7 Signs of a Toxic Workplace - A Must-Read for Every Employee

It is easy to get lost in the buzz of work (rushing in and rushing out) and be completely oblivious to signs of a toxic workplace. 

A few times in the past I have had to deal with a toxic work culture and I always dreaded going to work although I eventually quit the job. I wish I knew half of what I know now which would have helped me to handle the situation much better.

While there are the subtle signs that might need further probing to discover them, there are the obvious ones: that show up on your face at every given time. 

Toxic workplace is way beyond having a job you hate and you think it is okay to remain there because you need the money. But not when your overall well-being is at stake.

Sloan Management Review Reports finds that an unhealthy corporate culture is more than 10 times more likely to contribute to employee departures than a company compensation. 

Having a task to do and stretching yourself sometimes to get it done is a common occurrence in every workplace but when it becomes a daily thing and a way of operation in your workplace then it is time to rethink.

It is crucial to have an occasional work review where you ask yourselves vital questions relating to work to help you point out what you’re not seeing, in this case, signs of a toxic workplace. 

This means it is not enough to have a job to go to every day but for someone who is intentional about career growth you need to look out for signs that suggest that your workplace is not going to help you grow.

Working in a toxic place is not good for career progression and beyond that, it can lead to low morale, chronic stress, abusive behavior, conflict, excessive tension, and so on. 

In this blog post, I’ll share the visible signs of a toxic workplace including unrealistic workloads, excessive micromanagement, poor communication, lack of growth opportunities, favoritism, high turnover, low morale, bullying, and harassment, highlighting the consequences and what to do when you notice these signs.

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What is a Toxic Workplace

People who work in an abusive, hostile, or degrading setting are said to be in a toxic workplace. 

In a toxic workplace, employees feel unsafe, stressed, and stagnant and they are easily subjected to unfair treatment that can have a drastic effect on their lives.

What constitutes a Toxic Workplace

Work sometimes comes with intense deadlines, rigorous projects, tight schedules, and work, work, and more challenging work. That is the interesting nature of most careers.


But it is different when you have an aggressive boss, inappropriate comments from your senior colleagues, less or non-existent boundaries, no defined roles, or impossible workloads. 

Experiencing this in your workplace back to back is a dangerous signal that you might be in a toxic workplace.

Signs of a Toxic Workplace

1. Excessive Micromanagement

A manager or supervisor is expected to observe or monitor the team to make sure work is being done and everyone is on track.

But when someone personally takes it upon themselves to monitor every move and step an employee makes even when you’ve proved your capability to get the job done then that is a problem.  

Micromanage manifests itself in workplaces when your supervisor validates every step of every process, struggles to delegate tasks and trust that they will be properly done, wants to handle tasks alone, and pays more attention to the details instead of results. Sometimes there is no transparency in communication.

When this is the situation you will have your creativity hampered as you are not allowed to think and bring in innovative ideas. This ultimately leads to low productivity and of course, you will be stressed and burned because you don’t have the opportunity to handle your workload successfully. This can be stressful.

What you can do to handle this

Communicate: In a situation where you need to hold on to the job before the next one comes, you will need to communicate with your boss/supervisor.

Use a polite approach to communicate in writing to ask what your specific roles are and go on to show them that you can do the job well. But if nothing changes, you can make do with assigned tasks or the ones you can control and make sure you always deliver right on time.

2. Poor Communication

Effective communication in a workplace can never be overemphasized. It keeps everyone engaged, boosts morale and you know what is expected of you. It creates a positive work culture.

This in return helps drive better results for everyone both for the employee and the organization. It is even more crucial to communicate effectively in this digital age and time of remote work.

But when there is a lack of clarity or misunderstanding, withholding information, and lack of transparency, conflict, and tension become a natural occurrence, and there are constant errors and missed deadlines on deliverables. These are signs of a toxic workplace. 

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3. Bullying and Harassment as a sign of a Toxic Workplace

Some workplace practices and policies might not be fair but are not classified as bullying. 

Bullying sometimes can come in a subtle way that you may not even realize it. 

When there is exclusion or isolation- this happens if you’re purposefully excluded from decisions and conversations about work. Or even ignoring or not paying attention to contributions made, forgetting to invite you to team meetings, or making you feel like your concerns and opinions do not count. 

It can be aggressive sometimes for example yelling at an employee, displaying anger or aggression either verbally or nonverbally. 

Aggressively persuading someone to do or say something that is against their will.  

There are inappropriate touching, sexual comments, or even requests that make you uncomfortable.

Sometimes it could be when your boundary is not respected. Someone tampering with your personal space or stalking or spying on you at work can make you feel unsafe and it’s not a good sign. These are signs of a toxic workplace that you should not ignore.

What you can do to handle this

Check to find if your workplace has a procedure for making complaints and if there is a bullying/harassment policy and follow the procedure to report the bully.

Another thing you can do is to record what happened and the things you’ve done to try to put it to an end. This will come in handy when you make complaints.

If you feel safe and confident, you can confront the bully and let them know their actions towards you are not acceptable.

You can also tell another colleague about it just in case there is a way of handling such cases. This can affect your overall performance, making you unhappy about your work. 

But in an extremely life-threatening situation, you should quit the job.

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4. Unrealistic Workloads and Expectations

When you are constantly stressed at work, handling tasks that are way too much is a sure path to anxiety, burnout, and even depression. 

Even on your vacations, you find yourself working. And most times you’re not motivated to go to work and you don’t have enough time for yourself and your loved ones.

What you can do to handle this:

Consider practicing setting work boundaries and you make sure they are enforced consistently. This way you should be able to communicate to your supervisor/boss what your limits are which will help you succeed in your role. 

Collaborate with your colleagues or ask them for help especially when the workload is too heavy for one person to handle alone.

You can always share feedback with your supervisor if you feel overwhelmed with the workload. Sometimes your boss may not know how you are feeling about your role expectations and they may just believe that you can handle the workload. So, find time and communicate with them.

It is crucial to always look for workplaces that place a high value on your mental wellbeing. 

5. Lack of Growth and Development Opportunities

This is another sign of a toxic workplace to look out for. Lack of career growth makes you irrelevant in your field, every company makes this a priority to remain relevant to stay updated. 

But when you spend 4 years in a workplace and you are stuck with the same role or work routine, you may become emotionally and physically worn out with no possibilities for skill improvement or new challenges, which can cause burnout and higher absenteeism rates.

There is limited access to possibilities for professional growth or training in a static work environment. As a result, you may not have the knowledge and skills necessary to keep up with shifting market conditions or technological improvements.

When you work in a stagnant environment you’re more likely to be pessimistic and cynical. You might develop resentment over favoritism or office politics, which could result in gossip and low morale in the workplace.

What you can do to handle this:

When you realize that you’re not growing in your field, you may need to do a proper career review that will further direct your actions toward better opportunities to help you grow in your career.

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6. Unfair Treatment and Favouritism

This is not only detrimental to the employees but it can damage the reputation of an organization. 

Favoritism can impede collaboration and make it more difficult for workers to trust and respect one another.

It can also lead to low morale because you treat certain employees with more respect than others. Workers are not motivated to put in the effort to work as it bears no fruit and this further impedes your growth and that of your organization.

Some examples of unfair treatment and favoritism at work

  • Women get paid less for the same work
  • Making derogatory comments against someone’s religious beliefs, race or sexuality
  • Age discrimination
  • Disability discrimination
  • Making online posts or comments about an employee

What you can do to handle this:

If you intend to remain at your job, you’ll need to report the unfair treatment to the appropriate quarters and make sure to document it as well. This can be used as evidence if the need for it arises. 

7. High Turnover and Low Employee Morale

Toxic work culture in any organization does not support job satisfaction or motivation to work which makes it difficult to retain their workers. 

It can be physically and emotionally demanding to work in a toxic environment. If you struggle with stress, anxiety, and negativity regularly, you are more prone to look for alternative jobs that promise a better work-life balance.

Your morale is frequently low in toxic environments; a culture of negativity, mistrust, and fear can make workers feel unappreciated and undervalued; and low morale might motivate workers to actively look for new employment options where they will be treated with respect and valued.

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The Impact of a Toxic Workplace

Working in a toxic work culture has diverse negative effects which can vary from person to person. These effects can either be physical or mental which is why it is important to look out for signs of a toxic workplace. 

Mental Health Effects:

Anxiety: Because of things like unreasonable expectations, a heavy workload, and interpersonal problems, working in toxic workplaces frequently produces anxiety.


Anxiety symptoms include persistent concern, agitation, and even panic episodes.

Depression: Prolonged exposure to a toxic work environment can cause depression, which frequently manifests as feelings of helplessness and a loss of interest in once-enjoyed activities.

Low Self-Esteem: Workers who work in a toxic environment and are subjected to bullying, harassment, or frequent criticism may eventually experience a decline in their sense of self-worth. 

Feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt may result from this.

A state of emotional and physical fatigue is known as burnout. It frequently arises as a result of prolonged stress and overwork, and it can cause symptoms including exhaustion, cynicism, and a diminished sense of accomplishment.

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Physical Health Effects:

Stress: High levels of stress are frequently present in toxic settings. Physical health difficulties including high blood pressure, headaches, and digestive problems can result from prolonged stress.

When you work in a toxic workplace environment you may have trouble going to bed on time because of the heavy workload. Poor sleep can harm general health.

Musculoskeletal Issues: Working in a stressful atmosphere can physically drain the body, which can lead to musculoskeletal issues like tension headaches, neck discomfort, back pain, and muscle tension.

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To address toxic workplaces and ensure a healthy workplace which is essential for organizational growth both managers and employers must take proactive measures to create an environment where happy employees are always eager to work.

  1. Set a good example:
  • Be respectful and conscientious whenever you deal with staff members.
  • Listen intently and empathetically to the concerns and suggestions of your staff.

      2. Clarify your expectations and values:

  • Create a clear code of conduct and corporate principles that encourage professionalism, inclusivity, and respect.

  • Consistently convey these principles and expectations to every employee.

      3. Spend money on training and learning:

  • Give managers and all staff instruction on diversity, inclusion, conflict resolution, and emotional intelligence.

  • Provide employees with the tools they need to foster a positive workplace culture by providing leadership development programs.

      4. Gratitude and criticism are due:

  • Reward and acknowledge employees for their contributions and successes.
  • To encourage growth and improvement among your staff, give them constructive criticism.

      5. Update and Review Policies:

  • Review and update HR policies and procedures regularly to ensure compliance with legal requirements and best practices.

  • Make sure the policies on harassment, discrimination, and retaliation are detailed and easy to understand.

Poor communication, bullying and harassment, unrealistic workloads and expectations, unfair treatment, etc are all major signs of a toxic workplace but you should know when your workplace is no longer suitable for you or no longer serves your career goals. 

Your overall well-being in a workplace should be of importance to you and you should take the responsibility in making the best decisions when you trace any form of toxicity at work.

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