Signs & Symptoms of a Toxic Workplace

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At times in an attempt to land a better job, we might end up in a toxic workplace. Toxic workplaces have the tendency to destroy the attitude, morale and performance of even the best employees. The problem is it is not always easy to identify if a company has a toxic environment, even after you start working there. The problems may lie just beneath the surface, but are covered behind fake smiles and confusing gestures, in a way that it takes time for you to realize where the fault lies.

In my 7 years of working experience, I admit to have worked for one month in a highly toxic company. Luckily, I was able to figure out at an early phase, and get a much better job offer in a healthy working environment, before much damage was done. But we may not be that lucky every time we go through such an instance.

Hence, I want to discuss today few sure signs that hint that a workplace is toxic.


People constantly use peer pressure to hold others back

The new employee is a hard worker. She takes each task or goal seriously, and works long hours to achieve it. She’s exceeding the expectations of the boss. She rocks in every progress update meeting.

Eventually she hears from a more ‘experienced’ employee, “Why do you work so hard? You’re making us all look bad. Why can’t you just chill like the rest of us and take your salary at the end of the month?”

This kind of comments can only come out of someone who’s utterly insecure about their own performance. A good employee would rather compare herself with her own previous achievements, instead of getting into a lame comparison with others in the same department.

Toxic people, on the other hand, want others to do less, so that they neither have to do more nor be seen as doing less than anyone else. Employees of this kind master the skill of spreading their noxiousness in the entire workplace.

Steve Spring, a diligent contributor to multiple well-known publications, rightly stated, “Toxic behavior is like a contagious virus that spreads like wildfire.”


People love to hold a ‘meeting’ after every meeting

There’s a meeting every week. Things are discussed, ideas are given, issues are raised, opinions are shared, and decisions are made. The meeting is adjourned. All seems okay.

Soon you start noticing that there’s one person who always likes to hold a meeting after the real meeting. Toxic co-workers are often found hovering around a hidden corner or the building’s smoking area, whispering in each other’s ears. At first it’s hard to realise what’s really going on, but then the change in everybody’s expression every time they come back from the secret session becomes unavoidable.

They would say to the team, “I think her idea is terrible, but since we’ve been told to go with it, let’s just pretend that we’re all over it.”

Waiting until after a meeting to disclose that they’re not in support of whatever was discussed is just like saying, “I’ll say yes to anything the boss says, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to work on it. In fact, I’m going to work against it.”


The boss seems to have no sense of judgment of his own

There is always somebody at a workplace who is always complaining about others to the boss. Usually the situation remains under control if the boss has a strong personality, and can smell the toxic employee’s motive behind the repeated drama. I have worked in many places where the boss is always in control of the situation, and knows how to constructively resolve conflicts among his subordinates.

However, if the boss is not mature enough (or rather not even decent enough), he falls into the trap of believing everything the toxic employee says. Don’t be surprised if he doesn’t even bother to clarify things with you one-on-one, or even hear you out to try to understand the situation.

It is very difficult for a company to prosper if the owner or boss does not have any sense of judgment or direction of his own.


People tend to constantly break lines of communication

Either the lines of communication are not clear from the start, or start getting broken as the toxicity spreads. If you’re in the marketing or sales department, you’ll see that the company will start getting complaints from clients, as outsiders would also begin to notice that this company doesn’t have the decency to maintain a clear communication line.

For instance, when I was working in a toxic company, I received a call from a client I was in communication with to close a deal. The man said he was confused on being approached by one of my co-workers, with a totally different and meaningless offer, and in a way that had seriously offended him. He wanted to know if I was aware of that.

When you’re working at a toxic workplace, and particularly if you’re involved in marketing or business development, you have to bear the consequences of your toxic colleagues’ bad behavior towards outsiders as well.


The company has a high turnover rate

No sincere and productive person can stand working in a toxic place for long. If you notice that anyone you click with at a workplace leaves the company, without giving a proper explanation for their resignation, they have probably been going through the same discomfort as you. We make friends with those whose mentality and interests are similar to ours. It’s very likely that if someone is jealous of you, they’ll be jealous of your friends too. So when your friend quits her job, you can pretty much take it as a sign that the place is toxic and not suitable for genuine workers.

Vartika Kashyap, a professional writer and contributor to the e-learning industry, truly commented, “High turnover is a clear reflection that there’s something wrong with the company culture.”


If your workplace has symptoms similar to those discussed above, it’s probably time to start planning your exit strategy. Although it’s not an encouraged act to change jobs too frequently, the need to take action in such cases is inevitable. A toxic environment can badly affect your mental and physical health, if you choose to stick to it for a long period of time. It would thus be better to leave the place before any serious damage is done.

Sana Uqaili

Sana Uqaili is a professional content creator and a strategic marketing adviser, who started off as a freelance copywriter and pass time blogger, and ended up offering her services as a full-fledged business in early 2019. Her ghostwriting contributions and digital marketing tactics have enhanced the Google rankings of various publications and corporate websites. Her passion for writing peaked in late 2019, when she started this site called Opinined. In 2020, she also started podcasting from her home during quarantine, and was able to gain great traction on her podcast channel during the global lockdown.

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