Signs You’re in a Toxic Work Culture & What To Do

A big topic of conversation the last couple of years has been cancel culture. Including the canceling of CEOs and higher-ups who created toxic work environments. Can I get an amen for this!? I, for one, have put up with toxic work culture throughout my entire career, and the sad part is, I often dismissed it and sucked it up thinking “that’s just how they are” or “that’s just how it is.” And while we’ve made big leaps in opening up the toxic culture narrative, the reality stands that many workplaces still deal with it.

So, as people head back into the office after years of working from home, I wanted to talk about it here. Because if anything was toxic through Zoom, chances are that it’s going to feel amplified in person.

First, let’s define toxic work culture as a negative environment created by coworkers, supervisors, or the company culture.

Signs of toxic work culture:

Poor leadership
Lack of communication or negative communication
Dysfunctional behavior
Lack of transparency
Unclear roles
Passive-aggressive behavior
High stress all the time
Low morale
Unclear goals
Exclusion, gossip, cliques
Power struggles
Lack of positive feedback or no feedback at all
Feeling under-appreciated
Feeling like you’re not allowed to express your feelings
Lack of work/life balance
No room for growth leaving people feeling stagnant
Employee turnover
Unmotivated and/or unhappy employees
Hostile work environment
Sexual harassment

But beyond the general signs, it’s also a feeling. If you feel an intensity where you work and/or find yourself dreading going because of the vibe, trust your gut.

Now let’s talk about how to make things better because oftentimes, you can. For starters, if you have an HR team/person, confidentially share with them what you are experiencing. They are there to help remedy these situations. If you don’t have an HR team, a few things to do:

1. Work hard and have a good attitude

Give no reason for anyone to say that you don’t work hard or don’t have a good attitude. Keeping your side of the street clean is always the way to conduct yourself.

2. Friends/safe co-workers

It’s important to have strong relationships at work. People who you trust, people who are positive, people who bring light to your workplace, people who have your back, people who you can confide in. Having good relationships will help make toxic relationships more manageable. But also, if you have someone you are close enough to, you can ask them to evaluate your situation. Ask them to pay closer attention to your interactions with whoever is bringing you down, show them the email that rubbed you the wrong way, and ask for their perspective. Is what you are experiencing objectively toxic? This will help bring you clarity and now that they are paying more attention, they can back you up if/when anything comes to a head.

3. Make your workspace cozy

Feeling at home where you spend your hours at work will help. Think of it as your little safe space from the toxicity. Bring in a plant or flowers, put up a family photo, add objects that bring you joy. These ideas will help!

4. Don’t let one bad apple spoil the bunch

If you are only having challenges with one person, try to resolve them. Either with them directly or through a mediator.

5. Understand who you are dealing with

Understanding different personality types can help you navigate difficult personalities. For example, working with a narcissist can be very difficult but recognizing that they are a narcissist and knowing how to work with one will change the game for you. Here’s a book that may help.

6. Have a sit-down

If you are really feeling bad about your environment and are comfortable enough to bring it up to your boss, do it. Being passive about bad culture isn’t going to lead to any positive change but being honest about how you feel might.

7. Document as much as you can

Having evidence of the toxic work culture will be important if you ever need to file a complaint. Save emails, write things down and point things out to your safe co-workers in real-time.

8. File a formal complaint

If you’ve tried all that you can to remedy the situation on your own and are not having any luck, you can file a formal complaint. A formal complaint at any real company will not be taken lightly and will usually result in some sort of action.

9. Plan your exit strategy

If you’ve genuinely tried to make things better but can’t for whatever reason, lay the groundwork to get out. Staying in a toxic culture is not good for your mental health. Update your LinkedIn and resume, and let people know you’re looking. Knowing that you are hopefully leaving soon will also help keep you positive.

Any other tips for toxic work culture?

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