Toxic Work Environments Suck! Here’s How to Spot and Escape One

Do you dread working each day because of a negative company culture? Your work environment can make all the difference when it comes to having a good or bad job.

The impact of company culture on employee happiness and success cannot be overstated. A toxic culture can quickly turn even the most promising job into a nightmare, while a positive culture can inspire and motivate employees to achieve their full potential.

Whether you’re a seasoned professional or just starting out in your career, understanding the importance of company culture is crucial to making or breaking your experience at work. Don’t let a toxic work environment ruin your life!

So how can you ensure you land in a workplace where you can thrive? It’s important to know when it’s time to cut your losses and move on.

If you’re wondering whether your job is a breeding ground for toxicity, keep an eye out for these tell-tale signs of a toxic work environment.

1. Poor Communication

Communication is the key to any successful workplace. Employees expect access to management when questions arise, and management expects that employees can maturely and appropriately handle projects, disagreements, and daily tasks.

Toxic workplaces often suffer from prolonged poor communication, whether it’s from management, coworkers, or both.

Because the leadership of an organization often sets company culture, look to the top management first to see if they show signs of poor communication. It can manifest in a number of ways, like the following:

  • Lack of clarity of project expectations or deadlines
  • Calls, texts, or emails at all hours of the day and night
  • All communication about organizational structure or best practices is word-of-mouth and never written down
  • Communication is one-way; your manager emails you often but is never available to answer your questions or provide clarification

If management exhibits any of the above signs, this poor communication can trickle down. It can be infuriating and lead you to be a stressed-out and low-performing employee.

2. Unclear Expectations

It happens constantly–your boss asks you to do a task outside your job description, and you oblige. Before you know it, this task has become part of your routine, even though it used to be someone else’s responsibility, and it’s taking time away from you doing your assigned work.

When employees don’t have clear job expectations, healthy workplaces can quickly become toxic.

Employers become confused about who’s in charge of what, which can easily lead to a project being dropped or ignored.

Or, instead of hiring extra people, companies decide to add more and more work to the plates of their already busy staff. But do these employees get paid more for taking on this additional work? Do they get a better job title? I doubt it!

Ultimately, this is a poor decision for employers because hiring new talent after old talent leaves is more expensive than ensuring your current employees feel valued and appreciated.

3. Non-Leader Leaders

It is a well-known mantra that people leave managers, not companies. Nothing is worse for employee morale than a manager who expects their employees to follow specific rules and policies but doesn’t follow those standards themselves.

Successful managers are typically those who also lead well, however, managers are not always leaders. When you encounter a poor leader in a management role, it can significantly impact workplace culture.

Some signs a non-leader leader may exhibit are:

  • Micromanaging and not providing any autonomy for employees
  • Short-tempered or angry one day but happy the next
  • Talking poorly about an employee in front of other employees
  • Always absent or always unavailable (i.e., their door is always shut)
  • Never wants to solve a conflict and just avoids the workplace issues

Dealing with a poor manager can be challenging, so ensuring a manager gets leadership training is an important aspect of organizational development. Unfortunately, that’s out of your control as an employee.

You can try speaking with your boss’s boss or your HR department, but you’re better off spending your energy on finding a new job or transferring to another department.

4. Low Morale

Employee morale refers to the general mood of the workplace. Low employee morale follows when the organization has poor leadership and communication.

Some signs of low employee morale are:

  • High turnover
  • A constant, negative attitude
  • Burnout
  • Poor performance or quality from typically high achievers
  • Cliques forming between coworkers

Employees expect to come to work to do their best, but it can be highly frustrating when your day is bogged down with trying to track down your manager or coworker to get an answer to a simple question.

People don’t want to stay at an organization with a persistently negative culture, so they search for an organization where they feel valued and leave. The employees that stick it out, though, are likely to be experiencing burnout, leading to poor work performance and general negativity. It can manifest in cliques forming in an attempt to blame the low morale on one or two less popular employees.

Feeling some fatigue or stress at work is a natural part of any job, but becoming so exhausted that you have lost all enjoyment of your work or become easily frustrated by minor problems can be a sign that you should be planning your escape.

5. Effects on Mental Health and Well-Being

Working in a toxic workplace can have real and devastating effects on your mental health and well-being. Many people experience depression and increased anxiety due to a toxic workplace culture. You also may experience physical effects like indigestion issues, insomnia, paranoia, or even a heart attack if the stress has gone on for a prolonged time.

Escaping stress at work is virtually impossible, but when you are working in a toxic workplace, managing that stress can be much more difficult but crucial. The physical and mental effects on an employee’s health by staying can be severe and long-term.

If you have more bad days at work than good ones, that’s a big warning sign you should never ignore.

And take an honest look around you – burnout and negativity among your coworkers can be a telltale sign that you are working in a toxic workplace.

How to Survive a Toxic 9-to-5

The best way to manage a toxic workplace is to get out of it ASAP, but that is not always an option due to personal or financial reasons. If you have to stay at your toxic organization, you need to learn to manage your stress levels and practice self-care while looking for other employment.

Here are some recommendations for trying to manage your stress and cope with your workplace culture:

  • Realize you are not a reflection of your current surroundings
  • Separate yourself and your identity from your bad manager(s)
  • Take time out of your workday for a short meditation or breathing exercise or just to get away for a bit
  • Fill your workspace or cubicle with uplifting quotes and photos, and things you love
  • Engage in positive self-talk
  • Realize you cannot control what other people say and do, so just focus on you

Finding a job while you are working full-time can be difficult, too, but it is a vital way to save yourself from years of adverse physical and mental health effects.

When Toxic Becomes Hostile

Toxic workplace culture can be challenging to manage, but it may be illegal if the toxicity is discriminatory, pervasive, severe, and unwelcome. If you are in a hostile work environment, report the behavior to HR or a supervisor and document any incidents.

Harassment can come in many forms but becomes illegal when treatment is based on race, religion, color, gender, disability, or national origin. The CRA has some limitations, so contacting an experienced attorney is an important first step in bringing action against a hostile organization if things escalate to that point.

Don’t Tolerate a Toxic Workplace

Attempting to navigate a toxic workplace is stressful, difficult, and mentally exhausting. It can have long-term mental and physical health effects and cause heightened depression and anxiety for stressed-out employees.

Poor management, lack of communication about role expectations, and low employee morale all lead to toxicity within a workplace. Employers who are unaware of these issues are likely to create an environment where employees don’t stick around. Organizations can also become liable for damages if the problem becomes pervasive or discriminatory.

If you are experiencing a toxic work environment, the best thing you can do is leave. You deserve to feel supported, motivated, and engaged, so prioritize your well-being and seek out a better job where you can thrive and reach your full potential.

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Amanda Kay, the founder of My Life, I Guess, provides valuable career advice and support for anyone striving to make a living and, more importantly, make a life. Whether it's navigating job searches, learning new skills, overcoming unemployment, or dealing with debt, My Life, I Guess has been a go-to resource for career guidance and financial stability since 2013. Amanda's expertise and relatable approach have been featured in trusted publications such as MSN,, Yahoo! Finance, the Ladders and Fairygodboss.

1 thought on “Toxic Work Environments Suck! Here’s How to Spot and Escape One”

  1. The best compliment I ever received is when a former intern who had worked in my engineering department, who was now an engineering manager herself, told me she was trying to model the way she managed her team as closely as possible to how I had done it some twenty years previously. She said my group of engineers always had so much fun at work and there was always laughter and friendship in abundance. I felt life was too short to not have meaning and enjoyment from your job and I made it my job to to help my teammates succeed in their careers while having fun at the same time. Toxic work culture is awful, great work culture make such a difference.


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