7 Signs of a Toxic Work Environment

· September 25, 2018

A healthy work environment enhances satisfaction, well-being, and good relations among co-workers. However, this may not always be the case. Sometimes, we may feel frustrated, tired, and unmotivated in the workplace and may not like to go to work due to our co-workers or boss. A toxic work environment may have negative effects on us.

If we consider a company or organization a melting pot of emotions, then conflicts and differences may exist. The problem is how to manage them and where to start, not their causes. Degrading treatment, unhealthy competitions, and aggressive, bad, and manipulative behaviors characterize a toxic work environment.

Knowing if you’re in a toxic work environment will protect you. The following are the common characteristics of this kind of environment. Let’s discuss them.

1. Absenteeism as an indication of a toxic work environment

It’s normal for people to get sick, have medical appointments, or occasionally attend to some matters that may force them to be absent from work. However, when this behavior becomes habitual, it may be a warning sign.

Absenteeism as an indication of a toxic working environment like this computer without a person working on it.

Being absent for at least three times a month or more or always requesting a leave of absence, whether for personal purposes, medical check-ups, or sickness, is a usual form of absenteeism. If unjustified, it may be a good indication of a toxic work environment.

Another form of absenteeism is mental absence. It means going to work, but spending most of the time doing unrelated tasks.


These kinds of behaviors may be corrected if the leader takes responsibility for increasing employee motivation. If the employees are motivated, discouragement is avoided.

2. Mistreatment by superiors

Another indication of a toxic work environment is a lack of respect by superiors when treating subordinates. This is also the case if they use cynicism and sarcasm when addressing employees.

Derogatory remarks, non-constructive criticism, and comparison between peers also reflect this. Instead of encouraging teamwork, these management styles incite too much competition and make employees feel bad.

3. Lack of communication

Communication problems at work usually occur when there’s indirect, incomplete, or half-truth communication. This creates double meanings and confusion which result in errors.

In many cases, bosses don’t specify how they want certain tasks to be performed, waiting for their subordinates to “read their minds” or guess the details. As a result of this, the employees will feel frustrated, insecure, and unmotivated.

4. Little employee protection

This happens when the company prioritizes its own interests (customers, cost savings, etc.) instead of the employees. There is no rotation or any possibility of promotion. Also, they have no training programs or career plans.

Employees may spend ten years doing the same tasks without any promotion or without even being considered for one. Another thing that may happen is that the internal policies change without any prior notice. In general, all these conditions generate great dissatisfaction among employees and a toxic work environment.

A man holding a bottle with a man inside represents little employee protection.

5. Dictatorial leadership

In this case, the leader makes all the decisions without considering the team‘s ideas. They don’t listen nor ask for other people’s opinions, thus creating a fear of expression among employees.

Dictatorial leaders are often distrustful people because they believe they could solely do the job well and that nobody knows as much as they do. Often, this distrust comes from personal insecurities, especially when one of the employees stands out and becomes a threat.

What makes matters worse in this kind of toxic work environment is that employees don’t see their boss as a person who could help them solve a problem.

6. Role issues

Roles are the functions employees play at work. Although they’re extremely complex, they must be well-defined. Otherwise, the employees may not understand clearly their role in the company.

When this happens, they may take on incompatible tasks or may have to deal with excessive demands.

7. Mobbing

Workplace bullying or mobbing is often really common in a toxic work environment. It occurs when one or several co-workers make work difficult for other co-workers, harassing them on a professional and personal level. In this regard, having a bad relationship with colleagues may be a great source of stress.

All these problems may affect employees both physically and psychologically, impacting their sense of well-being. Therefore, it’s important to address them to manage or avoid a toxic work environment.