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Is Your Workplace Toxic?

A toxic workplace involves more than just being in a job you don’t like. We’ve all had bad days, weeks or months on the job. But a toxic work environment encourages employees’ bad behavior, and the cycle of lousy days never ends. Workers might be bullied, harassed, or overworked to the point of burnout.

Anyone, in any industry, can find themselves in a toxic work environment. These workplaces take a serious toll on their workers’ mental health and often aren’t as productive as they may think they are.

Below, you’ll find some of the signs of a toxic workplace and what to do if you find yourself in one.

What Causes a Toxic Work Environment?

There’s no single factor that causes a toxic work environment. Dysfunctional workplaces come in many different forms, and there can even be several types across a single organization. Some of the most common causes are:

  • Poor communication
  • Lack of clear company values
  • Harassment or bullying
  • Discrimination

Truly toxic work environments often have more than one of these factors at play. Not to mention, toxic employees can exist at any level of an organization. However, toxic environments tend to get worse when someone in a management or leadership position participates in toxic behaviors.

Signs of a Toxic Workplace

It can be hard to see the warning signs of a toxic workplace, especially if you’ve been working there for a long time. Here are a few things to watch out for:

  • High employee turnover
  • Lots of gossip and office drama
  • Low morale or lack of motivation
  • Few opportunities to move up
  • Being stressed or overworked is the norm
  • Lack of professional development opportunities
  • Lack of feedback
  • Excessive communication when you’re “off the clock”
  • Lots of people calling in sick, or coming to work sick
  • Employees who “try too hard” are bullied

Employees in a toxic workplace might be discouraged from taking breaks, or even be reprimanded for taking legally required breaks.

In most cases, if your gut is telling you something is not right at your job – you’re probably right. Toxic employers often try to make workers feel they’re lucky to have a job to justify unhealthy practices.

Effects of a Toxic Workplace

Toxic work environments harm everyone involved, including bosses, employees, and often customers as well. If left unchecked, toxic practices can seep into an entire organization.

— Effects On Employees

Employees in a toxic workplace often have a hard time performing to the best of their ability. In addition to poor work performance, they also might experience negative mental health effects such as burnout. Burnout is characterized by chronic stress and can include physical symptoms, like trouble sleeping and digestive issues, as well as emotional symptoms like irritability or constantly feeling ineffective. In many cases, the problems a person has in a toxic work environment follow them home. Work issues take over, and it’s hard to enjoy time with family and loved ones.

— Effects On Employers

The high employee turnover that comes with a toxic workplace is ultimately bad for a business’s bottom line. Training new employees costs more than many may think. And the more often you’re replacing people, the more you’re incurring those costs.

Plus, if employees are struggling to find meaning in their work, they aren’t productive. Toxic work environments just don’t function at the same level as others, even if it seems like everyone is continuously swamped.

How to Deal With a Toxic Work Environment

Coping with a toxic work environment isn’t easy. For most people, the best way to improve the situation is to leave the job. But there are a few other things you can do in the meantime to make the experience more manageable. Not all of them will work for everyone or every toxic work situation. It’s important to try a variety of coping strategies to find what works for you.

— Try to Be Positive

You can’t always control the people who cause a toxic workplace, but you can control how you respond. Think about how you can maintain a positive attitude. Or, find ways you can avoid contributing to the issues that make your workplace unpleasant. If you hear coworkers gossiping, don’t participate. Even better, point out that what they’re doing doesn’t support a productive workplace. Focusing on your own language can go a long way.

— Keep Work At Work

Venting to someone you trust about issues at work can sometimes be helpful. But if you find that most of your conversations are dominated by bad office experiences, it’s time for some new boundaries.

— Leave the Organization

Of course, this is easier said than done. But, if your workplace environment is impacting your mental health, physical health, or life outside of work, it might be time to explore other opportunities. If you do decide you’re ready to leave, remember that you still have certain rights.

— Take Legal Action

In some cases, leaving a toxic workplace is not enough. If you have experienced harassment, discrimination, or a violation of your rights as an employee, it is absolutely worth considering taking legal action. Far too many organizations will not make changes to fix a toxic environment until they are told to do so by the courts.