If you’re in search of signs of a toxic work environment, you likely know your workplace is harmful.
With workers coming back into the office and interacting in person again, it's easier to see where bad habits and behaviors may come back into play. It is the job of HR and leadership to tackle toxic behaviors in the workplace ASAP.
While it’s normal for colleagues to disagree from time to time or get snappy sometimes, it’s not okay for that to be ongoing. Additionally, unhealthy behaviors like harassment, bullying, and ostracism can take a toll on employees’ health and wellness.
Here are the signs of a toxic work environment to keep in mind and rectify as soon as possible.
What Constitutes a Toxic Workplace?
Ever walk into a workplace and there’s a heaviness in the air? Tension so thick it could be cut with a knife?
You’ve walked into a toxic workplace.
Worse yet, if you work in one of these environments, it can quickly take its toll on colleagues and leadership if not addressed. Toxic workplaces aren’t just created by employers, either. Both workers, customers, and employers play a role if they consistently engage in unhealthy work practices that lead to a stressful working environment.
Tell-Tale Signs of a Toxic Work Environment
There’s no specific “checklist” of toxic work examples that need to be met in order for a workplace to be harmful. In fact, it’s more of an ongoing feeling that one may have when they’re at work.
Toxic work environments are characterized by unpleasant daily experiences like:
- Ongoing drama
- Lack of communication
If you walk into work with a pit in your stomach, feel nauseous at the thought of being around your colleagues all day, or simply feel uninspired daily by your work because of never-ending stress, it’s time to seriously look at making changes to the work environment.
It’s well known that the human body doesn’t tolerate toxins inside of it. If you put up with negative workplace interactions for too long, it can make you physically and emotionally ill — just like too many toxins in the human body.
Other Serious Signs of a Toxic Work Environment
There is more than one sign that a workplace is suffering from toxic behaviors. Harmful behavior can be exhibited by and come from employers or colleagues or both. Because of this, studies show it’s important for department heads and leadership to develop and implement policies that don’t allow toxic work behavior to fester.
More signs your workplace is toxic:
- Ostracism - This behavior is harmful in that it can cause a single employee to feel socially excluded by peers or supervisors. Ostracism makes it difficult for teams to collaborate and leads to the ostracized employee feeling deeply unsatisfied in their work. It can reduce work motivation and also cause emotional exhaustion and depression.
- Incivility - Another toxic work experience includes an employee “violating workplace norms by disrupting other employees for his/her personal gain,” according to a study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. This can include being disrespectful and rude to other peers, colleagues, or subordinates. It’s particularly harmful in that it can cause depression, anxiety, and low confidence for those experiencing it.
- Bullying - As an employee, bullying is one of the most mentally unhealthy aspects of a toxic workplace. This includes anything from social isolation, blaming, humiliation, and even excessive monitoring. It can lead to low productivity, work destruction, and burnout.
- Harassment - If you or a colleague are being humiliated for your age, beliefs, sex, religion, race, or ethnicity, you’re dealing with harassment. Harassment can impact an entire workplace’s emotional well-being in addition to negatively impacting the individual’s work experience.
These four core issues can easily take down an entire workplace’s productivity with even the most promising talent onboard. Don’t lose your best and brightest by allowing bad apples to spoil the work environment with intolerable behaviors.
The Surprising Impact of Toxic Workplaces
No one wants to work in a place where they’re miserable. Not just because their boss is horrible or their work is boring. But because it’s a toxic experience day in and day out and there is no end in sight. Toxic workplaces are costly on multiple levels — from productivity dips to causing high turnover rates and employee depression — making it worth taking a serious look at policies, procedures, and the employee experience.
Here’s how toxicity can seep into and destroy a company’s and individual’s well-being:
- Depression risk triples - A recent Australian research experience uncovered that when a company lacks psychological safety parameters, it increases a person’s risk of experiencing major depression by 300 percent.
- Work productivity nosedives - If a team seems uninterested in their project, work duties, or department goals, it’s time to reassess. Morale is often lower in high-stress work environments, which can contribute to less-engaged employees who aren’t as productive or enthusiastic.
- Turnover is high - Are people leaving in droves? Why? It’s important for both staff and leadership to understand why a mass exodus of the company is occurring. Toxic cultures mean more people will quit, leaving behind team members who will feel the pressure of bigger workloads.
- Individual well-being is jeopardized - If toxic work behavior is allowed to go on for too long, research shows it will manifest in health issues for individuals. One study found work stress paired with a toxic work environment leads to health concerns like anxiety, depression, and insomnia.
Check in with yourself and your teammates often when it comes to addressing issues of toxic behavior. This can be especially helpful during times of high turnover, mergers, and when new team members or leadership are onboarded.
Tips for Creating a Healthier Work Environment
How can your company better police unwanted, toxic behavior? Look to employees to consult on workplace health and safety issues. Small focus groups, anonymous surveys, one-on-one meetings, and outside consultants can offer valuable insights for a healthier work environment.
Here are a few tips to help, too:
Tip #1: Offer Resources That Matter
Provide insight on stress management, work-life balance, and the importance of teamwork. Take a human-centered approach and look at what your team really needs to work as a functional work “family” without inviting unnecessary drama and damaging behavior into the workplace.
Tip #2: Develop a Supportive Coworker Network
Coworkers who recognize they’re on the same team tend to take a more positive, collaborative approach. Allow team members to gather together for camaraderie and events like team-building or Wellness Wednesdays. Offer a way for professional friendships to thrive.
Tip #3: Stand Up Against Bullying and Harassment
Leaders and employees alike must stand up against bullying and harassment. Difficult, challenging people exist and may be hard to work with, but that’s different from someone who is a constant bully. Clear policies on both make it easier to dole out consequences, which makes it essential for leadership to ensure policy updates are in-line with company values.
Lastly, no one should settle for a work environment that makes them physically or emotionally ill. It’s not worth the stress or risk of health issues that can stem from staying too long in a toxic environment. If it’s clear you’re constantly being disrespected, ignored, walked over, bullied, or worse, it’s time to move on to another healthier, safer work environment.
How do you watch for signs of a toxic work environment? Share your thoughts in the comments below.