7 Signs of a Toxic Workplace — And What to Do About It

by Sarah Niderost, 6 minutes read
HOME blog 7 signs of a toxic workplace and what to do about it

Everyone has bad days at work. Sometimes you weren’t able to finish all your shift tasks by the end of the day, or an angry customer yelled at you for spelling their name wrong on their cup. At times, it’s just part of the job.

If going to work, or even just the idea of going to work makes you feel negative, tired, or even physically ill, you might be facing more than just stress at your job. Read on for seven signs of a toxic workplace — and how you can handle them.

1. There’s bad communication

Confusing, derailing, scattered, or lack of communication can lead to a lot of problems at work. Without constant and transparent communication, you may not be able to complete your tasks by the end of your shift.

Check in with your manager and plan a meeting to talk about your communication issues. Hold an open conversation about how you can improve communication at work.

To alleviate that toxic work environment, double down on that communication. Here are three ways to help you and your team communicate.

  • Practice active listening. If everyone is talking, yet no one is listening, how are you able to do great work together? When too many people are giving input without holding accountability, it’s frustrating for you and may put you at risk for being held liable for a task you aren’t responsible for.

  • Use verbal communication. Digital communication platforms are great to use when you’re not working face-to-face or for quick messages to send to your coworkers. But if this is your only form of speaking with each other, your workplace may need to work on team bonding and collaboration.

  • Put it in writing. Written communication can be misinterpreted. When you don’t see someone’s expression while they’re speaking with you, you can easily think they’re being passive-aggressive. Plus, why can’t they speak to you in person when you’re both working the same shift?

2. You face discrimination

Workplace discrimination can occur for a variety of reasons, and at the most unexpected of times. You can experience it from frustrated customers during your shift, and from teammates that work closely with you.

Here are some types of workplace discrimination.

  • Age

  • Race

  • Gender

If you feel like you’ve been treated differently at work, you should take immediate action. Make an internal complaint, following your company’s policies, and keep a record of all emails or examples of discrimination you have. If you face any backlash for filing the complaint, notify your HR immediately.

3. Your workplace has cliques

When a clique has formed at work, you can immediately feel left out by your coworkers. Cliques are toxic to workplaces because they promote exclusivity, which goes against most principles of a thriving workplace. And, they can also spread gossip at work, which can lead to bullying.

Here are three ways to deal with cliques at work.

  • Spend time with each of your coworkers, not just one particular group. Socialize and get to know each other so that other team members will be more comfortable confronting you at work. If they have an issue with you, they’ll be more comfortable discussing it with you, rather than discussing it behind your back.

  • Don’t engage in gossip. Even if you’re tired of hearing people talk negatively about each other and want to do something about it before approaching your manager.

  • Socialize outside of your workplace. This way, you won’t rely on your coworkers for your daily social activity.

4. HR is seemingly nonexistent

If your manager doesn’t use your HR team or platform, they’re setting a bad example for their staff. Additionally, if there isn’t any clause in your employee handbook that discusses HR, you may not even know that resource is available to you.

Without HR, there’s only so much a manager can navigate with workplace issues and concerns.

Here are three other ways to communicate your concerns if you have trouble contacting your HR team at work.

  • Speak with your boss. If you feel comfortable, try having a discussion with your supervisor about any concerns you have.

  • Record any incidents. Always take notes about any issues you’re having. That way, you can have as much crucial information as possible when you bring them up.

  • Follow your workplace’s complaint procedure. Look through your employee handbook and make sure you’re following all the right steps if your HR team isn’t responsive to your complaint.

5. Burnout is the norm

When faced with stressful situations during your shift, you have proved your resilience in navigating hard conversations with dissatisfied customers, and impatient people waiting in line. But being stressed at work has now become a pattern, and your lack of motivation is affecting your work and personal life.

This amount of lack of motivation can result in employee burnout. Employee burnout is even recognized by the World Health Organization as a legitimate medical diagnosis.

There are three types of burnout.

  • Frenetic. Employees experience this when they put a lot of energy into their work, hoping that the results will be rewarding. After performing all of their hard work, they don’t find any good outcomes.

  • Under-challenged. This speaks to staff members who feel like they aren’t satisfied with their work. People who experience this type of burnout tend to avoid their job duties and distance themselves.

  • Worn-out. Team members who struggle with the stress of their daily life purposely choose to not prioritize their work because of pressures they already feel.

If you’re struggling with any of these types of burnout, alleviate the stress with activities like meditating, running, or painting.

6. No work-life balance

Work-life balances are essential to have. You’re not expected to be on the clock all the time. In fact, it’s important that you clock off when you’re on a break or not on your shift.

If you feel like you’re lacking time for yourself outside of work, try these suggestions for creating a better balance.

  • Set boundaries. Don’t feel bad for letting your team know how much work you can take on. Focus on doing quality work. If you’re biting off more than you can chew, you can get distracted from doing your absolute best.

  • Plan your personal time. It’s important to take time off physically and recharge mentally. Whether you want to go on a one-week vacation abroad or take a single personal day, your time out of work will allow you to focus on yourself, and focus better once you’re back at work.

  • Prioritize your health. Your mental, emotional, and physical health should always be your main priorities. If you struggle with anxiety, make sure to block out time to practice mindfulness and attend therapy. If you’re battling a cold or even a chronic illness, don’t be afraid to call in sick.

7. You’re not growing

When you were interviewing for your current role, you remember your manager presenting everything you could learn if you accepted your position. But now you’re a year into your job, and you find your career at a standstill.

If you’re not learning and growing at your workplace, take action.

  • Speak with your team. Survey your colleagues and see if they are feeling similar to the way you are. The more people are feeling like they aren’t growing, the more you can present your situation to your supervisor.

  • Brainstorm new challenges. If your manager hasn’t encouraged you to take on new challenges at work, think of what you want to accomplish in your current role. Find creative ways to grow on your own and be proactive.

  • Set clear goals. Think of your short and long-term career goals, and talk with your supervisor about how you’d like to reach them during your next meeting with them. They may be able to find new ways for you to learn at work.

Keep it up

Remember you are not the root cause of a toxic workplace if you’re not working as hard as people think you should. Do your best, and communicate as much you can to restore order at work.

Want to learn what's top of mind for 1,400 shift workers — and how managers can help attract and retain quality staff? Download the 2021 State of Shift Work Report.

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