Five Signs of a Toxic Work Environment (and how to escape it)

A toxic work environment is one where negative behaviors, like lying, manipulation, and so on, are deeply embedded into the culture and operations of an organization. Toxic work environments often are high stress, and lack productivity and team trust. It’s an environment that can make you feel psychologically unsafe. But that doesn’t mean it’s too late to get out of it. 

Here at Guide to Graduate, our team has escaped a toxic workplace on more than one occasion, and has learned a few telltale signs of such an environment. Keep reading to learn the red flags to watch out for, along with advice for leaving a toxic workplace once and for all. 

Five Telltale Signs of Toxicity 

1/ Employee Tenure and Turnover

Put simply: good companies invest in their employees; bad companies do not. And, that’s shown through employee tenure (i.e.: how long the average employee stays with the company) and turnover (ie: how often roles are being filled and refilled). More turnover and short tenure are two telltale signs of unhappy employees. 

2/ There’s No Room for Mistakes

Mistakes are part of learning, and, when channeled correctly, can be turned into a growth and education opportunity. However, if you’re part of a blame-heavy culture, mistakes are feared, and could even mean the end of your paycheck. 

3/ What Work-Life Balance?

The key to feeling rested and recharged is taking time for breaks, especially away from your work. However, if deadlines seem to trump all-else, including your emotional well-being, you could be caught in a toxic environment. 

Work/life balance and a sensitivity to family or personal situations is crucial for a healthy work culture. Afterall, when results are more valued than the people generating said results, it makes employees not only feel invaluable, but also disposable. Not a great feeling to have for 40+ hours per week.

4/ Lack of Leadership

Without easy access to company leaders and decision makers, employees can not only feel unvalued, but also left in the dark on what to work on, and why. This can lead to a lack of purpose, and general disdain for the workplace. If you can’t seem to ever get a hold of your boss (or your boss’ boss), you may want to consider a new organization that values transparency and open lines of communication. 

5/ Teammates Tolerate Toxic Behavior

This last one may seem a bit more vague, but that’s really because it depends on the overall team. However, more often than not, toxic cultures embody toxic behaviors. If teammates are rude to one another, ignore others, yell or speak unprofessionally to one another–and treat it as business-as-usual–you’re not only in a toxic environment, but also a disrespectful one.

How to Leave a Toxic Workplace

The good news about toxic workplaces is they’re not too tricky to find out, and a lot of their signs can be uncovered before your start date. When interviewing, be sure to ask every person you meet with how long they’ve been in their role, why they enjoy working at the organization, what the culture is like, and their take on room for growth within the company. Their answers (so long as they’re being truthful!) can help you read between the lines as to whether or not the company will be a good career move for you.

But, if you’ve made it past the interview phase and are only slowly unveiling new toxic signs as you go, the good news is that you’re not stuck anywhere. Keep tapping your network and continuing interviewing until you find the right place, and company culture, for your goals and aspirations. 

And finally, if your job is causing too much stress to bear, you should always seek help from a trusted therapist or medical provider. No role is worth sacrificing your mental health.

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