How to spot a toxic work environment — Before you take the job

Job opportunity too good to be true? Maybe it is. There are a lot of rotten apples out there among the many great places to work. No matter how hungry you are for success, it is essential to take care when picking one.

A workplace riddled with bullying , discrimination, disorganization, or cliquey-ness is what we call a toxic work environment – because it can harm you. Take a new job in a toxic workplace and your physical and mental health may suffer, as well as your career prospects. Unfortunately, once you’re in a job like this, it can be hard to leave.

It’s not always easy to spot a toxic work environment before you start. Those toothy smiles that dazzle you during the job interview can blind you to what takes place during an ordinary day’s work. So has identified 15 warning signs to look out for before starting a new job.

The “any questions?” you need to ask

You can save yourself a lot of time and heartache by scrutinizing your potential employers during the application process.

If the communication is bad or the process is disorganized, it could indicate a serious problem in company operations.

Have a look at employer review site Glassdoor to see what the company’s ex-employees say. One or two bad reviews might just be disgruntled exes, but a lot of bad reviews are a clear warning.

If you reach the interview stage, the “any questions?” part is a chance to politely probe into the company culture. You might ask:

  • What are the company’s core values?
  • What are the challenges of working here/in the advertised position?
  • How would you describe the team dynamic?

If the panel struggles to answer any of these questions, alarm bells should ring.

The job interview is also an opportunity for the applicant to observe the chemistry and behavior of the team reps holding the interview. Just as a good job interviewer is not so interested in ‘ correct’ answers as in seeing how you think and interact, you should try to read between the lines. Look for positive elements in how the team interacts together, but also ask yourself:

  • Is the boss/top-ranked interviewer overpowering their colleagues?
  • Are the other interviewers strangely quiet, or do they change their minds to agree with everything the boss says?
  • Do the interviewers seem disinterested in you as an individual?

Don’t put too much weight on any single ‘clue’ that the workplace is toxic. However, be sure to reflect on everything you’ve seen and heard before you take the job.

The job shop detox

It’s wonderful if you’ve found a job vacancy that excites you, and it’s important to approach the opportunity with a sense of (critical) positivity. But for better or worse, workplaces are full of people – and not all of them have figured how to be decent and proper in a professional setting yet.

Our infographic, below, illustrates the 15 warning signs that a work environment might be toxic. We’ve also included a set of questions for you to consider asking during any interview.

There are tons of inspiring jobs available in supportive work environments, so let’s make sure your next step is a sure one.

This article first appeared on