7 Signs of a Toxic Work Environment

Is it just a bad day or a toxic work environment?

Kate Conradie
Oct 31, 2019 · 5 min read
Photo by Dan Meyers on Unsplash

I recently left a toxic work environment. Although at the time I did not realize how toxic it was. I was unhappy at work. I thought I was unhappy because I did not fit in and did not enjoy the work. Both of these were true.

However, the work environment was also toxic. It allowed for no room to grow or career development. A toxic work environment creates an unhappy workforce. No one wants to work in a toxic environment. People will come to work unhappy and leave work unhappy. They will be distracted by things that are not productive. They will engage in workplace gossip and backstabbing. A toxic work environment will not inspire productivity and creativity. It will create the opposite. Although I am no expert, these are the signs I noticed.

1. Your employer threatens your job

Your boss should never threaten to fire you as a tactic to motivate you. It is a terrible tactic and will only cause stress and anxiety. They should never say things like, “We may have to pull the plug,” or “I don’t know what is going to happen if you don’t meet your target” or “ We don’t have bench warmers here.”

These tactics never work. It does not inspire you to work harder and faster and produce more results. It will only inspire you to do one thing; look for another job.

No one wants to be threatened with possible termination. Even if it was only a threat, it will loom over your head and distract you from your work and cause unnecessary stress.

2. Your employer threatens disciplinary action

My previous bosses loved to threaten. Warnings, disciplinary action, or anything else they could conjure up that might instill fear in their employees.

Your employer should never threaten anything ever including disciplinary action. If your job is being threatened, then so is your livelihood. Being threatened with disciplinary action or a warning is not going to help you work any better. Especially if that disciplinary action never materializes and you are left coming to work every day in fear. This will not create a productive work environment.

3. Your boss is an expert at scapegoating

My previous bosses were incapable of accepting responsibility for anything. When something went wrong or a client was unhappy, they immediately blamed someone below. They could not admit they were wrong or that they had messed up. They actively looked for someone else to blame.

When you are the boss the buck stops with you. If you consistently blame or shout at your employees for something they had no control over instead of solving the problem then the work environment will stagnate. Being a boss means being the problem solver, but if you are not seeing the problem or pointing your finger at the wrong cause, then the problem will persist and get worse.

4. Almost everyone at work is looking for another job

About 80% of the people I worked with were looking for another job.

One sign that everyone in your company is unhappy is if most of the people are looking for another job. If half or more of the workforce of looking for another job then it is a sign of systemic unhappiness. It means that most of the employees are unhappy with the treatment they are receiving.

It is hard to enjoy working somewhere where it is clear that most people don’t want to be there and at the first opportunity they will leave. Instead of working hard, employees will spend their time looking for a job. A toxic work environment does not inspire loyalty.

5. Half the workforce leaves within a short period

In 7 months half of the employees resigned at my previous job. This should cause some distress and alarm bells. The bosses did not seem to notice or care why people were leaving.

It is impossible that all the employees will be happy all the time. It is impossible that everyone will love the work environment and fit in. But when half the workforce resigns it is a sign that the work culture is toxic and it is not a sign that those people could not handle the stress or “high-pressured environment.”

6. There are no safe places

I never felt safe at work. I never felt like I could make a mistake without receiving severe retribution. I felt terrified walking into work most days and wanted to fade into the background.

The work environment was permeated by fear. I was afraid of losing my job, of not making my fee target or making small spelling errors. Most of the time I felt like my seniors were looking for reasons to blame the lower staff members. They were waiting for us to mess up so they could unleash the anger.

I didn’t feel like I was learning anything, even though I was supposed to be learning as my position was akin to an internship. My employer was supposed to be teaching me how to be a good lawyer and about the law.

7. Your employer doesn’t trust you

No one likes a boss that micromanages. It is a sign of distrust. If your employer doesn’t trust you then why did they hire you in the first place? My previous employer checked every sentence in every email. It was impossible to get work done because everything took so long. A 5-minute email took half an hour to complete. A one-page letter took 1 month to complete. Not only is it annoying to have your boss breathing over your shoulder, but it is also unproductive.

The Bottom Line

Toxic work environments are unproductive spaces. They do not inspire employees to work harder or faster or more efficiently. They create an unhealthy environment where growth is difficult. Although I did not enjoy working in a toxic place, I certainly discovered the type of work environment I don’ t want to be in.

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Thanks to Jonathan Irwin

Kate Conradie

Written by

Lawyer but would rather be writing and travelling. Fortune favours the brave.

The Startup

Medium's largest active publication, followed by +566K people. Follow to join our community.

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