It’s Not You, It’s Your Office: 10 Signs That Your Workplace Is Toxic

Warner Bros. Pictures/Horrible Bosses

Toxic work environments are a double-edged sword: They’re negative and unhealthy, but they also keep you guessing, creating a cycle of doubt in which you’re never sure whether you should try to change things… or just leave. If you’re unsure whether your workplace is toxic, here are 10 signs that it might be:

1. No one trusts anyone else.


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A workplace should not be like a battlefield. There should not be backstabbing, constantly shifting alliances and an “every man for himself” attitude; if you’re going to work every day expecting it to be like an episode of “The Borgias,” then there is something seriously wrong. Coworkers should be able to trust each other instead of wasting their time with petty gossip and backstabbing.

2. Communication is poor or nonexistent.

Good communication produces a healthy work environment by creating smoother operations, leading to fewer misunderstandings and conflicts and improving morale. When people know that there is a clear line of communication between them and their superiors, they know they won’t have to waste time second-guessing themselves or working on projects without clearly defined parameters. In addition, open lines of communication allow for more trusting relationships; an employee that feels comfortable discussing issues of all kinds with their boss and the other members of their team will feel much better about their job than someone who’s afraid to open their mouth and express their opinions.

3. People don’t work together.

Teamwork is essential in the workplace, and when employees can’t (or won’t) function as a team, it’s a symptom of a toxic environment. No teamwork means no trust and no friendship — or at the very least, friendliness — between coworkers, and that will lead to nothing but bickering, unproductive disagreements, missed deadlines and work that no one is happy with.

4. Negativity is the norm.


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If the most commonly expressed sentiments around your office are the wish that the building would burn down or that the CEO would have a heart attack, you’re probably in a toxic environment. People in a healthy workplace tend to like and respect those around them, even if they aren’t necessarily in love with what they do; when people do nothing but talk about how much they hate their jobs and their lives, it’s a sign that you should get out.

5. Inequality.

“Every CEO has a passion, but truly every employee deserves to feel like part of something greater than themselves,” Nicole Martin, CEO of consulting firm HRBoost, tells FastCompany. “To tap into the passion of any person, the leadership must establish a clear culture invitation. Businesses that fail to identify values and consistently live them will find talent walks with their feet.”

Treating every employee like an equal is a good way to show that every employee is valued and respected, no matter what they do; treating people differently or playing favorites is a good way to create resentment and dissatisfaction.

6. Lots of excuses.

People who are constantly looking for excuses not to do work are people who are unhappy with their work environment. Someone that would rather be doing literally anything other than working — or, in some cases, purposefully holds up other peoples’ work just to make everything harder — clearly has a problem with their workplace. If you’re surrounded by a culture that more often involves making excuses than actually getting work done, this is probably a sign that your coworkers don’t feel valued and that they don’t see the impact of the work they’re doing.

7. Low productivity.

This is related to the item above; when people are always making excuses and not doing any real work, very little actual work will get done. Offices that are plagued by missed deadlines, disagreements over objectives, resentment between team members and pointless rivalries are offices more focused on power struggles than on getting anything done.

8. People are always taking days off.

You can tell an environment is toxic when people physically don’t want to be in it. If people in your office take a lot of vacation days, sick days, personal days and invent illnesses just because they don’t want to come to work, there’s usually a good reason.

9. It’s not unusual for people to undermine others’ work.

Instead of encouraging and helping each other, employees in a toxic environment generally backstab and destroy as much as possible because they know they’ll be rewarded for it. Once someone figures out that working hard and being dedicated aren’t rewarded, they’ll be quick to realize that the only way to get ahead is to make other people look back. In a really toxic environment, people will take pleasure in this.

10. Feuds.

There’s nothing like a good office feud that has dragged out over the course of years and extended its tentacles into every single aspect of the work day. If you work in a toxic environment, you may be familiar with these feuds; they usually involve a power struggle between two people or departments, and everyone else is expected to or manipulated into taking sides. The two powers at odds are always looking for ways to make the other party look stupid, irresponsible, lazy or traitorous, and no one can ignore them. Workplaces that allow arguments to spiral out of control and become full-on feuds are definitely workplaces that you want to avoid.