Think about starting work tomorrow. How do you feel? Do you notice your body tighten, your breath becomes shorter, your heart racing? Do you feel a sense of dread, anxiety, or exhaustion? Do you feel trapped, helpless, and unsure how to get out?
Are you working for the weekends? Do you spend your Sundays worried and anxious about what may happen in the upcoming work week? Does your boss’ name or voice make you cringe?
If some of these examples seem relatable, there is a good chance you are worn down by a toxic work environment. How can you know for sure? Consider some of the following signs.
Signs of A Toxic Workplace
A toxic workplace is a negative work environment that is harmful to your mental and emotional well-being. The stress caused by a toxic workplace can manifest in chronic stress, physical distress, conflict with coworkers, and lagging productivity. Possible signs of a toxic workplace include:
Abuse and Intimidation
If insults, belittling language, sarcasm, veiled threats, or repeated subtle digs are frequently experienced by you or other employees, you may be experiencing workplace bullying, intimidation, and abuse. Employers and coworkers do not have the right to belittle or threaten you. Bullies in the workplace often try to intimidate others by creating an environment that does not tolerate disagreement and opposing ideas. Suppression can be outwardly malicious or confusingly underhanded. If you are told that your feelings are wrong, you are being “too sensitive,” or having a “thick skin” is a good quality, these can also be signs of emotional abuse and manipulation.
On the one hand, working in a place that does not tolerate opposing ideas can be toxic. On the other hand, a workplace that encourages workers to oppose each other all the time and tear each other down is also toxic. If you feel like you are constantly defending yourself against attacks and criticism about your competency, intelligence, and work-ethic, you might be experiencing an unhealthy level of competition. A competitive work environment where workers are pitted against each other can create low morale and toxic work relationships.
Poor Communication, Expectations, and Systems
Work expectations, guidelines, and systems that are vague, unfocused, constantly changing, or subjective can be unsettling. You may feel like your goals are moving targets and you are never getting it right or doing enough. In addition, you may feel like you can never get a handle on the work priorities. Your workplace culture may feel chaotic and disorganized. This lack of clear communication, expectations, and systems can be disruptive and hinder your ability to perform and achieve to the best of your abilities.
Poor Work/Life Boundaries
Are you getting text messages from your boss at 2 am in the morning expecting a response? Are your coworkers bragging about how late they stayed at work or how much they worked on vacation? A lack of clear boundaries between work and home life can set expectations that you should be available 24/7 and that your personal time is not your own. If you find yourself checking work email, if you are unable to relax during your down time, or if your boundaries are constantly challenged and disrespected by your leaders and coworkers, you might be experiencing poor boundaries at work.
Favoritism and Bias
Do you feel overworked or under-utilized compared to your peers? Perhaps there is a strong undercurrent of favoritism or nepotism in the organization that undermines your efforts. In a work environment where favoritism and bias are present, opportunities, acknowledgement, advancements and promotions are not based on merit or effort. Some employees may be expected to do very little while others take on the bulk of the workload. Some employees may advance quickly through the ranks while others are passed up for promotions year after year. When you look at the leadership in your organization, do you see people who share your identities? Or are people of certain identities (e.g., gender, race, ability, citizenship status) dominate the leadership demographic? Favoritism, nepotism, and bias can be mentally and emotionally taxing.
Poor Mood and Low Morale
A persistent lack of motivation or enthusiasm, pressure, overwork, negativity, and boredom is exhausting over time. A work environment where you and your co-workers feel apathetic, dispassionate, and dissatisfied can be draining. This is likely to impact your relationships at work and home. If the toxicity has seeped in long enough, you might find yourself and workers around you numb, depressed, anxious, and irritable. When a workplace has low morale, you will often see high turn over rates in both employees and leadership.
Strategies to Cope with Your Toxic Workplace
If you cannot leave your work right away, the next best option may be to use healthy coping strategies to manage your current work situation while you plot out a long-term exit plan.
Take regular breaks throughout your workday to help break up your day, reset, and disengage from the toxicity. If regular breaks are not possible, bring a water bottle to the office with you. Not only will you stay hydrated, but it also gives you a chance to step away from your desk to refill it and clear your mind. Take the full lunch break away from your work. Instead of working through lunch to catch up, leave your workspace to sit down and eat your meal.
Scheduling longer breaks, vacations, and mental health days may be helpful. To mitigate depression, burnout, and anxiety, a mental health day can help you recharge, meet with your therapist, and identify your exist strategies.
Prioritize What Brings You Joy
Setting boundaries with work when dealing with a toxic work environment is crucial. When you are off the clock, try your best to keep work separate from your home life. Fill your time at home with activities and people that bring your joy. Schedule much-needed time with friends. Incorporate some self-care with a bike ride, a bath, or a massage. Use the weekends as a way to get outside, move your body, and enjoy nature. Whatever it is that makes you happy, prioritize them intentionally so you can build up the cushion of resilience you will need to face your toxic workplace.
Know Your Worth
Overtime, toxic work environments can chip away at your self-esteem, self-awareness, and self-worth. You might come to doubt yourself because your work environment and the people in give you an inaccurate and diminished view of yourself. You can combat this erosion of your worth by intentionally reminding yourself of your value and contributions. Spend some time thinking about your strengths and accomplishments. Look back on all of the tasks and projects you accomplished. Take time to reflect on the positive feedback you received from clients, supervisors, and coworkers. Consider your achievements since starting in your career. List them, read them, recite them routinely.
Seek Professional Help
You spend the majority of your life engaged in work. Finding happiness and satisfaction in your work and career is an important part of having a purposeful and fulfilling life. If you are feeling stuck, unhappy, anxious and depressed due to a toxic work environment, it may be time to seek extra support. In addition to friends, family, mentors, and coworkers, a therapist who specializes in workplace stress and burnout can provide you with the extra support you need to make significant changes in your career.
We invite you to reach out to us to see if we can help. You can schedule a free 15-minute phone consultation to learn more about our services and see if one of our workplace and career specialists can be a good fit for you.