7 Signs You’re Working in a Toxic Work Environment

September 25, 2023

10 min read

Working in a toxic work environment can negatively affect your physical and mental health.

If you’re stressed at work, it could be more than just typical workplace stress. It’s possible that you might be working in a toxic work environment. 

It’s not uncommon, either. Nearly 20% of respondents said they’d describe their workplace as “toxic,” according to the American Psychological Association’s 2023 “Work in America” workforce survey

In our comprehensive guide, we’ll give you the rundown on what this kind of work environment is, signs you’re working in a toxic work environment, and what to do if you’re feeling stuck. 

What’s a Toxic Work Environment?

A toxic work environment is a workplace that is overall negative and detrimental to the employees’ wellbeing. These environments cause workers to have a more difficult time working due to the bleak and negative behaviors present in these types of workplaces. 

The behaviors can come from management, senior leadership, and your peers and colleagues. For example, people who work in a toxic work environment might experience:

  • Harsh criticism 
  • Yelling
  • Patronizing behavior
  • Bullying
  • Manipulation

These types of behaviors have an immediate effect on employees. They might feel guilty, depressed, belittled, and as if they’re being punished.

When you’re working in a toxic work environment, it can be extremely nerve-racking to share your thoughts and concerns, let alone speak your mind about anything since the threat of being judged and retaliated against is ever-present. 

What Are the Effects of a Toxic Work Environment?

A toxic work environment can have serious, noteworthy detrimental effects on its employees. 

Two of the most common consequences of these types of work environments are employee burnout and quiet quitting. 

Employee burnout

One result that often happens because of a toxic work environment is employee burnout. Employee burnout is a work-related state of complete exhaustion, mentally, physically, and emotionally.

When staffers face negativity at their place of work, this can quickly escalate to the point of burnout. 

When an employee’s mental health suffers, so does their work quality and productivity. Toxic workplace behavior is one of the biggest predictors of burnout, if not the biggest. It’s also a predictor of intent to leave the company. 

Quiet quitting

Another consequence of a toxic work environment is quiet quitting. When an employee engages in quiet quitting, it means that they stop going above and beyond in their position and instead choose to just meet the bare minimum requirements of their role. 

An employee working in a toxic work environment is not going to be motivated to do anything but the bare minimum, especially when there’s a complete lack of employee achievement recognition and celebration. When staffers feel underappreciated, they’re way less likely to take on more tasks and responsibilities. 

On the other hand, healthy work environments and high employee morale encourages workers to do their best and exceed expectations, simply because they want to. 

7 Signs of a Toxic Work Environment

Sometimes it can be difficult to recognize when you’re in a toxic work environment. Other times, it becomes pretty evident the work environment you’re in isn’t healthy. 

Becoming familiar with toxic work environment red flags can help you steer clear of companies that might have this type of negative workplace. 

Here are seven signs of a toxic work environment that you should look out for. 

1. Extreme and excessive stress

In a healthy work environment, you might experience stress from time to time. But if you’re experiencing extreme stress often, this is a big sign of a toxic work environment. 

When you’re in this type of work environment, there are tons of causes for extreme and excessive stress, such as:

  • A fear of rejection and failure
  • Burnout
  • Abuse from management or other coworkers
  • Inadequate communication 

Stress in general takes a huge toll on the human body, and continued extreme stress can have very serious health effects. Some of the most common long-term effects of stress include things like

  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Anxiety
  • Eczema
  • Depression
  • Substance addiction
  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Chronic back pain
  • Overweight and obesity
  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)

It can also have short-term effects, such as:

  • Fatigue and exhaustion
  • Irritability
  • Tense muscles 
  • Poor memory
  • Skin rashes or red skin
  • Headaches
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Low self-esteem
  • Excessive sweating
  • Increased heart rate

Stress can even lead to substance abuse and more absences at work.

2. Lots of office gossip

Office gossip is another toxic practice common in toxic work environments. For example, coworkers might stare or whisper about other coworkers in a malicious way. Making rude or inconsiderate comments about someone is also considered under this umbrella. Spreading rumors is another common example. 

Although some people think it’s innocent or harmless, office gossip can have pretty serious effects on employees. Besides the fact that this type of gossip can be distracting and can directly affect productivity and the quality of work, it can also lead to things like:

  • Anxiety
  • Burnout
  • Depression
  • Quiet quitting

3. Zero trust between coworkers, peers, and management

Similar to (and even due to) office gossip, having a lack of trust between coworkers, peers, and management is another red flag. 

For example, if your senior leadership or management doesn’t have trust in employees, they might begin to micromanage and monitor them to an extreme level. As a result, employees might not trust management or senior leadership. Plus, micromanaging an employee has negative consequences too, like low self-esteem, low self-confidence, and increased self-doubt. 

4. Constant gaslighting from management or other coworkers

Gaslighting isn’t uncommon at work. Gaslighting is a form of emotional abuse that leads the person on the receiving end to doubt and question themselves. 

In a workplace, gaslighting can take many specific forms, such as:

  • Coworkers lying about or to you
  • People purposely leaving you out of important discussions, conversations, and meetings
  • Denial of things that have happened or that you directly witnessed
  • Coworkers calling you overly emotional or claiming you’re exaggerating
  • People accusing you of things you didn’t do

Workplace gaslighting can take many other forms, but these are some of the most common examples.

5. Increased turnover rates among employees

One surefire sign of a toxic work environment is high turnover rates among employees. When you look at the current workforce, if there are very few employees who have worked at the company long term, that’s not a great sign.

People often find new opportunities with better pay and a kinder, more inclusive company culture. Still, when turnover rates are high at a company, consider it a red flag worth monitoring. 

6. General negativity and extremely low morale

When you’re in a toxic work environment, the general negativity can bring everyone down and lead to low morale. This has a direct effect on employees. 

To mitigate this, those in senior leadership and management need to immediately address both the low morale and what’s causing it. Otherwise, this detrimental cycle will absolutely continue. 

Once the issue is addressed, your workplace can hopefully go back to a positive, productive work environment. 

7. A lack of boundaries at work

An unhealthy work-life balance goes hand-in-hand with a toxic work environment. For example, an employee might be pressured to come in early, stay late, skip lunch, work weekends, and other habits that can cause burnout and quiet quitting. 

When employees try to set healthy work boundaries, they could be reprimanded or retaliated against if they work in a toxic work environment. 

How to Cope with a Toxic Work Environment

If you’re in a situation where you’re in a toxic work environment, it’s not a good feeling. Learning how to cope with such an environment is a necessity, and there are definitely things you can do to improve your experience and your wellbeing overall. 

For example, if you think your workplace might qualify as toxic, you can: 

  • Set aside time to unwind after work and try a new activity, like crocheting, cooking at home, or going on walks
  • Find a support system, including supportive coworkers who can empathize
  • Experiment with various mindfulness techniques, such as controlled breathing, meditation, journaling, or visualization exercises 
  • Create firm boundaries to better separate your work life and your personal life (e.g., not checking email after 5 p.m.)

If you’re ready, you can also plan your exit strategy and try to find a new job. 

Find a new job

Although it can be daunting, sometimes finding a new job is the best option. To do so, check out job boards like Indeed, LinkedIn, and Monster Jobs. These will have open positions that you can then filter by specific conditions like location, industry, pay, and other aspects of jobs.  

You can also try to find a new job through a staffing agency or by checking out American Job Centers for available positions.  

Once you’ve applied to a few places, try using an interview simulator like Yoodli. This interview coach uses AI to analyze and evaluate your ability to respond to interview questions. 

Here’s how it works. You can use Yoodli’s interview bank of questions to practice answering some of the most common inquiries that interviews have. The bank has tons of questions divided into various categories that go beyond general queries. For example, you can answer pre-written questions in industries like: 

  • Product management
  • Marketing
  • Finance
  • Consulting 
  • Software engineering
Yoodli can help you escape a toxic work environment.

However, you can also practice with your own questions that you can input. This is especially helpful if you’re interviewing with a specific company and would prefer to practice with common queries associated with that brand, such as Apple interview questions

Whatever the case may be, Yoodli will use AI to analyze your responses and provide actionable, personalized feedback based on your answer. So, for example, this interview coach can tell you how fast (or slow) you speak, how many filler words you use (and which ones), and most importantly, exactly how you can improve. 

With Yoodli, you skip the guesswork entirely and go directly to improvement. Learn more about how to use Yoodli below:

Yoodli can elevate your interview skills when it’s time to leave a toxic work environment.

How do you tell HR about a toxic work environment? 

The best way to tell HR about a toxic work environment is to be straightforward and provide specific examples of what’s going on. 

It helps to document everything that happens, too. For example, keep track of things like emails, conversations, phone calls, meetings, and instant messages. You can further organize these by keeping track of the names of those involved, when they happened, and where the incidents took place. That way, you’ll have all the details in one place and can file an official complaint with evidence if it comes to that. 

Can you fix a toxic work environment? 

For employers, fixing a toxic work environment is completely doable, but it’ll take lots of work. You’ll need to be committed to the effort of fixing a toxic work environment or your efforts will be for naught. 

Creating a positive work environment also takes time, so be patient. 

How to Create a Positive Work Environment

When figuring out how to create a positive work environment — especially after functioning in a toxic work environment — can be tricky. 

Here are some tips and tricks to fixing a toxic work environment and transforming your workplace into a space where employees want to succeed. 

Appreciate your staff

One of the easiest ways to create a positive work environment is to appreciate your staff and openly show your appreciation.

For example, identify and recognize accomplishments and achievements of individual employees. This helps them feel seen and appreciated. A little gratitude goes a long way. 

Employees need to know they’re considered valuable by the employer. After all, a company is nothing without a staff or workforce. 

Set a good example

For managers and those in senior leadership positions, setting a good example is critical. Leaders who can’t replicate what they instruct their employees to do aren’t good leaders. 

Be respectful and adhere to your employees’ boundaries. For example, if an employee decides they don’t want to check their email after 5 p.m., respect this and don’t push them to do things outside their comfort zone. 

Be flexible and open to discussion 

Some employers tend to shut down when they receive any criticism from employees. Don’t be like this. It’s completely counterintuitive to a positive work environment. 

Instead, keep an open mind and listen to the feedback employees provide you with. 

The Key Takeaway

Toxic work environments aren’t only detrimental to the employee; they actually hurt the employer in the long run, too. 

Employees are much less motivated to excel and go above and beyond in their positions when the workplace is full of negativity. If you think your company is a toxic workplace, it’s time for a change. 

Once you’re ready to start job hunting and applying for various positions, make sure to take advantage of a free interview coach like Yoodli to help you get to the next level. 


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