A toxic workplace can make your life unnecessarily stressful. And unfortunately, there are many awful cultures and abusive company leaders out there.
But there are also plenty of companies who treat employees well and do their best to create a positive work environment.
Whether you are interviewing for a new job or currently working, you need to be aware of the signs that an employer might be hostile. Use the below toxic workplace checklist to spot the signs and red flags, so you can avoid these companies or make your exit plan.
15 Signs of a Toxic Workplace
If you are reading this article, then you probably have some awareness that you may be in a toxic work environment. You might be getting this feeling internally or you are noticing a few things are “off” about the culture or managers.
Typically, there will be a few signs and glaring red flags. You might even see your bosses doing something illegal or unethical.
But a toxic workplace can slowly build overtime and be something you overlook early on. Regardless, here is my checklist.
1. Managers are constantly micromanaging you and your co-workers.
Micromanagers can be stressful and annoying. The last thing you need is someone constantly hovering over you while you are working or badgering you about specific tasks.
2. There is a lack of communication among leaders and employees.
Do you always feel left in the dark about your work, projects, or the company as a whole? If transparency and communication is completely lacking, it’s a sign of a toxic workplace.
3. You are hesitant or even afraid to share opinions with managers.
Sometimes managers or leaders create a “culture of fear” and it causes employees to be hesitant to share ideas, thoughts, or even ask questions. Usually because others have been belittled or mocked for sharing.
4. You notice high turnover, whether people quitting or getting fired.
Are employees quitting often or do you notice talented co-workers being fired quite often? This can clear sign of a toxic workplace and managers with unrealistic expectations.
5. Leaders or managers ignoring concerns on deliverables and goals.
While all businesses have growth goals, sometimes the expectations leaders want is impossible. Executives and managers should be open and empathic to any concerns employees bring to their attention on projects. If they aren’t, red flag.
6. People in the company gossiping about others or starting rumors.
Whether remote or in-person, water cooler talk should be encouraged by companies for some socializing. But that doesn’t mean employees should be gossiping or starting rumors either. And if that is rampant in the organization, it means HR and leadership aren’t putting processes in place to stop it.
7. You noticed favoritism in who gets promoted by managers.
If friends and family are constantly getting hired, promoted, in charge of the best projects, or get away with things throughout the workday that are questionable — big red flag.
8. A complete lack of work/life balance and boundaries of personal time.
Do bosses constantly call, text, or email you outside of work hours? Is there always a “crisis” that needs attention during your personal time off? This is a quick way to burnout if you feel obligated to always respond or jump at their request.
9. You or others are consistently being bullied or harassed.
Nothing more to say here, but report and get out of this work place ASAP.
10. Constant blame of others for lack of results or business growth.
Certainly, there will be some lazy co-workers that don’t deliver and constantly make mistakes. It happens to the best of workplaces. But leaders and managers should also assume responsibility and find ways to fix any gaps in results. A culture of blaming others never boosts morale.
11. Human resources lack empathy or offer support for issues.
Although the role of human resources is generally to protect the company, it doesn’t mean they can’t be helpful to you. A good team of human resource leaders will want to provide solutions, resources, and be there for any needs you have.
12. Mistakes are never allowed.
No one is perfect and mistakes on the job happen. If you are seeing people ridiculed, blamed, and embarrassed for small mistakes in front of others, you are in a toxic workplace.
13. Managers and leaders are never open to new ideas or take them seriously.
New ideas can come from anyone in the workplace. And while not every idea can or will be implemented, your company should be open to ideas and feedback.
14. A complete lack of interest in diversity, equity, inclusion within the company.
A work culture of different backgrounds, experiences, and cultures makes for a great workplace. It’s one reason why I like companies that offer remote work worldwide! Yet, there are many organizations talking about DEI, but never make progress or really care about it like they claim.
15. An environment of ego and constant snide remarks.
Ego can be a dangerous personality trait to business and culture. If you notice leaders have strong egos, always think they and their company is the best, and make derogatory or snarky comments often — another big red flag.
Sometimes, a few of the signs of a toxic workplace are attributed to select people. But other times, it’s a huge company-wide problem that requires your attention.
The Impact of a Toxic Workplace
Beyond the negative consequences over time on the business, a toxic workplace can really affect your own mental and physical health.
I’ve experienced this myself early on in my career with some toxic managers. It made going to work a drag, I was consistently in a bad mood outside of work, and I lacked motivation.
That’s not who I am, but I started to notice how the work had changed me. To the point where I was just miserable. And no job is ever worth a negative impact on your health.
Don’t feel down on yourself if you missed the toxic workplace signs early on, it can truly creep on you. And it’s also a fairly common issue, unfortunately.
According to research by MIT Sloan School of Management, around 30 million, or one in nine, U.S. workers experience their workplace as toxic.
The good news
The good news is more companies are taking their work culture seriously and genuinely want to improve. You see various benefits and improvements like remote work, flexible PTO, mental health days, sabbaticals, and other perks and benefits.
And companies are utilizing employee engagement and feedback tools to help drive the culture in a positive direction.
Now if you are job searching, you also have online tools like Comparably and Glassdoor to peek into the culture and what current or former employees have to say.
But don’t just solely rely on those sites either, do deeper dives. As reviews and insights can sometimes be manipulated by the organization.
I’ve seen companies offer gift cards and other perks to individuals to drive up culture scores, instead of removing the toxicity issues. Go figure.
What Should You Do When You See Red Flags?
There are really only two options in my view that you can take if you are seeing a few signs from the toxic workplace checklist above.
What you do will depend on if it’s a company-wide issue, team issue, or challenges with a specific individual. And also if you really like your job or not.
If it’s a co-worker or someone specific causing issues for you, then you may want to address them directly. Use a gentle approach and document everything that happens.
Not every toxic person will respond well or consider your feelings about it, so be prepared for that. From there, you could escalate it to your manager or to human resources. However, if your manager or HR rep are also toxic then going to them probably won’t remedy the situation.
If it’s a full team or multiple managers causing a toxic environment, it might be time to seek a new job. And if you aren’t happy with the work either, then it’s definitely time to start looking.
Prep your resume, start listing out the criteria for a new job, and begin applying. No job is worth the stress and toll it takes on you mentally and physically.