Working in a toxic workplace can be stressful and frustrating. It’s hard to get things done when you’re constantly dealing with drama, office politics, and other employees who are unhappy in their jobs.
When it comes to burnout, one of the leading causes is a toxic work environment. And this is a real challenge because there’s little workers can do to change external circumstances.
So how can you identify whether a workplace is toxic before you take the job?
If you’re already working somewhere, how can you determine if your workplace is indeed toxic?
And what can you do if you’re already in a toxic place of work?
This article will investigate each of these points to help you quickly figure out your best options in navigating toxicity at work with minimal impact.
What are some signs that a workplace might be toxic?
Alisha is a business savvy, well-connected, and empathic professional who burned out due to a toxic work environment.
The trouble, based on her description, was that despite her title of CEO, others whom she would delegate work to would be insubordinate. They just wouldn’t do their job or follow her instructions.
She describes the scene as being surrounded by people dodging work, clinging to others who are influential in an attempt to climb the corporate ladder. These machiavellian workers would get promoted over those who were working their butts off. In addition, some folks were striking side deals and getting paid unethically.
Not only was Alisha undermined and disrespected. She was feeling like there is nothing she could do about the culture melting down.
These events were affecting Alisha’s physical and mental health. She was feeling bitter and angry. Her sleep had deteriorated, leaving her totally drained. And she was left wondering what she could do about it all.
Perhaps you’re in a similar situation to Alisha. Or maybe you’re not sure what to look for to determine whether your place of work is indeed toxic.
Here are some additional signs of workplace toxicity:
1) High levels of stress and pressure due to unreasonable workloads that get in the way of you having time to recover from work.
2) A lack of communication and transparency, leading to confusion and uncertainty. If employees aren’t being told what’s going on or why things are being done in certain ways, they’re going to feel alienated and disempowered by their employer. When transparency is lacking in an organization, employees may experience feelings of anxiety and distrust.
3) When employees are constantly criticized, it can be detrimental to their self-esteem and their performance at work. Criticism should be constructive and impersonal.
4) A lack of support from management and a lack of resources or training to do the job effectively. Support is important for employees’ motivation and engagement, which means that if you feel like your manager or the company at large isn’t supporting your professional goals, that may be a good indication that your workplace is not healthy. You should look for signs of this type of support—it might come in the form of training or mentoring programs, but ideally it will also be provided by your boss, who listens to your concerns and helps guide you toward success.
5) A culture of fear or intimidation, where employees are afraid to speak up or express their opinions. Maybe you’re worried people will throw you under the bus. Or you don’t dare say “no” when you’re asked to stay late or take on another project despite feeling already overwhelmed. You might have noticed that your boss is often angry, especially when you make mistakes or disagree with him or her. Your supervisor may have even thrown things in anger at some point during the past few weeks.
6) A high turnover rate, indicating that employees are leaving the company due to negative experiences.
How to determine is a workplace is toxic before you join
If we had a way to know in advance that a workplace is toxic, it can certainly prevent burnout. Especially if you’re escaping a toxic work situation and don’t want a repeat occurrence, you’ll need to be able to gauge your future place of work before settling in.
To identify a toxic workplace before joining it, you can:
1) Research the company online to see if there are any red flags or negative reviews from current or former employees.
2) Ask the interviewer questions about the company culture and working environment during the job interview.
3) Pay attention to your gut feeling and trust your instincts. If something feels off or uncomfortable during the job interview process, it may be a sign that the workplace is toxic.
We often have two minds about a given situation. When it comes to work, you need to pay attention to both your conscious and subconscious mind.
- The conscious mind: You can reach out to people already working in said company to ask about their experience. What is the culture like? If they had a chance to do it all again, would they still make the same decision to join the team? What don’t they like about their job or the culture?
- The subconscious mind: There is a mechanism by which we are drawn to the familiar. We may feel attracted to a certain workplace precisely because of this. I’ve seen this happen in particular with empaths who are drawn to working with narcissists. If you know this about yourself, list out previous experiences that you’d had and what they all had in common. Does the current place seem to fit the pattern? If so, run the other way!
What can you do if you’re already in a toxic workplace?
If you are already in a toxic workplace, it can be more difficult to identify the issue and address it. In such a case, some steps you can take include:
- Talk to a trusted colleague or supervisor about your concerns
- Seek support from a mentor or HR representative.
- Keep track of specific incidents or behaviors that contribute to the toxic environment.
- Consider seeking out new job opportunities if the toxic environment is affecting your well-being and performance.
That last piece of advice is especially potent because while it may be enticing, it’s the hardest often to do.
Here are some things to consider:
- What are you getting out of this arrangement that is keeping you in it? For Alisha, it was salary and equity in the company.
- What are the aspects of the job that make you want to run away? Are you, in fact, selling your soul? What is your price for staying?
- What are the costs of staying? In Alisha’s case, she reported poor sleep, missing workouts, emotional eating, an inability to be present with loved ones, and resentment.
- Are the things that entice you and those that repel you in balance?
If you decide to leave, you’ll likely need to build the emotional fortitude to break away. This entails overcoming your guilt, disengaging from the fear of the perception of others, and disentangling the stories that keep you emotionally attached.
Imagine what it would be like to be without the toxicity. How would you be sleeping? How would you feel? Where would your energy be? What else would be different/better?
By visualizing what’s possible, you will see how the situation is psychological in nature and instead of getting sucked into it, you can focus on areas over which you have control.
There are no right or wrong answers here. The decision you make is highly personal.
How to Deescalate the Toxicity Within Your Own Mind
If you want to stay in a toxic environment, can you deescalate the situation by turning it from a calling to a job? This will be tricky if you are emotionally invested.
One strategy for accomplishing this is by turning your interpretation of events around in your mind. Reframe what is happening around you. Don’t make it about you. Rather, make it about external factors. Try to understand what others might be thinking and feeling to lead to their actions.
When you need to assert your boundaries, make your explanation about you, not about them, as in “This is not working for me.”
Where you might find it challenging is when your brain starts to catastrophize about the worst case scenario. These are thoughts like, “It’s so awful” or “I can’t stand it” which lead you to feel victimized and disempowered.
To regain control of your mind, go back to the things that build you, refresh you, and give you perspective. Approach the situation from a contained way of what works for you. Challenge any false notions that by leaving a job you are abandoning others. This presumes that you are responsible for others and brings on guilt. Not true. They are responsible for themselves. It’s just a sign that you are an empathic human being who cares about people other than yourself. Just don’t abandon yourself in the process!
If you find yourself surrounded by negativity at work, this can take a toll on your mental and physical health and could lead to burnout. Therefore, it’s important to know what to look for, whether you’re in search for a new job, or are trying to determine whether your current place of work is toxic.
You’ll need to gather not only the facts, but also how being in such an environment is affecting you. Rather than allowing resentment to lead to quiet quitting or moral injury to lead to an erosion of your soul, be proactive and ensure there is a value match between yourself and your place of work.
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