into not enough time.
11. Do tiny mistakes get made into a bigger deal at your workplace?
Maybe a single typo in an internal email sparks an angry phone call, or small problems are treated as though they’re unfathomable.
This makes for anxious workers and an unpleasant working environment.
12. Does anyone ever say “well done” or even “thanks” in your workplace?
Maybe there’s no recognition for good work, and the only feedback you get is corrective rather than positive.
Alternatively, there might be superficial acknowledgment but no real recognition. Neither are great.
13. Do you get lots of “free” perks that you’re often reminded about?
You might not think of this as a sign of a potentially toxic work environment, but a large number of “free” perks can be a worrying sign.
If your office has free snacks, that could be a lovely gesture, yes, but it could also be an attempt to keep employees at work longer.
14. Is the workforce unusually young?
Some industries attract younger staff than others, but dysfunctional companies often like to hire people in their 20s because they’re cheap and not always aware of (good) workplace norms.
15. Do colleagues keep quitting, and has turnover become part of the norm?
If no one ever seems to stay more than a year or two, that’s a big red flag.
Keep an eye out for signs of why so many people are quitting.
16. Does your boss (or someone else’s boss) yell at their team members?
A good manager will have better ways to handle frustration.
If they need to get someone to fall into line, they won’t do it by yelling.
17. Do employees at your company feel that their bosses are approachable?
Perhaps no one ever asks questions or requests help because they’re worried about what the possible response might be.
18. Are people sick surprisingly often?
Everyone gets sick from time to time, but if people are out sick often or are away without warning, that could signal that you’re in a toxic workplace environment.
19. Are there unhealthy levels of competition?
Some people have a strong competitive spirit and thrive on competition.
But if staff members are constantly positioned against one another, that suggests your workplace isn’t operating well.
20. Is there shady (or outright illegal) behavior happening at work?
Maybe your boss has told you to hush something up or perhaps your company is engaged in something that you know to be illegal.
This is a mega-huge red flag!
21. Are staff members bullying one another?
Or is sexual or racial harassment taking place at work?
A good workplace will stamp this out immediately. A toxic one might let it continue or even, in the worst cases, encourage it.
22. Does anyone ever push back in meetings or against new initiatives?
If there’s no (or very little) dissension, that could suggest that people feel it’s not safe to speak up.
23. Is favoritism or nepotism happening at your office?
If managers are constantly promoting their friends or family, that makes for a hugely toxic environment.
This is especially so if underqualified or ill-experienced people are being hired or promoted.
24. Do arguments break out frequently at work?
While two employees might have a healthy disagreement, yelling (or worse, physical violence) is a worrying development.
25. Did you have a clear job description when you joined?
Maybe you were told that the team lead was still figuring out exactly what they needed.
Ill-defined roles indicate a lack of clarity, vision and organization.
26. Does your company have bad reviews on Glassdoor or other similar sites?
While most companies have a few poor reviews on Glassdoor from disgruntled ex-employees, a series of bad reviews is a worrying sign.
If the reviews say similar things, take them seriously.
27. Does upper management make promises that are rarely (or never) delivered on?
Maybe you’ve been verbally promised a raise or a job title change that hasn’t materialized. Toxic companies might say one thing and do another … over and over again.
Make sure what was promised in your offer letter is actually delivered.
28. Are your colleagues visibly miserable?
If everyone seems unhappy, then that’s probably being caused by the one thing they all have in common: their workplace.
29. Are employees treated as intelligent and trustworthy adults, or does management think that everyone is lazy, stupid or both?
If you’re subject to intrusive time-tracking measures or insultingly remedial training, that signals a distinct lack of respect.
30. Does your workplace seem to have unrealistic expectations?
Toxic workplaces may hold employees to impossible standards. That might mean that you’re expected to be successful 100 percent or the time or that the goalposts are constantly being shifted.
If by now, you realize you’re in a toxic workplace, start making your plan to escape. If you’re a leader within a toxic organization, take a hard look at your company culture and how you could change things for the better.