4 Signs of a Toxic Workplace

A toxic culture in the workplace is one of the main reasons that can prevent you from being happy at work. Most of the time, the toxicity is caused by a poor manager who lacks leadership skills and manages using fear as a tool. However, even one employee who bullies one or multiple other employees can convert the workplace into a toxic environment for everyone.

The difference between working in a toxic workplace or in a psychologically safe, healthy work environment is like night and day. In a healthy work environment, you feel empowered, valued, and motivated to deliver your best work. In a toxic work environment, you feel diminished, used, and might find yourself doing the bare minimum.

A toxic workplace can also cause serious damage to your personal and professional life. Spending most of your waking hours in a toxic work environment causes stress, which then can lead to various physical and mental symptoms, including lack of sleep, anxiety, and fatigue. A toxic workplace can also harm your career development as you are less likely to get the professional opportunities that you deserve.

A company with a toxic culture does not deserve your talents or hard work. Here are four signs of a toxic work environment that you should watch out for.

1. Fear Is the Main Motivator

In a normal workplace, people can be motivated by a variety of different factors. Some are motivated by possibilities to learn and grow in the careers, some by the mission of the organization they work for, and some by the purpose of the particular job function that they perform. However, only in a toxic work environment are employees motivated by fear. A toxic manager often lacks leadership skills and therefore, they use fear to “motivate” their employees. This motivation obviously rarely leads to great results. Instead, employees do the bare minimum to avoid the consequences that they fear. If you and your co-workers are trying to get the job done well enough so that you don’t get yelled at, humiliated, or lose your jobs, you most likely work in a toxic work environment.

2. Mistakes Are Not Allowed

In a healthy work environment, it is okay to make mistakes and be wrong. There is actually a growing number of organizations that encourage their employees to experiment, and if they fail, to give it another try. These organizations see failure as a part of the process of succeeding. In toxic work cultures, however, people are too afraid of the consequences of a possible failure. Therefore, they rather do exactly what they have been told to do and avoid mistakes at any cost. If mistakes do occur, it is common in toxic work environments to avoid taking responsibility for them and to blame other people or the circumstances, instead.

3. You Cannot Share How You Really Feel

In a psychologically safe workplace, employees can disagree with their boss and their co-workers. Being able to freely share opinions and feelings can lead to better results when multiple points of view are considered and it can also help solve any issues in the team faster. Due to the fact that a toxic workplace is often dominated by fear, it is usually safer to agree with the boss or the common opinion. If you don’t feel comfortable sharing your opinion or you cannot show any negative feelings, it is likely that you work in a toxic workplace. Furthermore, not being able to discuss issues openly often leads to gossiping and the creation of subcultures. If badmouthing about colleagues or managers is a common practice in your workplace or if people’s behavior completely changes when the boss walks in, you most certainly work in a toxic workplace.

4. What You Seem to Be Doing Is More Important than What You Actually Do

In a great workplace, actions speak louder than words. The leaders in these workplaces are aware of each team member’s contribution and employees get rewarded and praised based on their results. In a toxic work culture, the opposite is often true. The managers might micromanage single tasks but at the same time, they lack a global vision and an understanding of what each team member is actually contributing. This might lead to a culture where the loudest employees look the best in the eyes of the management. It also gives the optimal circumstances for workplace bullies to take the credit for their victims’ work.

So what should you do if you find yourself working for a company with a toxic work culture? In some cases, there might be a solution to the problem. For example, if the toxic situation is caused by a workplace bully, a good leader can resolve the issue. However, if the toxicity is a fundamental part of the company culture or if the management of the organization is the reason for the toxic environment, there is not much that can be done without a thorough cultural change. As an employee, your best bet might be to cope with the situation and distance yourself from it while you find a better opportunity for yourself.

Are you looking for a new direction for your career and want to find an organization where your talents are valued? Reach out to The Happy Works for a free initial consultation!

Nathan Dumlao

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