5 Signs You Have a Toxic Workplace Environment & How to Handle It
Toxic employees suck all the productive juices out of any organization. They turn out to be an expensive investment. They contribute nothing to the growth of the business. Also, they demotivate and infuriate all the team members. In this article, I’ll cover what toxic workplace behavior is and highlight 5 toxic workplace behaviors. I’ll also provide a few tips to help prevent each type of toxic behavior.
It’s important to understand what constitutes toxic behaviors in the workplace and how it can affect your business.
Toxic behavior is generally defined as any behavior that negatively impacts others. It can include a workplace that is marked by significant drama and infighting, where personal battles often harm productivity. These behaviors can be exhibited by employees or, in some cases, by management. And no matter who is involved, they can disrupt a business significantly.
Toxic workplaces can be defined as any job where the work, the atmosphere, the people, or any combination of those things cause serious disruptions in the rest of your life.
What’s more, toxic or hostile work environments have negative health impacts that can affect your personal life by damaging everything from your self-esteem to your friendships. it’s impossible to be effective and feel fulfilled in a toxic workplace environment. Even if you work from home, a negative work environment can transcend physical walls. The intangible qualities that make work a healthy or unhealthy place can impact everything from your personal life and health to your self-esteem.
Don’t let a toxic work environment catch you off guard.
So leaders — and their front-line managers — need to look for the signs they have a toxic workplace. Then they’ll want to take steps to stop negative behaviors and move teams forward with more civility. Here are five signs you might have a toxic workplace, regardless of the model — full time on-site, hybrid or remote.
Toxic Workplace #1: Gossip and Rumors Run Rampant
Water cooler conversations are fun. Whether it’s regular office gossip or informal conversations within cliques, they help relieve workplace stress and strengthen the bond among employees. However, some employees might be the target of office gossip and rumors. Gossiping shouldn’t come at the cost of your co-worker’s feelings.
Office gossip can cause unwanted conflict and can undermine working relationships and negatively affect team work.
An organization filled with gossiping employees is not a healthy work environment. When not addressed, this chatter can lead to exclusion and even backstabbing and bullying in some circumstances. Be on the lookout for an organization full of gossipers. These type of employees create mistrust between co-workers and the management team. They love to start rumors about the company and spread nonsense stories about co-worker’s personal lives. Despite getting the perfect work environment, they always waste time in filling the workplace with their negative vibes.
One big by-product of poor communication? Office gossip.
After all, when there’s no anchoring code of conduct, things can easily go from, “Sally doesn’t show up to work meetings” to “We heard Sally is late because she’s dating Robert from tech.” In addition to spreading false info, gossip can lead to cliques forming, which consequently means there’s an exclusionist culture in place. People can lose their jobs, arguments arise more quickly and the office vibe becomes less Parks and Recreation and more Mean Girls. Not good.
If you notice a tight group of people at work that alienates others in the workplace, it may indicate a toxic workplace.
While it’s normal to have work friends and acquaintances, any behavior that shows these groups acting like a clique and spreading negativity or gossip breeds toxicity. Gossiping can not only lead to hurt feelings, but it can also put a dent in your employee morale and cause workers to flock from your business. Employees will often complain to their peers rather than solve the issue through proper channels. Gossip is what happens when team members are not talking with each other directly about issues or elevating concerns and having them addressed. When people don’t feel seen and heard, their dissatisfaction leaks out in complaints to their colleagues.
Unfortunately, workplace gossip isn’t 100% avoidable.
Heck, 55% of men and 79% of women admit to gossiping in the workplace. Sometimes, you just can’t steer completely clear of it. But, you can discourage it and squash it early on. Toxic environments breed an atmosphere that permits bullies to prosper because they allow bullying behavior to go unchecked. To help diminish gossip culture at your business, be observant, set an example, and consider creating and enforcing a zero-tolerance policy.
Toxic Workplace #2: Lack Of Enthusiasm
One of the ways to see if there’s the workplace is toxic is by evaluating the energy and enthusiasm of the employees. If they are dragging themselves into the office from the parking lot, not saying hello or greeting each other or look like they are unhappy, then they probably are not enjoying the workplace. Anyone looking at an unmotivated office feels the vibe of discontent. This is a clear sign of a toxic work environment.
If you walk into work and everyone around you is miserable a la “Office Space,” then you may be trapped in a hostile environment.
In this type of office, there is no enthusiasm; no one coming in with smiles on their faces and no one ever says “I love working here.” A high turnover rate among employees is a good sign that people are fleeing very quickly, most likely because of their unhappiness and poor morale at the office. When you’re at work, look around your office or work area to determine whether anyone is truly happy and smiling. If you don’t see positive conversations or employees socializing, it can equal toxicity. This lack of motivation and morale can spread to everyone in the workspace, creating an exponentially bigger problem.
If your team doesn’t seem motivated, you may need to blame a poor workplace environment.
Keep in mind that if your team isn’t motivated, it doesn’t always mean your workplace is toxic. But, it never hurts to make sure that it’s not and to do something about it if it is toxic. To motivate employees, make sure they’re on the same page as you when it comes to your business’s mission and vision. Set clear goals for your team and give them something to strive toward. And, be sure to recognize and appreciate employees for a job well done when they accomplish tasks big and small. A little appreciation can go a long way.
Employee disengagement is a key sign of a cultural divide within the organization and should prompt leaders to reach out to team members.
If everyone in the office seems to have a bad attitude, it may be a result of intense competition placed on co-workers, high-turnover, or office drama. Your gut is telling you something is wrong. I suggest scheduling weekly 1:1 meetings with more senior team members and monthly 1:1 meetings with more junior members. Spend time getting to know the individual personally and allow the conversation to naturally flow into business matters and any challenges.
When you spend time around people with a pessimistic mindset, it can negatively affect your mood.
Even if you don’t find yourself around uplifting personalities, it’s important to stay positive to keep you from never-ending negativity. Remind yourself of what you do enjoy about your job and look for the good in as much as you can. Focusing on what you’re grateful for ensures the negativity won’t get you down. It’s worth noting that while it’s important to remain joyful, don’t overdo it and act like nothing is wrong. Instead, focus on your duties and be both respectful and polite to everyone you speak to.
Toxic Workplace #3: Communication Slows, Not Flows
When employees don’t know what’s going on, they fill the void of information with rumors. If an employee doesn’t have the most current information, they may miss a deadline and get reprimanded by their manager. Inefficient communication is not only demoralizing, it can endanger the health and safety of employees. Organizations with poor communication strategies are a sign of a negative work environment.
Transparency has been a big buzzword recently, and for good reason.
Communication and honesty are essential for organizations to maintain the mutual trust that is necessary for a successful workplace environment. When these core elements are missing, a team is operating as separate disjointed pieces rather than as a cohesive unit. Lack of clear communication has always been and continues to be the biggest red flag in the workplace. Especially now that businesses are entering hybrid working arrangements, businesses need to prioritize how they talk and listen to their employees. Ineffective communication creates confusion and distrust, as employees feel both left in the dark and that they’re not being heard. This is a recipe for disaster, and a clear sign that employers need to be more transparent before workers start looking for the way out.
Improper communication means that people are often scattered or confused about expectations from leadership.
Good communication is the key to any successful relationship, and when it comes to making a company run smoothly, it’s the difference between toxic and nontoxic company culture. Projects may seem complicated, stressful and difficult to execute either because there aren’t enough hands on deck, or there are too many people who want to take the reins. You may also notice leaders talking down to employees in entry-level positions or taking immediate sides in conflicts, instead of allowing everyone to chime in and express their concerns.
For any team to thrive, open communication is key.
Leaders must avoid being selective communicators. It’s an unrealistic expectation for leaders to communicate one way and expect employees to adapt to their style. Instead, use adaptable and diverse communication platforms to accommodate how employees address you, either verbally or in writing, in an effort to seamlessly connect with them. Proper workplace communication has many benefits. More specifically, it enables organizations to become more agile and achieve better workplace alignment. It also improves some of the most important KPIs around employee retention, engagement, motivation, and talent attraction.
When leaders are strong communicators, they can better manage their teams.
When you are a strong communicator, it is much simpler to delegate activities, manage conflicts, motivate and build relationships (all important responsibilities of an administrator). Effective communication not only talks to people, but give them the opportunity to talk to each other. Strong communication channels are essential. That said, communication is a two-way process and if you don’t listen and don’t encourage dialogue with the other party, no job or person can survive for a long time. Listening shows respect and allows you to become familiar with extraordinary problems that you may have to solve as an employer.
Toxic Workplace #4: Turnover Is Never Over
When the work environment has nothing good to offer except dysfunction, poor morale, and sickness, colleagues will start heading for the door to find a better situation. One tell-tale sign that something is wrong within the workplace is when employees come and go at breakneck speed. With so many people (especially millennials) prioritizing their wellness and mental health, no one is going to want to stay in a place that disrupts that. So, if you find that your co-workers are dropping like flies, it’s wise to analyze the culture.
If you notice a high turnover rate in your company or department, take that as a sign of a toxic workplace.
Poor morale, sickness and an overall lack of enthusiasm can lead to employees looking for employment opportunities elsewhere. In fact, one out of five employees have quit their job due to toxic workplace culture. If your employee turnover ratio is skyrocketing, do a little digging to determine why. Maybe it’s because of poor compensation or benefits, lack of work-life balance, or limited growth opportunities. Or maybe, it’s due to a toxic work environment. To find out why employees are leaving, ask questions during an exit interview. That way, you can pinpoint problems and narrow down if high turnover is because of an unpleasant work environment.
Poor leadership is often at the root of high employee turnover.
Employees who feel like their work has meaning and are driven by a sense of purpose are much more likely to dedicate themselves to their jobs. Strong leaders know how to pass their vision on to their team and inspire them to achieve the goals that will bring them to realization. While solid feedback regarding past performance is a must, this skill also involves relaying information throughout the process. Letting your employees know what is expected of them and working with them to determine realistic timelines and results will eliminate negative surprises at the end of a project. If you leave them in the dark about their performance you can expect dissatisfaction and turnover to skyrocket.
If your company doesn’t offer learning opportunities or mentorship, it may not be invested in your growth.
While it’s not your job’s responsibility to motivate you to continue learning, the lack of support can indicate a toxic workplace. This may encourage you to seek other opportunities. We all do our best work when we know it counts for something. But if you’re working for a company that’s stuck in their decades-old routine and is resistant to new ideas, you can easily feel stifled. If you can’t pitch new ideas or improve upon your skillset, that may be one sign. It’s also good to take stock of the people you work with and evaluate whether or not they’ve grown. If you notice that your cubicle mate has been in an assistant position for three years, yet she knows the business in and out, you may just be working for a company that doesn’t support progression.
As a leader, you want your employees to grow and prosper.
That way, they can expand their skills and knowledge and use it to help your company succeed. But surprise, surprise — another one of the red flags of a toxic workplace is lack of employee growth. So, how is your business doing in the growth department? Are you stifling growth opportunities? Or, are you encouraging them? If your business is not giving employees room to grow and not investing in expanding employees’ opportunities, you may be breeding a toxic workplace. Employees crave growth and knowledge. The more you do to help your team grow and succeed, the better. And, employee growth means more growth for your company, so it’s a win-win.
Toxic Workplace #5: Leaders Are Invisible
When executives work behind closed doors or from home all the time — or essentially keep a low profile — in the workplace, it can become toxic. Again, employees who are in the dark about what’s going on in their company — on everything from performance and management decisions to vending machine options and hybrid work hours — will feel insecure. They worry about job security and company viability. And they’ll often create negative talk to fill the holes.
Executives and all leaders need to work behind closed doors at times.
They need to focus, make tough decisions or do confidential work. That’s OK. But when that’s the case, try to let employees know why the door is closed — and employees won’t think the worst. Moreover, leaders that exhibit narcissistic tendencies are far from an anomaly, unfortunately. These tendencies can manifest themselves in self-interest, lack of empathy, lack of self-awareness, or any of the behaviors included on this list. It can be difficult to reason or even coexist with a narcissist, resulting in high turnover due to employees’ inability to cope with this type of leader.
Good leadership is crucial for any business.
And there’s a big difference between being just a boss and being a leader. While a boss simply tells people what to do and how to do it, a true leader guides and motivates their team to achieve goals while developing their professional skills. Not embracing true leadership could cost you your entire team. Leadership presence is defined by four behaviors: being present, connection, expressing and self-knowing. Connection is by far the behavior that makes the greatest impact on people. Someone can be a powerful orator, but without personal connection, the impact is diminished. Leaders who make the connection are perceived as more relatable and down to earth, which creates greater trust and loyalty.
It’s frustrating when you need to ask your boss a question and they aren’t around or haven’t responded to your emails and texts.
Employees who try turning to their boss for help but don’t get a response become discouraged by the lack of communication. They feel like their boss doesn’t have their back or doesn’t care about them. And this leads to fatigue, burnout and stress which are all symptoms of a negative work environment. No feedback or negative feedback leads workers to doubt their abilities. They’re less likely to innovate or suggest new ideas. And employees who don’t get feedback will be hesitant to put forth the effort to do their jobs. A breakdown in timely, honest communication erodes employees.
Toxic bosses usually seem unwilling to listen to others and feel as if their way is always the right way.
Your boss loves wielding his or her power and showing others that they’re in charge. He or she probably isn’t willing to lend a hand to help in tasks or give you credit for a job well done. If you feel as if your boss would expect you to come to work even if you were on your deathbed, you might be experiencing a tyrannical and toxic boss. Good leaders want to use every tool they have — personal contact, Zoom, calls, etc. — to praise and reward employees often. They want to use technology, off-site gatherings and virtual tools to include everyone in celebrations, praise, rewards and events focused on the company vision.
No matter your profession, it’s important to surround yourself with uplifting individuals and a healthy environment that promotes your professional growth. Even if you find yourself in a toxic work environment, there are several things you can do to make the most of the situation.
Toxic behavior exhibited by anyone within an organization can form a toxic workplace culture.
And with everyone working remotely because of the COVID pandemic, picking the signs of a toxic workplace can be challenging. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t work towards a healthy workplace environment. Use the tips mentioned here to prevent toxic behavior and create a friendly environment for everyone in your team!
Company culture is important to your business’s bottom line.
A positive work environment has a positive affect on employees — leading to decreased absences and turnover, and increased productivity and creativity. Your employees come first. And if you treat your employees right, guess what? Your customers come back, and that makes your shareholders happy. Start with employees and the rest follows from that.
Many times company culture can get a backseat to other pressing matters such as financial or customer-related issues.
However, ignoring workplace culture can lead to a toxic workplace where employees are unhappy and consistently underperform. Toxic environments also lead to burnout, increased stress, and fatigue. A workplace where empathy, feedback, and clear goals have been set and are on full display is hard to find. That’s why it’s important to recognize some of the red flags of a toxic work environment — so you make the right choice and find a job and company where you’ll be happy.
Toxic workplaces all have similar characteristics. But if you know which toxic work environment characteristics to watch out for, you can stop them in their tracks before they do some severe damage to your reputation.
Knowing the signs of a toxic workplace and how to handle it will allow you to take your next step on your terms and in your time — so your next job will be a place you truly enjoy working. What do you think. Are you up for building a people-first company culture where everybody feels empowered and recognized? Are any of these five toxic behaviors common within your workplace? Share your thoughts in the comments below!
Digital Dandy. Hacker From Heart. Workaholic. Coding Artist. Self-made.