Rising above a negative work environment
Is your workplace marked by constant fights, negative politics, lots of gossip and bullying tendencies? Do you feel undervalued, unappreciated, overworked and generally uncomfortable? All of the above are characteristics of a toxic workplace and can result in anxiety, mental stress and can take a toll on your health. Eventually, all this strain gets into your professional life and your performance takes a hit.
Some working environments have cultures of bullying and harassment ingrained in them and it can be hard to detect all the negative energy around if you are too immersed in your work. A toxic working environment makes your job tiresome and you constantly have no energy to work. Monday mornings and any other mornings are your worst part of the week. In some cases, the toxicity may be subtle. In other cases, you may confuse a stressful workplace with a toxic one. However, there are certain signs that should raise red flags.
Signs of a toxic work environment
- Bad managers
The first sign of a toxic working environment is managers who think that they are smarter and better than everyone else. Bosses in such environments are not leaders and bully everyone that does not submit to their wishes. Bad managers thrive in toxic working environments as they provide them with a perfect opportunity to harass anyone freely.
Such managers also tend to be narcissistic and condescending. They thrive on manipulation and always take credit for other people’s work. The managers also crash any new ideas and constantly keep anyone who opposes them in check by issuing threats. In some cases, they use divide and conquer tactics and they pit employees against each other.
Such leaders destroy team morale and the company experiences high turnover rates. They may be successful in the short term but eventually, nobody wants to work with them as they precipitate bad attitudes in those around them.
- Poor communication
Communication is central to any team’s success. Poor communication in toxic workplaces is manifested in the form of misleading information, no communication at all, indirect communication, and withholding information. Such communication breakdown is experienced at all levels within the organisation and not much gets done on time.
If your workplace has poor communication, then you probably fall behind schedule on a regular basis, due to lack of clear communication and there are always conflicts arising from such scenarios. Working in such an environment is almost impossible and people hardly ever hit their targets.
- Low staff morale
The working environment hardly ever has any joy. People are constantly gloomy and there is always tension in the environment. In extreme cases, people lack any enthusiasm for work and they are always looking for the next opportunity.
If you or any of your colleagues are always demotivated, it is a clear sign that the working environment does not inspire you to work. In such an environment, growth is hard to achieve as there is never any desire to work.
- Chronic physical and emotional illnesses
A toxic workplace eventually takes a toll on you and your colleagues’ health and wellbeing. As such, people are always on sick leave and body aches are a common phenomenon. In extreme cases, no one cares about your health and you are expected to show up at work even if you are sick.
If you or any of your colleagues are constantly sick and/or touchy and moody, then you might be suffering from chronic emotional stress due to the working environment. A good workplace is one that nurtures the physical and emotional wellbeing of its employees and creates avenues for growth.
- Inconsistent policies
You work in a place where you are encouraged to tweak the truth in order to meet expectations. Or, the management always bends policies and rules to accommodate certain people. Or customers are always complaining that the communication from the company’s employees is not consistent. This is a sign of a workplace that does not value its employees and customers and as an employee, you constantly feel threatened as the rules can easily turn against you. Additionally, you are never sure of which policies work and which do not.
If there are issues in implementing rules and policies, then such a workplace is unfavourable. Inconsistencies create instability and make it hard to work towards a common goal.
- Disgruntlement amongst employees
A toxic workplace is one that does not take into consideration its employees’ needs. The employees always complain about policies and issues affecting them but the management does nothing to address these issues. Eventually, trust between employees and the management breaks down and there is simply no job security in the workplace.
In extreme cases, there is a constant blame game and people just never own up to their issues. As such, there is always infighting, which leads to a divided workplace. If you detect constant complaints about certain issues by many people and the management does not seem to resolve the issues, then you might be working is a toxic place.
- An unofficial policy of backstabbing
A clear indication of a toxic workplace is an environment where people are always throwing others under the bus and get recognition for this. It could be managers or coworkers but you know that people will do anything to get ahead and the management seems to encourage such behaviour. Backstabbing leads to mistrust and it becomes hard to build team relationships as people tend to work in isolation.
Staying sane in a toxic workplace
From the above signs, it is clear that such an environment does not inspire growth and people would rather not work there. However, if you find yourself in such an environment, here is what you can do to save your career and your physical and mental health.
- Document everything
As stated, one of the clearest signs of a toxic workplace is a policy of backstabbing, which tends to be encouraged. Ideally, you should always document all important issues in the workplace. But, if you detect chronic backstabbing and insecurity, you should raise your guard and ensure that any work-related instructions, projects, and policies are documented in writing. It may sound like too much work but it is the only way to back your claims when someone tries to throw you under the bus. Of course, a good working environment is built on trust but if you cannot trust anyone in the office, then you must protect yourself.
- Confront the negative people and issues politely
Resolve interpersonal issue with colleagues politely and on your own. If, for example, certain colleagues constantly gossip you or make your work difficult by not doing their work on time, confront them privately and let them know how their actions affect your work. If someone is backstabbing you, you can confront them and let them know that their actions are futile. Whatever the case, try and handle any negative situation before escalating it to your boss.
- Create a support group to act as an outlet
Constantly taking in negativity can have an adverse effect on you and your life. If you find yourself in a toxic working environment, find a support group. It could be family members or friends who listen to you and encourage you.
You could also join a social activity such as a gym where you go to unwind after work. The ability to relax or vent can greatly help you cope with such an environment.
- Create boundaries
In a toxic workplace, you constantly feel like you are not doing enough and you might be tempted to do too much, which still goes unnoticed. Alternatively, you can be tempted to do too little, which does not help you grow at all.
The best approach is to ensure that you come to work on time, do your best and leave on time. Do not be tempted to carry work home. You need to unplug and taking work home does not give you the rest you need. Do not answer work-related calls or emails when you are not at work and do not be tempted to overwork yourself. Boundaries help you to take breaks, which are good for you when you find yourself in a toxic working environment.
- Communicate actively
A good way of ensuring that conflicts do not arise is to communicate regularly and clearly. If there are any misunderstandings, clear them early and strive to keep your working relationships alive and positive.
Effective communication will help you avoid unnecessary conflicts and stay away from drama.
- Have an exit strategy
The working environment is clearly not good for your career or your health. Staying around will only harm you and cause you unnecessary problems. Creating an exit strategy helps your brain stay alert and you can easily jump on any opportunity that arises. Quitting immediately is the ideal situation but bills must be paid and being at work helps you create professional networks, which can help you when looking for your next job.
An exit strategy helps you lay out your goals and identify potential opportunities with ease. Know what you are working towards and stick to the plan. Do not be tempted to stay in a toxic workplace longer than you should, with the hope that it will change.
In the end, a toxic workplace takes a toll on your well-being. A toxic workplace can be easily confused with a stressful workplace because they are very similar. A stressful workplace is highly charged and creates growth opportunities. Additionally, stressful moments do not last long. A toxic workplace is marked by a bad manager, poor policies, negative energy, poor health, and poor communications. To cope with these, you need to unplug often by creating boundaries between your life and your work, create a support group outside work, communicate actively and have an exit strategy.