Signs You’re in a Toxic Work Environment & How to Handle It

A toxic workplace is tough and identifying one can be hard. Here are the signs of a toxic work environment plus some tips on how to handle being in one.

Don’t let a toxic work environment catch you off guard.

All jobs have some level of stress — even on good days. However, if going to work (or just the thought of going to work) makes you tired, depressed, or even physically ill, that’s more than just general work stress; these are the signs of a toxic work environment.

Physical signs of a toxic work environment

Toxic workplaces can be defined as any job where the work, the atmosphere, the people, or any combination of those things cause serious disruptions in the rest of your life.

These disruptions can show up in any number of physical symptoms, says a recent article by coach and human-behavior professor Melody Wilding. These include “sleepless nights, feeling constantly vigilant, sweaty palms, and a racing heartbeat.”

What’s more, toxic or hostile work environments have negative health impacts that can affect your personal life by “damaging everything from your self-esteem to your friendships,” states Wilding.

Our bodies are very adept at letting us know there’s a “danger” that needs to be addressed, so we need to pay attention. Check in with yourself frequently with these questions:

  • How are you sleeping? Are you regularly getting at least eight hours?

  • What’s your eating like? Are you often too stressed to eat, or do you tend to overeat?

  • Are you feeling safe at home and at work?

If the answers to these questions raise red flags, then it’s time to assess your work and office environment to see what exactly is causing your health and well-being to suffer.

Related: 12 Tips to Manage Workplace Stress

Workplace signs of a toxic environment

These are some solid indicators that you’re working in a toxic office environment:

  • Employee Sickness: Toxic work environments lead to employee burnout, fatigue, and illness due to high levels of stress that wreak havoc on our bodies. If people are calling in sick or worse, are working sick, that’s a good sign of a toxic work environment.

  • Narcissistic Leadership: Your higher-ups or bosses demand that you always agree with them, tell them they’re right, and feel they’re above the rules. They expect everyone else to be perfect while they can meet lower standards.

  • Little to No Enthusiasm: Look around the office. Is anyone happy to be working there? Is anyone smiling? Are conversations positive and upbeat? Is anyone talking at all? A ”no” to these questions equals a toxic work environment.

  • Lack of Communication or Negative Communication: You and others don’t get the necessary information to do your job. You work hard with no positive feedback and no recognition, and you might even be told to be glad you have a job at all.

  • High Turnover: When the work environment has nothing good to offer except dysfunction, poor morale, and sickness, colleagues will start heading for the door to find a better situation. If you notice a high turnover rate in your company or department, take that as a sign of a toxic workplace.

  • Cliques, Gossip, and Rumors: Everyone seems to be out for themselves, and there are no genuine friendships among coworkers. There’s lots of infighting and paranoia as well as office gossip and rumors.

In addition to the list above, trust your gut if it tells you something is wrong. Once you know what problem you’re dealing with, it’s time to develop strategies that can help you stay sane day to day.


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Toxic Workplace Survey Kenya (2021)

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