One of the gifts of the pandemic has been the space it has given us to reevaluate areas of our life and figure out what’s working for us, what no longer serves us and what needs some TLC on our part to get it where we want. We have had the space to do this in our personal lives, our relationships, even the places where we call home but the biggest area people seem to be reevaluating is their professional lives, especially with the transition back into office. 

Ideally, you want to be fulfilled by the work that you do and supported by the business/company you work for. At the bare minimum, you don’t want your workplace to be an area of your life that causes hardship or severe stress. So how do you know if your workplace is toxic? Well, let’s start by getting clear on what a toxic workplace is. 

A toxic workplace can be defined as any job where the work, the atmosphere, the people, or any combination of those things cause serious disruptions in the rest of your life. If logging in online, or going to the office (or just the thought of doing so) leaves you feeling exhausted, depressed, or even physically ill, you need to know that that’s more than just general work stress and that you’re probably in a toxic workplace.

Here are three major signs that you are in a toxic work environment:

  1. Toxic Communication: Usually driven by a lack of communication or solely negative communication that can at times leave you feeling like you’re walking on eggshells. It can look like not getting clear communication on expectations or even on how you are to do your job. You will often feel like you’re being set up to fail because you’re working with only bits of information and not the whole picture. When you work hard and complete tasks or assignments it goes completely unrecognized with zero positive feedback. You may also be made to feel anxious hearing toxic statements such as, “you’re lucky you even have a job.” 
  2. High Turnover and High Rates of Employee Sickness: Toxic work environments lead to burnout, fatigue, and illness because of the high levels of stress. If people are calling in sick or worse, are working sick you should be concerned. The pandemic has brought on high levels of stress for all of us, workplaces know this and should be using corporate wellness to address this, not fostering an environment where working at high levels of stress and burnout is the norm. When the work environment is marked by burnout, stress, low morale, and sickness, people will start to leave, sometimes without another job lined up. If you notice that people don’t really stick around for very long and when they do leave, the narrative around the company is that it was a problem with the person, not the job (almost every time) this is a sure sign of toxicity. 
  3. You Think about Leaving Regularly: Everyone has bad days at work, this is normal. What is not normal is when the bad days far outweigh the good and you start to expect them. I encourage my clients to regularly take inventory and evaluate their work (even when things are going well) because our memory is a weird thing. Even if it’s just in the notes app on your phone, or in a paper agenda (do not use your work calendar or google calendar for this) keep track of how you feel about your day on a scale of 1-10, also document any wins or negative experiences. Go through a month and see what the pattern is. If your days are usually filled with negative experiences leaving you feeling low, it’s time to start planning an exit strategy, especially if your workplace shows the above signs in 1&2. The longer you stay in a pattern of a toxic workplace, the more “normal” it will become for you and the harder it will get to leave – or worse you will leave and go to a new place expecting toxicity and you may even create it. 

At the end of the day, you have to trust your gut, which can be scary, but if your workplace is starting to become a pain point in your life and is preventing you from enjoying other aspects of life, something’s gotta give. I recommend working with a coach such as myself or a mentor (sometimes even a therapist if the toxicity reached certain levels where your safety or identity was threatened) when you go through transitions like leaving a toxic workplace; to really process and break up with any patterns or limiting beliefs you adopted by virtue of being in it. If you are in a toxic workplace, just know this is not a problem with yourself but with the workplace and you will make it through with the right action and support. We are all worthy of working in healthy workplaces.