Do you complain about your colleagues, boss and workplace politics every day? Does thinking about work make you feel sick to your stomach? Do you regularly question your sanity because you just can’t believe the outrageous behaviour you see at work? If so, you probably suspect that your workplace is toxic. But just to be sure, here are nine unmistakable signs that your workplace is not just dysfunctional, it’s actually harmful to your mental health and wellbeing.

There’s a culture of oppression

Whenever a boss acts like a dictator shutting down, embarrassing, scapegoating or firing anyone who dares to challenge the status quo you’ve got a big toxic workplace problem on your hands. And that’s not just because of your boss’ bad behaviour, but because that behaviour creates an environment in which everyone is scared, browbeaten and often willing to throw their colleagues under the bus, just to stay on the good side of the tyrannical bully. Unless new management takes over, the toxic nature of your workplace is unlikely to change.

Apathy rules

Does everyone in your office seem dejected? Do they do the bare minimum, take no initiative and resist trying new things? Let’s be honest, it’s unlikely that the whole workforce is lazy. What’s more likely is that they’ve learned that hard work and initiative are not rewarded… so there’s no point in trying. Months or years of being unappreciated, disrespected and unfairly treated will beat the enthusiasm out of anyone, which means that employees that are more self-assured or confident about finding another job will quickly leave a toxic company. Those that remain? They will shift into survival mode and simply go through the motions each day.

Arguments and drama are a regular occurrence

You know things are falling apart in a company when the staff can’t even be bothered to pretend to be professional or tolerant of each other. If constant bickering and blaming are normal activities at your workplace, be very wary especially if the behaviour is condoned or encouraged by management. Colleagues who are more concerned about making themselves look good by antagonising or excessively finding fault with others can cause more anxiety than expected, as you can never relax and just focus on your work around them.

signs of a toxic workplace
Keeping your head down may feel like the best approach to a toxic workplace, but it can seriously affect your physical and mental health

Meritocracy is a foreign language

Favouritism sucks (when you’re not on the receiving end of it) but it doesn’t make a workplace toxic. It only becomes problematic when any preferential treatment by management is so obvious that it creates an elite group of ‘untouchables’ who get away with doing as they like. Not only is it hard for employees to know where they stand when rules only apply to a select few and contradictions reign supreme, but it’s also extremely demotivating to know that you’ll never be fairly rewarded for a job well done.

Management is consistently dishonest

While moral behaviour is open to interpretation, most employers like to toe the line where legalities are concerned. However, if the management team at your workplace appears to have no regard for the law, a toxic culture of lying and cheating will inevitably prevail. Worst of all is that if your bosses can act dishonestly towards others, they can easily do it to you… and you probably know that. Are staff members expected to work excessive amounts of unpaid overtime? Are they consistently paid late, asked to do tasks they are not qualified or suitably trained to do, spied on by management or asked to fiddle expenses? Essentially, if you’ve ever cried ‘can they even do that?!’ to a friend, then you’re dealing with a less-than-honest management problem.

You’re getting sick a lot

Whether that’s coughs, colds, headaches and/or injuries, victims of toxic workplaces often find that as the bad workplace vibes and stress build, things that were small niggles or one-off illnesses tend to become more common. You may also notice that your threshold for calling in sick has fallen, and it’s not just you. Do your colleagues seem to call in sick a lot? Is someone always off with one mystery illness or another? Daily exposure to criticism, bullying, insults and manipulation doesn’t just affect the mind (making you more likely to pull sickies) it creates a huge stress response in the body, which many studies have shown can affect the immune system and trigger ill health.  

Staff turnover is high

While long-standing staff members may have become used to the toxic environment and see it as normal, new employees that have come from healthier workplaces are the best judges of if a workplace is toxic or not. If all the new hires you make friends with seem to keep abandoning you after a few months on the job, pay attention. It’s hard to smell something stinky when you’ve been sitting in it for a long time.

Management feels excessively controlling

Are there a lot of rules and regulations that dictate almost everything you can and can’t do? Does everything need to be approved by management, therefore holding you and your colleagues up from getting your work done? When faced with an environment of excessive control and micromanagement, employees can quickly feel stifled, resentful and productivity plummets. Yes, rules are needed for workplaces to function efficiently, but healthy workplaces focus on rules that relate to your actual job – like getting to work on time and not disappearing for hours at lunchtime – rather than unrelated things like the colleagues you socialise with and how much makeup you wear.

Your work-life balance is non-existent

Some jobs have long working hours that include weekends and evenings. Fact. While these types of jobs are undeniably hard work, this doesn’t necessarily make them toxic. A toxicity problem arises when there are absolutely no boundaries between work time and personal time, and as a result, you’re always ‘on call’. If your friends and family complain that you’re always working, you regularly go back to work after getting home, you often blow off social plans because of last minute work emergencies and/or your boss is the number one contact on your phone, it’s time to look at how healthy your job really is.

Do you think your workplace is toxic? Let us know how you survive working there in the comments below.

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