6 Signs You’re Working In a Toxic Work Environment

From time to time, we all dread the new work week. Comics and memes are jokingly exchanged on social media because everyone has “a case of the Mondays”. Unfortunately, though, many people actually dread going to their jobs every single workday— not just on Mondays. When this happens, it is a strong sign that your job is a toxic workplace.

Working at a toxic job can be mentally and physically draining. Not only will you dread going to work each day, but you will also feel stressed out. Those negative feelings could also have a harmful impact on your career and personal life.

I connected with Piyush Patel, author of Lead Your Tribe, Love Your Worker and entrepreneur, and he shared his thoughts with me on toxic jobs.

“Happiness and satisfaction at work correlates with how well a company can provide the top half of Maslow’s hierarchy for entrepreneurs: Belonging, affirmation and meaning. Each of these layers are additive. You won’t feel meaning in your work without the confidence of affirmation from your work. You can’t reach either affirmation or meaning in work if you don’t feel a sense of belonging.

At the end of the day, meaning is the goal that everyone strives to achieve in their work. To quote Maslow, “A musician must make music, an artist must paint, a poet must write, if [they are] to be ultimately happy.”

Mr. Patel went on to say, according to a 2006 study by Thomas W. Colligan MSW and Eileen M. Higgins, a toxic work environment is one of the factors that increase stress levels for workers.

Do you feel like your job is a toxic workplace?

If you’re not 100% sure if you are in a toxic job, here are a few tips to help you recognize if your workplace is toxic.

1. Leadership and employees have poor interaction with each other.

“There’s a lot of subtle clues that’ll help you determine if a work environment is toxic,” Patel said. “One of the most obvious signs is how workers interact with each other. According to a study by UCLA’s Professor Emeritus of Psychology Albert Mehrabian, over 90% of our communication can be non-verbal.”

Mr. Patel further explained: “Taking this into account, what’s really being said in our workplace? Is there panic in someone’s tone of voice? Does the body language communicate stress? Are people afraid to talk to their leaders? Or is there excitement and passion? When we start to open our other senses, we can start to get a better picture for a company’s culture.”

“There’s a lot of subtle clues that’ll help you determine if a work environment is toxic,” says Piyush Patel, entrepreneur. Photo by NESA by Makers on Unsplash

2. You notice you have developed bad work habits.

Are you always showing up to work late? When you are at work, do you only complete half of the job? This may be a sign that you are not satisfied with your workplace.

In the article “5 Reasons to Leave Your Toxic Job Right Now”, writer Alison Green says spending too much time in a dysfunctional workplace or working for a bad manager can make you adopt “survival habits”. These survival habits merely help you get by at your job, but it isn’t healthy for you.

Green advises it’s important to understand that the survival habits can actually hurt you if you decide to switch jobs. Your low performance or survival habits could cost you a good job because the bad habits you have created will transfer over to your new job.

3. It’s all in the details.

You know the saying, “It’s the little things that matter.” This expression can also be applied to determining if your job is a toxic workplace. “If people are eating at their desks regularly, that’s an indicator of not having time to take an adequate lunch break,” Mr. Patel says. “That’s the result of poor planning from leadership.”

Mr. Patel shared with me one of his favorite ways he determined how well his team was doing at his company Digital-Tutors. He would check the toilet paper in the restroom. “As silly as it sounds,” he said, “We’ve all been there—when you’re done and reach for the toilet paper only to find an empty roll.”

“Why should that ever happen in an employee-only restroom? It’s never a surprise when you’re using the last few sheets, and it takes mere seconds to change. That means encountering an empty roll was the result of someone’s conscious decision to screw over whoever was next. They tore off the last few sheets, looked at the empty roll and didn’t care enough about their co-worker to take ten seconds out of their day to replace it.”

Patel believes in order for a team to work well together, “they must look out for each other. That starts with the little details.”

4. You’re stressed out more than usual.

Stress is not good for our health, even work-related stress. If your job is stressing you out so much to the point where you feel angst, anger, fear, or hopelessness, then this is definitely a sign that you have a toxic job. How do you expect your job performance to be at its best if you are under a great amount of stress?

To understand why you are feeling great stress at work, think about what it is about the job that is stressing you out. Do you feel you are underpaid? Are the job benefits lacking or perhaps costs too much money? For instance, some employers may offer health insurance, but the monthly premium is very expensive. I know someone whose employer not only took out the monthly insurance premium from his paycheck but also decreased his hourly wage if he opted to accept his employer’s insurance plan. Not having adequate job benefits can also lead to high stress.

5. There are immoral and illegal activities at your job.

Immoral and illegal activities is a BIG red flag that your job is toxic. lists these four examples of immoral and illegal activities at a job:

  • Coworkers ask you to cover or lie for them.
  • You are asked to falsify data, reports or documents.
  • A coworker uses sexual favors to get ahead at work.
  • Someone is having an affair and asks you to lie for him.

If your job has immoral or illegal activities in the workplace, then you may want to consider finding another job. Staying at a place of employment that is immoral and unethical will only bring you down and tarnish your reputation in your career field. If there are illegal activities taking place at your job, then you definitely need to leave before you, too, become a target or potentially end up breaking the law.

READ: Sometimes, though, you’re not in a position to leave your job. Here’s an article by that offers tips on “What to Do When You Spot Your Employer Doing Something Illegal”.

If your job is stressing you out so much to the point where you feel angst, anger, fear, or hopelessness, then this is definitely a sign that you have a toxic job. Photo by Christina @ on Unsplash

6. Your employer or coworkers are abusive or disrespectful.

No one should have to deal with an abusive boss or coworker. Here are examples of the types of abuse in the workplace:

  • Bullying
  • Discrimination
  • Physical Abuse
  • Sexual Harassment
  • Verbal Abuse

According to The Rand Blog, nearly one in five American workers were subjected to some form of verbal abuse, unwanted sexual attention, threats, or humiliating behavior at work in August 2017, or to physical violence, bullying or harassment, or sexual harassment at work in 2017.

If you are a victim of abuse at your job, there are ways to seek help to safely report the abuse.

Know the Signs of a Toxic Work Environment

Working in a toxic environment can be crippling for your morale and career goals. It’s important to know the signs of a toxic workplace so you can make the best choice for your career. I asked Mr. Patel if it is possible for a professional to thrive at a toxic workplace. He replied, “In the workplace, there’s a big difference between the type of stress one undergoes when it’s directly related to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.”

Mr. Patel gave the example of the stress of figuring out where a person’s next meal is going to come from. He believes this will have a “much greater impact on one’s productivity than the stress that might come tackling a challenging project at work. Even if a company manages to get beyond the basic physical needs, the same is true when it comes to the top three layers: Belonging, affirmation, and meaning (B.A.M.).”

Mr. Patel’s final thoughts on working in a toxic work environment:

“Some people can endure a toxic work environment. Some might even be able to do great work under negative conditions. But they shouldn’t have to. Life is too short to not love your work.”

Special thanks to Piyush Patel for sharing his insight on toxic jobs. You purchase a copy of his book on Amazon Prime here.

Lead Your Tribe, Love Your Work by Piyush Patel

About Piyush Patel

Piyush Patel, author of Lead Your Tribe, Love Your Work, is an innovator in corporate culture and an entrepreneur with more than 20 years of experience. He grew his company, Digital-Tutors, into a leader throughout the world of online training, educating over 1.5 million students in digital animation, with clients including Pixar, Apple, and NASA.

A former Northern Oklahoma College professor, Patel grew frustrated with the outdated training material, and launched the company from his living room with only $54 and built it without any debt or investors, eventually creating multi-million-dollar revenue. In 2014, Pluralsight acquired Digital-Tutors for $45 million.

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