Tricks, traps, and telltale signs of a toxic workplace

No one wants to work in a toxic environment. Any type of toxic environment is undesirable, but your workplace is where you’ll be spending a great deal of your time. If it’s toxic, you will suffer untold problems. Not only can it affect your work performance, but it also may affect your health.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that job stress can lead to health problems, including physical and emotional issues. Knowing how to identify a toxic workplace before accepting a job will be better for you in the end. Additionally, knowing how to spot the signs of a toxic workplace if you are in one can help you get out before it begins to affect your health.

What is a toxic workplace?

A toxic workplace consists of things that create a stressful, dysfunctional, and/or tense environment. Consequently, it results in an unproductive workplace and unhappy employees.

The toxicity could come from the higher levels of management and leadership or the employees. However, the leadership is responsible for ensuring that the environment does not become toxic.

Ways you can spot a toxic workplace

It’s not always easy to spot a toxic workplace early on. However, if you follow the following tips, you will become better at identifying toxic workplaces:

Things sound too good to be true

If you are interviewing with a place that offers you a lot of “extra” perks (not salary), there might be a reason for it. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. It wouldn’t hurt to dig a little deeper to find out why employees are being offered the free stuff. In some instances, it’s because the management knows they aren’t paying their employees fairly or giving raises promptly. So, this can be a distraction from that.

Study how they talk about themselves

Keep your eyes and ears open for how the company talks about itself. What phrases and words do they use to define their mission? How do they describe themselves? If you hear words and phrases that consistently push one narrative, listen to them to determine what it means.

For example, if you keep hearing about a “fast-paced workplace” or “success-oriented,” you might consider what that means. It may be code for a boss who drives the employees too hard. You may be forced to work faster than you’re comfortable doing. Success-oriented may mean only those who prove they can succeed for the company will be recognized. It may be a high-pressure environment. This would translate to a toxic workplace.

When looking at the company’s mission statement, look for signs that they value the employees and are caring.

Check out the age of the workforce

If you’re going into a workplace that skews all young or all older people, you might want to stop and think about how that could impact the environment. For instance, if you are going into a workplace that is primarily all younger employees, it could be a sign of potential toxicity. The management may be looking to get all entry-level people onboard to save money. This indicates a leadership style that may not value promoting people early on. It could also prove difficult to get a raise.

Also, a workplace that is all older people might be stuck in the past. They may insist on doing things the way they’ve always done them, which may take longer or hold you back from achieving your goals.

The company is known for its high turnover

When researching the company, check how quickly they go through employees. If the employees leave at a high rate, they must be unhappy for some reason. If the business is known for a high turnover rate, you have to stop and ask yourself why.

Suppose the management is cycling through people quickly. In that case, they must have too high of standards or are trying to save money by letting people go when it comes time to promote them and give them a raise. Either way, a high turnover rate almost always means the workplace is toxic.

A perfectionist boss

If you see signs that the top levels of leadership are perfectionists, you probably want to run the other way. That doesn’t mean you should look for a company that will be sloppy or not require quality work. There is a difference between requiring quality work and being an overbearing perfectionist boss. The latter will make the work environment toxic. You may feel driven to perform beyond your capabilities, leading to undue stress.

Unhappy or stressed employees

When you interview for a new job, try to get a glimpse of the employees working. How do they seem to you? Do they look happy and relaxed or stressed and unhappy? This can tell you a lot about the work environment. Of course, people will have bad days, or they may be going through things at home unrelated to work; but if the majority of employees are visibly distressed, it is a pretty good sign that the workplace is toxic.

Your gut instincts

When your inner instincts are telling you that something doesn’t feel right, you need to listen to them. Maybe the hiring manager said something didn’t sit well with you. It could have been a feeling in the atmosphere that seemed wrong. Whatever it is, our gut instincts turn out to be right many times. This is especially true if you have a bad feeling about the company and one of the other signs mentioned above is present, too.

Awareness of some signs of a toxic workplace can empower you to avoid it. Instead, find a place that will value your contributions and provide a working environment conducive to health, happiness, and job satisfaction.