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5 ways to tell if your workplace is really toxic

Is your office a difficult workplace for you and your employees? Here are signs to watch out for and some ways to make it a better place to work in.
By Paul White |
5 ways to tell if your workplace is really toxic

Toxic workplaces have become a hot topic of conversation in the business world. And almost everyone has a story to tell about a bad boss, a bizarre colleague, or a terrible place to work.

But how do you tell if your office is really toxic, a worse than normal place to work or just a normally stressful work environment?

Here are some of the most important factors that contribute to an unhealthy work environment:

Related: When workplace ‘slackers’ derail the cohesion of a team

1.    Major Communication Problems

An initial sign of a dysfunctional, toxic workplace is the prevalance of significant communication problems often across multiple areas--between employees and their supervisors, between management and departments, across different departments, with suppliers and even with customers.

Why is communication so crucial to a healthy organization? Because without effective communication, working together to accomplish the organization's tasks is virtually impossible.

2.    Inconsistencies in following policies

When a company’s policies and procedures are not followed, chaos, inconsistency, and poor quality follow. Customers, vendors, and employees wind up hating dealing with the company and its staff.

Related: Ever has a boss who seemingly thrived on endless chaos?

3.    Narcissistic leaders

Narcissistic leaders are all about themselves. They view themselves as categorically brighter and more talented than anyone else around and therefore more deserving of special treatment. The rules for everyone else are beneath them, they think.

While these leaders may appear to be successful for a while, over the long term their attitudes and actions catch up with them. Trust and teamwork deteriorate in their areas. They have a high turnover rate in their departments and will eventually destroy the health of the organization.

4.    Seething disgruntlement

Grumbling and complaining by employees is common. They can find something to complain about almost anytime. Then sarcasm and cynicism gain sway, demonstrating a growing lack of trust of management and leadership and turning into a low-level seething disgruntlement.

Making excuses and blaming others is commonplace. Eventually, team members start to withdraw, stop interacting with others (except in a very defensive manner) or leave the organization.

5.    Physical and emotional health effects


When a workplace is toxic, it is, by definition, unhealthy and damaging to those who work there. Individuals who work in toxic work environments (especially over a long period of time) begin to experience problems with their personal health. This might include not being able to sleep, gaining weight or racking up medical problems.

Emotionally, employees become more discouraged, which can lead to depression. Some become more irritable, touchy, and exhibit problems managing their anger. Others experience anxiety and a general sense of dread when they think about work. These symptoms can lead to increased use of alcohol, prescription drugs, or illegal substances.

If you work in a toxic workplace--one that is poisonous, damaging, and even potentially dangerous to the mental and emotional health of employees--you can take steps to make it less toxic. You are not just a helpless bystander.

Related: 3 strategies for dealing with toxic people

First, do a self-assessment. Consider, What am I doing that really isn’t that helpful in creating a positive workplace?”

The second proactive step to take is to actively disengage from negative interactions.

A third simple step is to begin to communicate positive messages to others. Often, the easiest way is to share your appreciation for teammates and the work they do. Recognize that people like to feel appreciated in different ways. Find out what's meaningful to your team members and communicate appreciation through these actions.

Even though you may work in a really toxic environment, don’t succumb to the belief that it's all just happening to you. You don't have to be a victim. Figure out what you can do to not add to the trash and help clean up the air a bit.   

Related: 4 ways to diffuse a toxic workplace

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Copyright © 2014 Entrepreneur Media, Inc. All rights reserved.

This article originally appeared on Entrepreneur.com. Minor edits have been done by the Entrepreneur.com.ph editor.

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