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How to spot an unhealthy working environment

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A toxic work environment is more than just a job you “loathe.” We all experience terrible Mondays, challenging weeks, and generally disappointing months sometimes at work. That’s the recurrent circular nature of a career. However, you’re basically able to make it through a terrible Monday, survive a challenging week, and learn precious lessons from a disappointing month. 

A toxic office environment is like having all of these challenges on extensive repeat, without a break. Toxic office environments breed negativity, competition, unrest, low morale, constant stressors, sickness, high turnover, and even bullying. Even worse? Toxic work environment rarely stops at work. They mostly follow you home.

They drain you physically, emotionally, and mentally while taking over your conversations with loved ones, stealing away your much-needed sleep, and generally cause worry and stress. 

Toxic workplaces can lead to stress, depression, burnout, and serious disruptions in your normal life. 
So, if you discovered this article because you’re searching for signs to know if your work problems are the result of generalized work stress or something worse, let’s dive into five signs your workplace might actually be toxic. 

5 Signs You’re In a Toxic Workplace

If any of these look familiar, it’s time for your workplace to shape up—or for you to think about finding a healthier place to work. 

A TOXIC WORKPLACE MAY HAVE BAD COMMUNICATION

Insufficient, incoherent, confusing, or scattered communication is a sign of so many problems in the workspace. In fact, communication skills are one of the most vital skills needed in any successful organization. Why? So many things fall under the communication umbrella, this includes listening (both as a manager and an employee), verbal communication, written communication, preferences on how to communicate the list is endless.

So, how do you tell if bad communication is leading to workplace toxicity? Here are a few samples of bad communication.

  • Constant lack of clarity around projects 
  • Different employees receiving varying messages and instructions.
  • Passive-aggressive communication
  • Failure to listen 
  • Constant “off-hours” communication 

Communication is usually one of the root causes of bad or good organizations operating poorly. Bad communication mostly leads to confusion and a lack of purpose for employees. From here, problems arise and compound, often leading to the next nine items on our list. 

A TOXIC WORK SPACE MAY HAVE CLIQUES, EXCLUSION + GOSSIPY BEHAVIOR 

“I want the workplace to feel like sixth grade all over again,” said nobody, ever. So when it does, it can be very deflating. 

We all know what a clique looks like. It’s the group of people, whether it’s at work or at school that sticks together, grabs each other coffee, laughs at inside jokes (of which they somehow have millions) and generally excludes anyone outside of their closely knitted ring. And, while we are all adults here, it can feel particularly alienating to exist on the outside of an active clique. 

Simply put, cliques are very counterproductive in the work environment. While having friends and acquaintances in the workplace is good, any behavior that can be labeled as “clique-ish” is best to be avoided. Here are a few warning signs you’ve got some cliques in your office:

  • Constant feeling of alienation from a group of people
  • A specific group that lunches, grabs a coffee, and organizes happy hours together
  • Projects have often been offered to a specific group, regardless of talent or experience
  • Large chunks of the workday spent whispering or chatting on messaging platforms
  • General outward disinterest from the group in anyone else,except it involves gossip or “drama” 

A TOXIC WORKPLACE MAY HAVE BAD LEADERSHIP

Here’s a huge one. There’s this old saying that says, “You don’t leave a job, you leave a bad boss,” for a reason. Bad leadership can permeate into every fiber of an organization and it mostly does. We profiled seven kinds of bad bosses and how to tackle them, but here’s the thing.

Sometimes bad bosses are a product of their bad bosses and so on. It’s this hierarchy of bad bosses that make the overall workplace, you guessed right downright toxic. 

Bad bosses wear a variety of hats. You might have the micromanager, whom always corrects you, while undermining your decisions, and ultimately impedes you from performing your job. You might have encountered the “Blame Game” boss, who is quick to point fingers and blame everyone else for mistakes but themselves. Or, you might be lucky enough to have the “No Respect” boss, who emails at odd hours, doesn’t understand or respect boundaries, forgets how to spell your name, and most likely doesn’t even know what you do. 

A TOXIC WORKPLACE LIKELY HAS UNMOTIVATED COWORKERS

We’re not suggesting that you should judge the quality of your work or lack thereof on those around you. However, finding yourself in a workspace full of unmotivated coworkers takes its toll on everyone. There are two common reactions to unmotivated coworkers. 

• You’re either going to shoulder a ton of work that they aren’t handling and find yourself burnt out.
• Or their lack of motivation is going to bum you out and burn you out with a type of under-challenged burnout.

Just like one’s colleagues can inspire them to work harder, be better, and incubate new ideas, they can also wear them down. Unmotivated employees are basically a result of a much larger problem in the organization. Perhaps it’s just bad communication from the top? It might be disorganization, disenfranchisement with leadership, or general distrust. Whatever it is, if everyone around you is unmotivated, you’re in a toxic work environment. 

A TOXIC WORKPLACE MAY HAVE STIFLED GROWTH

On the topic of growth, if you’re not experiencing it, your work space might be toxic even if it’s just personally toxic for you. If your workplace seems not to offer any mobility, learning opportunities or mentorship, there’s a high probability they’re not invested in the growth of their employees. Once you’ve recognized that you have no opportunity to grow, it might be time to change the soil. 

According to a recent survey by Monster.com, 68 percent of remote employees are still experiencing serious burnout. Why? Well, in short, it’s because some of us aren’t really turning off, ever. Coupling your job with home related stress, childcare, your partner navigating an entirely different career within close proximity, and the dissolution of your home into a 24/7 office, you’ve got the full recipe for workplace burnout. 
Now, imagine everyone on your team experiencing thesame kind of burnout. Suddenly, your Marketing Associate’s late email seems like a personal attack. Doesn’t he know how busy I’m? What an insult! 
Work space burnout can rapidly turn a once healthy workplace into a toxic one. You should combat this by scheduling in person meetings, downtimes, encouraging self-care, and by scheduling delights into your work weeks. Understand that communication is the key to making the work of collaboration. Find ways for your team to reproduce water cooler time, to connect, and to separate from work in order to recalibrate from time to time.

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