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10 Signs You're in a Toxic Work Environment

Updated: Jan 31

In the modern working environment, it is essential to work in a healthy and supportive environment. Unfortunately, some work environments can become toxic, which can have serious consequences on productivity, as well as the physical and mental health of employees. This article lists 10 key signs of this type of work environment and 3 reasons why you should consider leaving immediately. It's crucial to recognize the signs and know when it's time to take action to protect your own well-being and professional growth.

Poor internal communication

Poor internal communication may cause more successful companies to fail than a lack of customers. Departments that do not communicate with each other and teams that do not consult sufficiently can lead to serious problems.

In a successful company, all doors are open and employees meet regularly, both for informal conversations and for business meetings. When departments become isolated 'islands', synergy disappears and very wrong decisions can be made.

Suppose the HR department wants to adjust the reward structure due to inflation, the finance department wants to implement necessary and enormous cost savings, the IT department urgently needs a budget for the modernization of the often failing infrastructure and the marketing department actually needs to invest in a recruitment campaign for new customers. If no one communicates with each other and does not know and understand each other's interests and considerations, everyone will ultimately be dissatisfied.

But a toxic 'every man for himself and God for us all' mentality can also arise within teams. I know examples of companies that work with a bonus system, where employees envy each other to get the bonus. No knowledge is shared and sometimes customers are even literally taken away from colleagues. You can rightly call that a toxic work environment.

Cliques, exclusion, and gossip

It may have been normal in the past at school, but in a healthy working environment it should not occur: cliques, exclusion, and gossip. Of course, certain people may have more in common because of shared hobbies, interests, or even the type of work they do. But excluding colleagues with a different view on things is childish behavior that actually belongs in primary school. Mature professional employees don't do that. They accept or tolerate others.

An equally harmful behavior in the workplace is gossiping. Besides the fact that gossip is usually only partially true, it is a negative form of speech that is of no use to anyone. Gossiping about someone is applying a negative label based on your own perception and beliefs. These perceptions and beliefs then come between the audience and the person being discussed, making collaboration more difficult.

In a healthy working environment, everyone respects each other as people, and no judgments are made about orientation, race, vision, or way of life. We are all human and allowed to be who we are.

Bad leadership

Leadership has many styles and forms, but that says nothing about the quality of leadership. For example, someone may choose to use a very traditional or gentle leadership style. One style simply suits one company better than another.

Leaders are almost always the cause of a toxic work environment, and one way to recognize this is when they don't listen and are very authoritarian. But also if they do not have a clear vision and meaning for the company or cannot convey this or if they do not have an eye for a pleasant working environment.

One of the worst things bad leaders can do is be selective about who they like, selectively favor employees, take credit for something they are not entitled to, and exhibit erratic or unethical behavior. In that case, a toxic work environment is created by definition. Of course, we don't even have to talk about sexual harassment, corruption, or other forms of self-enrichment. Then the working environment can no longer be called 'toxic', but simply becomes untenable.

Unmotivated colleagues

No one likes to work with grumpy, complaining, and unmotivated colleagues. Often this is not the fault of the colleagues themselves, but of the toxic work environment. One behavior can, as it were, spill over into the other, which is manifested, for example, in sloppy work, frequent lateness, just a little earlier leaving the office, forgetting deadlines or even simply refusing work.

When you come to the office, you shouldn't expect a party atmosphere every day, and there are always tasks that are less fun. But at the very least you want to experience collegiality and a bit of fun. You want to work together on the meaningful purpose of the company and pursue short-term goals without multiple colleagues holding back.

Without that unity and pleasant work culture, days in the office can become very long and even exhausting.

Suppression of creativity & innovation

If you sit alone in the office and only do the work that is expected of you, you are not using your full potential. Also you have sometimes ideas about how something can be better, more efficient, or more pleasant, and it can be very frustrating if you are not heard. Maybe not the first time you propose something, but if no idea is ever implemented.

If you then notice that you are not the only one who suffers from this because there is an obstructive mentality of 'this is how we have always done it', then a toxic work environment can arise. People naturally have the urge to innovate, and when that urge for creativity and innovation is consciously suppressed, it is not only harmful to the company but also to the working environment and therefore the corporate culture.

What you would really want is a company that encourages creativity in the workplace, like Zappos. Some employees thrive even better when the company is disruptive and therefore remains flexible and adaptable to changes in the market.

High employee turnover

A consequence of a toxic work environment is usually that many employees are employed for a short period of time and then look for another job and often find it. The staff turnover is then extremely high. People simply don't want to stay.

It is normal for employees to choose a job and then find out after a short time that it is not what they expected. But in such environments, this is the case on a large scale.

Not a healthy private work balance

More and more leaders and corporate cultures are paying attention to a healthy work-life balance. This leads to less stress and burnout but is also less effective. It is rare that working harder, longer, and more contributes to greater quality, higher customer satisfaction, and greater profitability in the long term.

Unfortunately, there are still companies that do not want to acknowledge these facts and, as it were, enslave employees to put everything aside for deadlines and work.

Lots of absenteeism due to illness

Companies with an unhealthy corporate culture usually see this reflected in their absenteeism figures. Of course, there are seasonal influences that can cause many employees to be ill from time to time. But in these types of companies, more than 2 to 3 percent of employees are often ill throughout the year and report sick more often.

A good leader and a healthy company take care of the mental and physical health of their employees. Not only because this leads to more productivity, but also because employees are more motivated, more creative, and more loyal.

Few(further) growth opportunities

It is human nature that we want to develop and grow. This does not necessarily mean that someone immediately pursues a promotion to a management position. It can also take place in simpler forms, for example by offering courses.

When a company doesn't provide opportunities for growth, work can become a drag and create a toxic work environment where no one wants to continue working.

Employees then get the feeling that they are stuck and that they only work for the money. This encourages them to look for work elsewhere where they can earn more, have more opportunities for growth, and where they can connect wholeheartedly with the company's values.

Your feeling tells you

Sometimes your intuition speaks louder than what you hear and see. You can't put your finger on it, but you can sense that something is wrong in the workplace. Employees act nervously, you don't feel safe, or you just have a general feeling of unease.

If we listen to our intuition, we can often be our own best counselor, even if the facts we know seem to contradict our feelings.

3 Reasons to stop immediately

It is not always necessary to immediately quit your job when working in a toxic work environment. Sometimes such a culture arises from mergers between two companies or when things are not going well financially. Only when there is no improvement in sight is it important to consider whether it is time to move on. However, there are situations where other problems are so serious that stopping immediately is often the best option.


If you feel intimidated by a leader, manager, or coworker into doing things that go against your own values, you are in an unhealthy work environment. In addition, if you feel unsafe, it is advisable to leave immediately.

Sexual misconduct

Sexually inappropriate comments or touching are completely unacceptable. Although you can take action to stop a very inappropriate comment, the behavior remains inappropriate. You should always report the matter to the company's management, and if they don't take immediate action, it's time to leave.


Discrimination is not acceptable in any way in this day and age. You should report it immediately, but make sure it is really deliberate discrimination. Sometimes it may be an inappropriate joke or a slip of the tongue, and we must be careful not to be too easily offended. But if actual discrimination occurs, it is advisable to leave immediately.


Question: What are some subtle signs of a toxic work environment that are often overlooked?

Answer: Subtle signs of a toxic work environment may include the absence of open communication, a lack of recognition for achievements, and constant uncertainty about company objectives. These signs are sometimes overlooked but can still be harmful to employees.

Question: Should I immediately quit my job if I think my workplace is toxic?

Answer: Not necessarily. If you believe you are in a toxic work environment, it's important to take steps to improve the situation first. This may involve talking to your supervisor, consulting HR, and considering if there are opportunities for internal changes. However, if there is severe intimidation, sexual misconduct, or discrimination, immediate departure may be justified.

Question: How can I protect my own well-being in a toxic work environment?

Answer: Protecting your well-being in a toxic work environment may involve setting boundaries, seeking support from friends or a therapist, and practicing self-care routines such as regular exercise and relaxation exercises. It may also mean actively looking for another job in a healthier work environment.

Question: What are some signs of a healthy work environment?

Answer: Signs of a healthy work environment include open communication between team members and departments, recognition of accomplishments, support for employees' professional development, and a balanced work-life equilibrium. There is often room for creativity and innovation, and diversity and inclusion are encouraged.

Question: How can I make the right decision to change jobs or not when I think my work environment is toxic?

Answer: The decision to change jobs in a toxic work environment is personal and depends on various factors such as the severity of toxicity, your personal circumstances, and your long-term goals. It can be helpful to talk to a career coach or mentor to make an informed decision. Also, consider if you can take other steps to improve the situation before making the final decision.

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