How to spot a toxic work environment

Your work environment is extremely important. On average, we spend 40 hours of our week in this location, with these people, doing these activities - it's important that all aspects are promoting a better mental space, and providing resources for a healthy environment.

So what IS a toxic work environment?

A toxic work environment is defined as any work setting where the overall atmosphere negatively impacts employees, causing a disruption in their work growth. If you're in a toxic work environment, it's important to realize early on so that you can take the steps to look after your mental health.

Signs that your work environment is actually toxic:

  1. Gossip and Rumors are everywhere: Gossiping in the workplace is definitely a red flag! If it feels more like you're in the halls of high school than a place of business, it's definitely a key sign of a toxic workplace environment. This reveals that the management team does not value the privacy of their employees and are indifferent to employee wellbeing. These behaviors are childish, immature, and unacceptable.

  2. No one values your input: A key sign to a toxic workplace environment is when you speak up and your management team and co-workers do not listen. Even when you are on the front line of the problem and can provide valid solutions, management will not listen. This is an example of a management team not prioritizing their employees, allowing for a toxic environment to flourish.

  3. Narcissistic leadership practices: This one is, unfortunately, not uncommon. Narcissistic behaviors can reflect as self-interest, lack of self-awareness, lack of empathy, and all the behaviors communicated in this list. It can be extremely difficult to answer to a narcissistic leader, and often times this will cause high rates of turnover.

  4. Bullying: Bullying in the workplace is often different than what we imagine it to be on the playground. Workplace bullying usually has a lot to do with psychological and non-verbal abuse. Enduring these abuses is painful for anyone, and should not be tolerated in the workplace - however, management leaving bullying behavior unchecked can allow for a toxic environment to run rampant.

  5. Unfair policies/unequal enforcement: Rules that seem to have no basis, or rules that only apply to SOME of the staff are absolute toxic workplace red flags. Similarly, if two employees break the same rule but one of them gets a slap on the wrist, and the second one gets a write up, this is an example of unequal enforcement and can cause problems revolving around the feelings of favoritism.

  6. No work life balance: Work-life balance has become notably more important (or we are becoming more aware of its importance) since the onset of the Covid-19 Pandemic. Now that we are paying so much attention to the importance of a healthy work-life balance, when the situation is NOT so healthy, it becomes immediately apparent. These days, it is intolerable to work for a company that expects an employee to over-exert and over-work themselves for business gain. A company that promotes an unhealthy work-life balance is also guilty of enforcing a toxic work environment.

  7. Low morale: Everyone is entitled to a slump during the week, a bad day, a sour taste in your mouth after that meeting. However, when it becomes a full-time feeling, that's when you need to pay attention. Long-term employees that consistently express low morale often do not feel professionally/financially valued, feel disconnected from their teammates, suffer from poor leadership, or are experiencing abuse/harassment, or any combination of the above listed problems.

  8. Communication issues/lack of transparency: Transparency is extremely important lately. Communication and honesty are absolute essential for a business to maintain mutual trust and respect with it's employees, and to create a strong and successful workplace environment. Workplaces without these key factors can often see teams working as separate, disjointed groups instead of an overall team, which can lead to feelings of low morale and frustration.

  9. Lack of empathy and compassion from leaders/putting deadlines above your mental health: Leaders/management who lack empathy for their team are usually also narcissists, which means they're not capable of prioritizing their employees. These type of leaders usually demand work comes first, ignoring a work-life balance and ultimately causing burnout. A leader that makes an employee choose between their health and their job is actively poisoning the workplace environment.

  10. Not having enough employees to complete the work/high levels of burnout: Burnout is traditionally a symptom of a poor work-life balance. This often happens when a company loses an employee and instead of hiring someone to fill the role, just adds the workload to the existing staff. This situation became very normal during the pandemic, when companies had half the staff but were expecting the same production levels. Forcing members to make up work for a team-mate that DOESN'T work there is a high proponent for burnout and unhealthy levels of stress.

So what do you do?

When the time comes and you have realized you might be in a toxic workplace, set an appointment with your management team and speak to them candidly about your concerns. This is not a time to attack, this is a time to discuss with your management the problems you are noticing, potentially even bringing their attention to the issues for the first time. It is in your management team's best interest to hold this conversation and try to find conflict resolution - after all, you want to work there, and you want to keep working for them! But the environment needs to be healthier, and it should be a team effort to make sure everyone is in a good place.