Career Advice

8 Signs of a Toxic Work Environment (and How to Cope with It)

toxic work environment

Do you feel an uneasy sense of dread when you head to work? Perhaps you feel stuck doing the same old tasks day in and day out? You’re not alone. COVID-19 has made two-thirds of employees reassess their priorities surrounding work and life. People are less willing to accept substandard employment conditions, even if they’re offered above-average compensation. And that prompts many to re-think their current talent management practices and workplace culture. 

All in all, this is fantastic news. No one should compromise their quality of life to suit an employer. So, if you’re in a toxic work environment, we’ve put together a guide to improving your situation.

What is a Toxic Work Environment?

First things first, let’s differentiate between a toxic work environment and a (dare we say it, super boring) Monday in the office. Realistically, you’re not going to love every second of your job – unless, perhaps, you’re an ice cream taster or a kitten cuddler. 

In a toxic work environment, however, you’re likely to feel stressed, sad, bored, or even belittled most or all of the time because of the actions of your colleagues or superiors. 

Such workplace misery is surprisingly common. According to recent stats, one-fifth of people resign in response to negative workplace culture, a problem that has cost companies a staggering $223 billion over the past five years. To make matters worse, over 40% of employees are not confident that their managers would take their complaints around problematic issues seriously. 

So it’s no wonder so many people are joining in the so-called “Great Resignation” and moving on to new careers

8 Signs of a Toxic Work Environment

Toxic work environments are usually pretty easy to spot if you’re an outsider. However, employees are often gaslit by their managers and end up blaming themselves for ongoing problems (or dissatisfaction with the job).

If you’re wondering whether your workplace is genuinely toxic or you’re having a momentary career wobble (we’ve all been there), it may be helpful to learn the signs of poor management.

unhealthy power dynamics

Below are some of the eight most common characteristics of a toxic work environment: 

  1. Absence of follow-up meetings or corrective actions — or even retaliation — for raising concerns
  2. Unhealthy power dynamics between the management and staff
  3. Conscious and unconscious biases evident in the actions of management and colleagues
  4. Lack of physical safety, direct or indirect harassment, gaslighting 
  5. Poor, non-transparent communication among the teams and with the leadership 
  6. Little to no room for career advancement; lack of opportunities for expressing opinions 
  7. Everyone constantly complains of burnout and struggles to maintain a healthy work-life balance
  8. Employee turnover rates are very high, and you’re constantly meeting new hires   

How to Deal With a Toxic Work Environment: 3 Tips

If you can relate to one or more of the signs listed above, don’t panic. While you may feel powerless in the face of management, you’re more than capable of weathering this storm. 

In some cases, it may be appropriate to cut your losses and quit, particularly if you feel unsafe at work. If you’re committed to your role or, like 28% of Americans who cannot afford to quit, there are methods you can use to cope. 

1. Surround Yourself with Positive People 

Did you know that employee in-fighting and gossip can cause health problems such as insomnia? If you’re sleeping poorly or skipping meals due to stress, it’s time to limit your interactions with toxic colleagues. 

One of the best ways to improve your mood and physical health is to seek out positive co-workers. If you haven’t found them yet, they’re bound to be lurking somewhere. Get involved in employee nights out, and don’t be afraid to spark up a conversation with someone from another department while you’re on a break. You never know — they could turn out to be a life-long friend!  

positive colleague in the workplace

2. Assert Solid Boundaries Between Your Work and Personal Life

Maintaining an appropriate work-life balance can be tricky, especially if you’re passionate about your vocation. In the US, 11% of employees work more than 50 hours per week, putting their mental and physical health at risk. To prevent work from taking over your life, avoid answering emails outside of office hours and try to restrict your overtime. Bending to your manager’s every whim could set a dangerous precedent and encourage them to take you for granted. 

3. Practice Confronting Authority Figures

If problems at work have reached a boiling point, you may need to confront your manager head-on. For things to change, you need to show that you’re a strong individual they can’t afford to lose. Being assertive is more difficult than it sounds, of course. There’s nothing worse than tripping over your words while attempting to state your grievances. So, there’s only one thing for it — practice! Do it in front of a close friend or a mirror, and only confront your boss when you feel prepared. 

To Conclude

Toxic workplaces can feel draining or even soul-destroying, but don’t despair! Instead of thriving in your misery, try to look for other opportunities. Do some tentative steps — update your LinkedIn profile, refresh your resume, or reach out to a recruiter.  Remember, you’re a resilient and talented individual with tons to offer the world — don’t let others ever doubt that!


  • Elena Prokopets

    Elena runs content operations at Freesumes since 2017. She works closely with copywriters, designers, and invited career experts to ensure that all content meets our highest editorial standards. Up to date, she wrote over 200 career-related pieces around resume writing, career advice... more

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