Throughout my professional career, I realized I had worked in some toxic work environments. Even with all the benefits and decent pay, it is hard to imagine myself working in another toxic work environment. One of the common denominators I observed, included leadership who wanted an employee who just did what they were told. As I found in my previous experience, this style of leadership did not align with my values and curious personality of wanting to know “why.”
When I was working in a toxic environment I started to observe my co-workers and noticed they were slouched over their desks, just trying to keep their heads above water. I can remember experiencing a new team of leadership, and experiencing an immense culture shift. I’d gone from having the trust of my supervisor to be collaborative with our clients, to a new culture of being asked to follow a certain set of rules at all times. I felt like a cog in a machine; a broken paper-pusher. When I made suggestions or contributions that our boss didn’t like, she would dismiss my comments and say something to let me know she was in charge.
The signs to look for in a toxic work environment:
Narcissists On Top
In the workplace narcissism can be linked to leadership, and that is exactly where a narcissist wants to be, in charge and have the power to make changes. Having a narcissist as a boss can be challenging because they have high expectations and want near-perfection, while at the same time they don’t think those same set of rules apply to them. It’s almost like you are constantly on guard - you never know what your going to get. If you agree with the narcissist and they feel they are correct, you are all good, however if you disagree and challenge their thinking, you are all bad.
When there was a negative culture shift at work, I would notice my colleagues gather in cliques to gossip, complain and talk about how unrealistic their workloads were. This kind of atmosphere can have an impact on the mental well-being of people; making them anxious and depressed.
Lack of Transparency
When you aren’t clear on how your performance will be measured, you’re already set up to fail. I can remember working at a new job and the first time I received feedback from my supervisor was after I had been there for about six months. Overall the feedback was good, however there was one area where I was told my productivity needed to improve. When my supervisor told me what was expected, I thought to myself, “It would have been nice to know about this prior to being on the job for six months.” Normally, I would ask clarifying questions, however I was discouraged because when I would ask a question the supervisor would respond in a demeaning way, as if I should have already known something that I did not know about. When there’s little transparency and communication about objectives up and down the hierarchy in an organization, it’s almost impossible for a mutually respectful, trusting relationship to flourish.
A lack of basic fairness is a good way to fuel a mutiny at work. When person A gets scolded for the same behavior that gets person B promoted, it feels like there’s no clear rubric for advancement, and it creates a sense of favoritism amongst employees, which leads to discouragement.
Truly toxic workplaces lead to employee burnout, fatigue, and downright illness. Are your colleagues often calling in sick? Fighting colds at their desks? Those are warning signs to watch out for, and can indicate a culture of chronic overwork.
High levels of stress are bad for your body, leading to digestive problems, immune deficiencies, and increased risk of heart attack or stroke. Over the long term, chronic stress can have a negative impact on your overall well-being, leading to serious illness.
So the next time you go to an interview for a job, be observant and watch out for the signs of a toxic workplace!