Published 31 May, 2021

10 Ways to Identify a Toxic Workplace (7 Mins Read)

A toxic work environment breeds unrest, low morale, constant stressors, competition, negativity, high turnover, sickness and even bullying. Moreover, toxic workplaces rarely stay at workplace only, it usually follows you home too. It steals away your much needed sleep, takes over your conversations with your loved ones and generally cause a lot of stress and worry. 

Toxic workplaces can lead to serious disruptions, stress and burnout in your normal life. If your work problems are the result of a generalized work stress or something worse, let’s have a look into the ten signs that indicate your workplace might actually be toxic. 

1. A toxic workplace usually has bad communication

 Communication skills are the most important skills required in any successful organization. Insufficient, scattered or confusing communication is the one of the major culprits that cause many problems in the workplace. As so much falls under the communication—including listening, verbal communication, written communication and the list goes on.

But, how do you know if bad communication is leading to workplace toxicity or not. Here are a few examples of bad communication like constant lack of clarity around projects, different employees receiving different messages, failure to listen and constant “off hours” communication. 

Communication is the root cause of bad organizations or good organizations operating poorly. Bad communication often leads to confusion and a lack of purpose for employees. From here, problems arise and compound, often leading to the next nine items on our list. 

2. A toxic workplace may have a bad leadership

There’s an old saying “You don’t leave a job, you leave your manager.” Bad leadership can get into every layer of an organization and it often does. Sometimes a bad boss is the result of her bad boss and so on. It’s this hierarchy of the bad bosses which make the overall workplace downright toxic. 

Bad bosses wear various types of hats. You may have the micromanager, who constantly keeps on correcting you, undermines your work and decisions and ultimately disallows you from doing your job. You may have the “Blame Game” type of boss, who is quick to pass the mistakes on to anyone but themselves. Otherwise, you may have the “No Respect” boss, who emails you at all hours, forgets how to spell your name and probably doesn’t even know what you do exactly. 

3. Cliques, exclusion and gossipy behavior 


We all know how a clique looks like. It’s a group of people—whether at work or at school—that sticks together, laughs at inside jokes, grabs each other’s coffee and excludes anyone outside of their group. It feels extremely alienating to exist outside of an active clique. 

In short, cliques are counterproductive in the workplace. While having workplace friends and acquaintances is good, any behavior that can be called as “cliqueish” needs to be avoided. Listed below are a few warning signs that you’ve got some cliques in your office

  • A particular group that has lunch, grabs coffee and organizes the happy hours together
  • A constant feeling of exclusion from a particular group of people
  • Most part of the workday spent on whispering or chatting on the messaging platforms
  • Projects are offered often to a particular group, regardless of their talent or experience
  • A general outward disinterest from the group in anyone else.

4. Demotivated coworkers


You shouldn’t judge your work on the quality (or the  lack of quality) of those  working around you. However, when you find yourself in a workplace full of demotivated or frustrated coworkers, then it’s bound to take it’s toll on you. You may have two kinds of reactions towards the demotivated coworkers. 

  • You’re either going to shoulder a ton of work that they aren’t handling and find yourself burnt out as a result.
  • Or their lack of motivation towards their work is going to burn you out. Just like your coworkers can inspire you to work harder and be better, they can wear you down too. Demotivated employees are usually a result of a much larger problem. Perhaps, it’s bad communication from the top. It might be disorganization or general distrust. Whatever it might be, if everyone around you is not motivated, then you know that you’re in a toxic work environment.

5. Rapid employee turnover


Rapid employee turnover is a pretty sure sign that a workplace is toxic. Leaving a job is quite a tough decision to make. When you see that many people are taking the decision to leave the job, then something is actually rotten there. 

Moreover, if the employees are constantly laid off or fired, that can also be a sign of a few other toxic elements. High employee turnover generally means there’s some disorganization, bad leadership, lack of direction or little opportunity left there for the employee. So, you need to pay attention to the turnover rate in your company. 

6. Stifled growth


Talking of growth, if you’re not getting it, then your workplace might be toxic even if it’s just toxic for you only. If your workplace doesn't offer you any mobility, learning opportunities or mentorship, then it shows that they have not invested in the growth of their employees. Once you’ve recognized that you don’t have a chance to grow there, then it might be time to change the soil. 

7. No work life balance

 You must have a full life outside your work. You must be able to toggle your slack notifications to “Off”. You should be able to leave an email unread after dinner. You should be able to fix your dentist’s appointment without feeling any guilt. 

8. You should take the vacation days that you earned

Work life balance is essential for our survival. No human being should be expected to work round the clock. If your job requires that you be on call at all times, then it’s toxic. If your boss expects you to answer emails mid-Saturday or every Saturday, then your job is toxic. Yes, at times, things come up at odd hours. However, if you are constantly working under the expectation that you should always be available for work, then your job is toxic garbage. 

9. A toxic workplace leaves you feeling burnt out

 Burnout is much more than a buzzword you might have heard around the workplace. Workplace burnout has been recognized by the World Health Organization as a legitimate medical diagnosis. Burnout can be a sureshot sign of a toxic work environment or at least a work environment that doesn’t work for you. Here are few types of burnout. Does any of these sound familiar to you?

  • Worn out Burnout: A worn out employee is someone who has resigned about the work post experiencing consistent work stress over a long time period. Having experienced none or negligible rewards, the worn out employee feels disillusioned and demotivated with the job. 
  • Frenetic Burnout: Frenetic burnout is experienced by the employees who put in  tons of energy into their work in the hope that the output will be very rewarding. But, after a sustained period of dedicated and hard work, the frenetic worker does not find any positive outcomes.
  • Under challenged Burnout: This type of burnout occurs when an employee feels under challenged and extremely bored at work. Unable to find any satisfaction in the job, the under challenged employees find themselves in a lowered mood. 

10. A toxic workplace has a little or no forward movement

At times, the toxic work environments grow from some sort of a seedling. Whether the seed is a bad manager, an organization wide failure to uphold the company’s mission or a damaging fiscal year, this is where things start to go downward. 

If you find that the job you once described as great and now you can’t trace a good word for the same job, then you’re probably experiencing a brand new toxicity—one where you will no longer move further. If your movement stalls or comes to a complete stop, then it’s usually the symptom of a much larger problem.


If you are experiencing any of the above at your workplace, then it’s time to rethink on what you need to do.  If there’s no forward movement in your career especially in one where you have previously experienced growth, then it’s a sign that things are toxifying. A toxic workplace triggers a gut feeling, just like when you eat spoiled food or too much candy, your gut is the best indicator. If your gut is telling you that your workplace is toxic or bad, it’s probably bad. You need to trust your gut. If you need to take a second opinion from a good friend or a loved one, then do so. But, in the end listen to your gut and take the appropriate action.


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