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14 Signs Your Workplace is Toxic (and what to do about it)

You absolutely do not want to go to work.

Too often I speak with professionals that are in an incredibly toxic workplace, and we're increasingly seeing reporting about them in the news.

What can keep people stuck, aside from the obvious gaslighting that happens in a toxic workplace, is people don't recognize the signs. There are 15 signs your workplace is toxic - do you know what they are? If you don't, keep reading...

Toxic Workplace Sign #1: Gossip

I have to qualify by saying I'm not talking about the good gossip that just keeps you in the loop in terms of what's actually happening at the company. I'm talking about the bad gossip.

The gossip about people, your colleagues' personal lives, the judgmental gossip of who's going to get fired next. That is not productive gossip, and it's a big red flag.

Toxic Workplace Sign #2: Disrespect

Another tipoff might be a culture of disrespect. If you see colleagues that are bickering, especially if you see senior or executive leadership being publically volatile.

Toxic Workplace Sign #3: Poor Communication

While many companies do struggle with communication, there is a difference between unintentional silos which people are making an effort to bridge, and intentional siloes being built.

It is the persistent lack of communication where people just don't talk to each other or where there is intentional withholding of information and that leads to the next sign...

Toxic Workplace Sign #4: Lack of Trust

This could be between team members, leadership, leadership and their teams, or even between the company and their clients.

Anytime that there is an assumption that people should not be trusted alarm bells are sounding; people who don't trust generally aren't very trustworthy.

Toxic Workplace Sign #5: Credit Thieves

Another thing that you'll frequently see in a toxic workplace is people are taking credit for each other's work. I know a lot of women experience this casually in terms of they throw an idea and someone else takes credit for it, and it definitely can be that, but it can also go a lot deeper.

Anytime that you're in a place that is so cut-throat, that owning your own work is something that is going to be questionable, that is a sign.

Toxic Workplace Sign #6: Demanding Hours

Next is one I know is going to resonate with so many of you, and that is they demand you to work an excessive number of hours regularly.

Huge demands in terms of your hours, your expenditure and your effort, like a regularly 8a-8p workday, where you see your colleagues wasting time but putting in the appearance of working is a big sign.

Toxic Workplace Sign #7: Requiring you to do everything

Sure, you may work at a small or growing company where you need to wear a lot of hats. And in most offices, we all have to pull our weight, and that can include doing things like cleaning up the kitchen.

But if you're in a white-collar job and being tasked to clean the bathroom or do other demeaning (and irrelevant to what you do) tasks, that is a big (toxic) difference.

Toxic Workplace Sign #8: Lazy Leadership

Specifically, this is when there a big culture of a hierarchy that is matched with a lack of effort. You know the one, the executive who doesn't seem to do anything at all.

Toxic Workplace Sign #9: Bad Leadership

Whether it's the jerk boss, the bad boss, the narcissistic boss, if the quality of leadership is low, the workplace culture will suffer. And if your boss is toxic, there is no way for your workplace to not become toxic.

Toxic Workplace Sign #10: Gaslighting

This is one that I don't see discussed nearly enough. Gaslighting is a massive problem... but what is it?

It looks like this: you are putting up a stellar performance, you're smashing all of your KPIs, maybe you're even overachieving on the most important things to your company. But when it comes to review (and especially raise) time you're being told that you're barely meeting expectations.

Toxic Workplace Sign #11: High Turnover

Especially if you are considering joining a company to assess the environment, watch out for high turnover.

Some companies may qualify that, that they are generating the turnover themselves; they see a bad fit, they fire quickly (and this is another pile of BS, but also a bigger rant for another day).

Even if it is company initiated, you have to ask yourself: is it normal?

Yes, some turnover is normal and expected, however, if there is a complete turn in terms of leadership or substantial percentage of the team at a regular cadence, you really need to find out why.

Toxic Workplace Sign #12: The Boys' Club

This often is thought of as being harmful to women, and of course, worst-case it is, but it doesn't just harm women. It harms people of all gender identities.

Let's be real, toxic masculinity hurts everyone.

So whether it's being excluded because you lack the necessary equipment, or because you aren't the hypo-macho bro the power players at the company are, this one is toxic - especially when the people in power don't want to change it.

Toxic Workplace Sign #13: Open Harassment and Discrimination

To this day, there is sexual harassment that is happening and it is being permitted.

Now I know you're thinking: There's the #metoo movement, it's almost 2020 - that doesn't happen. Unfortunately, I can assure you that it does still happen.

I've heard too many stories of women reporting harassment and being told to reconsider their complaint, being retaliated against and being reprimanded for making the complaint.

Toxic Workplace Sign #14: It's Toxic for You

This sign ultimately comes down to you, because what is a toxic workplace is something that is toxic for you. Not everyone's going to agree that that workplace is toxic, but if you're anxious and unhappy, you have a substantial amount of dread before you have to go to work, you're experiencing loss of sleep, it's the only thing that you can think about; then that workplace is toxic for you.

Now the question becomes: what are you going to do about it?

The 4 Steps to Deal with a Toxic Workplace

No matter how you approach it, they must be taken as quickly as possible for your emotional, psychological, financial and sometimes even physical safety. These steps don't have to be sequential - in fact I encourage you to begin each of them ASAP if you're in a toxic work environment.

Step 1: Determine if it is a team or company issue

The easiest way is to look at your manager and identify if other leadership, are other teams in your company and ask yourself: are the same or are they different?

For example, if you have a colleague on another team who loves their manager, thinks this is the greatest company, then this might actually just be a team issue. If it's a team issue, you may consider transferring to another team if you like the company in general and it is truly an isolated issue.

However, if it is a total company issue and all of the leadership team functions like this, which can absolutely happen because it's very much modeled from the top, or if you're in a small company and the manager is the founder, then you're not going to have a lot of options in order to escape them (hang tight for Step 4)

Step 2: Focus on your mindset

Being positive can help you weather the storm that is a toxic workplace. While I can't say that you will not be affected by what's happening around you, you can minimize the actual impact.

And maybe you can even make it not so bad for yourself.

On a day to day basis, doing things like daily gratitudes to help you find the good things and maintain a positive outlook so that you aren't just completely discouraged in your career is going to be instrumental to your longterm success.

Step 3: Document everything

This is absolutely for the worst case scenario, where the situation escalates and you need to have a case, keep notes when those things arise that are incredibly toxic and harmful for you.

You probably won't ever need them (at least I hope you don't), but it doesn't hurt to have those things on file in case you ever do need them.

Step 4: Create Your Exit Plan

If the problem is company-wide, or transferring to a different team isn't an option for you, you need to leave.

It's not going to get better.

It's going to get worse and it can have longterm effects on you as a person and your mental wellbeing - and you don't want to be in that situation.

Having an exit strategy is incredibly important. While if you're like most people, you can't just up and quit their jobs, you can get the wheels in motion to move on (and up).

This includes things like doing the obvious: brushing up your resumes, starting to cultivate relationships with recruiters, and identifying references who can support you in your search.

Truly though I see way too many people stick it out for way too long in toxic environments and it harms them and it hurts their careers. So if you are in that place where you feel like it's toxic, you don't know what to do: the answer is to find a way to leave.

Have you survived a toxic workplace? Do you have a success story about leaving?

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