Work & Career
12 Signs Your Workplace Is Toxic
Your work environment can make a huge impact on your health, which is why it’s so important to ensure that you’re not only happy with the work, but you’re happy and comfortable with the people, too. Here are some signs that your workplace is toxic—and what you should do about it.
Your workload is unrealistic
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If you have trouble completing your work within the daily and weekly time frame, despite your best efforts, you’re dealing with an unrealistic workload in a toxic work environment. This can lead to high levels of anxiety and depressive feelings, explains Mayra Mendez, PhD, LMFT, a licensed psychotherapist and program coordinator for intellectual and developmental disabilities and mental health services at Providence Saint John’s Child and Family Development Center in Santa Monica, California. “The long-term effects include low morale, high level of turnover, and employees experiencing burnout,” she says. She recommends prioritizing your workload for a day or week, scheduling time off, and taking allotted vacation time rather than losing it due to lack of use. Also try taking breaks and engaging in calming practices. If you decide leaving is your best option, make sure you know these 10 things you should always do on your last day of work.
You’re expected to work beyond eight-hour days
Unless working more than eight hours a day is in your job requirements or essential for your profession, you shouldn’t be expected to stay late or come in early, according to experts. “Studies have shown that people who typically work long hours over an extended period have a higher risk of experiencing depression,” says Dr. Mendez. “Ways to manage the toxic 24/7 work expectations include self-care by taking a rest from work. [This] opens opportunities for fresh thinking, creating, and effective problem-solving.” She recommends giving yourself the permission you crave to take a break, turn off your phone, and get home at a healthy hour in the evening.
You feel incredibly anxious throughout the workday
Anxiety can stem from numerous things outside of work, but a toxic work environment can definitely trigger unhealthy levels of stress and worry. “Do you get stomach aches or feel yourself tense up as you approach each workday? How is your appetite? Do you notice aches and pains that have worsened?” asks Lindsay A. Henderson, PsyD, a psychologist who treats patients via the telehealth app LiveHealth Online. “Our body gives us signs all the time that our minds might be struggling—pay attention and counter these effects with healthy habits, like a routine that encourages sleep, hygiene, a healthy lunch break every single day, and regular exercise.”
There’s bullying, harassment, and/or name calling
It’s not just a concern for kids on the playground: Bullying and harassment can happen in a toxic work environment, too. This includes name calling, angry outbursts, cultural insensitivity, and oppressive behavioral standards, explains Dr. Mendez. “Promoting a system of ‘us versus them,’ and berating someone because of their individual differences or preferences, are abusive and demoralizing behaviors,” she says. If you are in a situation such as this, she recommends addressing the issue head-on and seeking help from human resources. “If it is possible and desirable, request to transfer away from the person or situation,” she adds. “If, for some reason, the counselor is unresponsive, seek legal support or appropriate avenues of discussion to raise awareness and gain a sense of empowerment.” Learn these signs you have toxic co-workers and how to deal with them.
Co-workers gossip behind each other’s backs
Gossip is toxic anywhere, but there should be absolutely no tolerance for it in the workplace. Tanya Otterstein-Liehs, a movement and mindfulness coach, explains that listening in and contributing to workplace gossip can potentially leave an individual feeling manipulated and possibly pressured into saying things they may not agree with. “Walk away from workplace gossip, hold back from adding negative comments, and maintain a positive mindset,” she says. “Better yet, take it a step further and begin complimenting your co-workers on their work ethics, their kind gestures, and the skills they bring to the workplace.” Make sure you’re not guilty of any of the 13 most annoying workplace habits.
You’re pressured to lunch with the crew
Being invited to eat with the rest of your co-workers is a nice thing—unless their invitation comes with badgering and insults if you have other plans. Additionally, points out Otterstein-Liehs, constantly eating out and ordering takeout lunches creates unhealthy eating habits and the consumption of toxic ingredients. “Ever wonder why you feel bloated and tired after consuming a lunch you purchased? For starters, you probably ate your lunch too fast, not to mention what you ate is probably full of unhealthy ingredients, like high sodium levels,” she says. To avoid creating a toxic work environment for your mind and stomach, she recommends packing a homemade lunch and bringing it with you to work to eat in the lunchroom, not at your desk.
Your boss or co-workers have poor morale
Complaining and grumbling over to-dos isn’t uncommon in the workplace—it can even serve as a way for co-workers to connect—but when the negative interactions are more common than the positive ones, it starts to become detrimental very quickly. “Making excuses, blaming others, and having a distrust in leadership can create a very toxic environment,” says Dr. Henderson. “Try to stay above the fray, not engage in the complaints or gossip, and even make your intentions known to others.” Here are some sneaky sources of stress at work (and how to deal with them).
You’re constantly subjected to criticism
If you feel like you can’t be yourself and are nervous to participate in normal conversations, especially during meetings, your workplace is likely toxic. Dr. Henderson explains that this fear is a result of previous instances of criticism. If you know someone is going to shut down your every statement and idea, why would you even put yourself in that situation again? “When making a suggestion or mistake leads to punishment or criticism, it can stifle creativity, innovation, and motivation,” she says. “Having a direct conversation with a supervisor about how to communicate your thoughts would be a good way to gain clarity, if possible.”
Your family or friends notice a difference
If your friends and family have made comments in regards to your mood or demeanor since you’ve taken on a job, or since this job has become toxic, listen to them. The fact that they’re noticing a negative change in your mood or behavior says something. “Sometimes the effects of a toxic workplace can be more apparent to others than they are to you,” says Dr. Henderson. “It can be easy to get defensive, but try to listen to what they have observed, ask for ongoing feedback, and use their support to manage the workplace stress.” Look out for the 8 signs your job is hurting your health.
You can’t bring yourself to disclose the mental health problems you’re experiencing
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Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, people with physical or mental disabilities cannot be discriminated against on the job. The tricky part, however, is that you have to disclose your issues in order to get reasonable accommodations, explains Stephen P. Hinshaw, PhD, professor of psychology, UC Berkeley, & professor of psychiatry, UC San Francisco. He recommends talking with your human resources counselor to avoid a toxic work environment. “Know your rights and rehearse your disclosures until you feel comfortable making them.”
You feel like you could get fired at any minute
Some workplaces are characterized by high levels of uncertainty, high turnover, and constant change, which often make employees feel fearful and anxious, explains Jerry O’Keefe, national director for Employee Assistance Programs at Kaiser Permanente. However, this is not necessarily normal—or healthy. “Persistent worrying about situations that are out of your control can cause long-term physical and emotional distress,” he says. “Staying or becoming resilient is the best way to weather challenging times in our lives, as doing so focuses your energy on the things you can control and that keep you healthy, like eating right, exercising, sleeping well, and taking care of your emotional health and well-being.” These are the signs you can’t trust your boss.
You’re never truly out of office
“Between the laptops that go home with us each night and the smartphones we carry in our pockets seven days a week, it’s rare that employees are ever truly ‘off the clock,’” says O’Keefe. “But being poised to react or respond at all times has been shown to take a toll on overall mood and energy levels, causing unhealthy spikes in stress hormones.” He recommends working with your manager to set boundaries when it comes to your workload so that you’re not taking it home at night on a regular basis or working while on vacation or over the weekend. “Setting limits will allow you the leisure ‘down’ time needed to recharge, and it will make you a more productive employee—a win-win for everyone.” Next, don’t miss these 36 simple ways to make your workplace less stressful.