Written by Russ Gadzhiev, PhD
“If you walked away from a toxic, negative, abusive, one-sided, dead-end low vibrational relationship or friendship — you won.” – Lalah Delia
“The less you respond to negative people, the more powerful your life will become.” – Robert E. Baine, Jr.
“Like arsenic, toxic people will slowly kill you. They kill your positive spirit and play with your mind and emotions. The only cure is to let them go.” – Denisse Lisseth
It goes without saying that work is an important part of our life. Just imagine you spend at least forty hours at work every week! That’s a lot. So, if the place where we are working is not making us feel good or is upsetting us, we need to consider finding a new job. Even more if our current job is a toxic one.
We should say that being able to identify a “toxic environment” is one of the subskills of emotional intelligence, which we have discussed in our other Shiminly articles. In this article, we are going to talk about one aspect of emotional intelligence – being able to identify environments that can be detrimental to our mental health and have a negative impact on our career.
First, let us define the term “toxic environment”.
A toxic environment is a workplace, where employees are suffering from a range of negative phenomena, produced by an overwhelmingly negative work culture. Understandably, those working in such places are extremely dissatisfied and unhappy. When we are talking about toxic work environments, we usually talk about bullying, distrust, overwhelming pessimism and so on.
Toxic environments are bad for employees and employers. They negatively affect workers’ productivity. Indeed, instead of giving all their attention to their work projects, employees working in toxic environments try to finish work as early as possible. Companies with toxic environments are also very likely to have high turnover. This is also completely understandable as dissatisfied and unfulfilled workers are trying to find a job elsewhere.
You need to understand that quitting is always a difficult decision to make, and people don’t do that on a whim. If several people at once or in quick succession are handing in their notice, then it is almost certain that there is something deeply wrong with the place where you work. Many things can account for high rates of turnover, including bad leadership, slim opportunities for growth as well as overall disorganization in the environment.
So let us identify the main signs of toxic environments and give you tips on how to avoid them. Fortunately, any workplace with a toxic environment is full of signs that you can see even during your job interview. First and foremost, during your work interview, you can ask about their retention rates. If you hear about high turnover rates, then it is almost certain you are dealing with a toxic employer. If you want to get a better understanding of the place, try to get in touch with its former employees and have a conversation with them. Do not hesitate to ask them why they resigned, what they know about the inner working of the company and how the higher-ups treat other employees. Their responses can be quite revealing and eye-opening.
Sometimes everything may seem fine during the interview and there may be no warning signs. In this case, you need to look for the following signs:
Indeed, confusing, and unclear messages from your boss may be the source of various problems. The signs of poor communication include a constant and persistent lack of clarity surrounding new projects. The fact that various employees are receiving conflicting and unclear messages is also another sign of poor communication. In more serious cases, passive-aggressive communication takes place, or your boss is simply not listening to you.
If you see that your company is suffering from poor communication skills, you need to understand that this is going to get worse and probably the best decision would be to leave.
Exhaustion and Lack of Motivation
Observe the behaviour of other employees in the company you are working for. If the place you are working for is a toxic environment, most people will seem to be unmotivated and exhausted. This will of course have an impact on you. First, you will have to do all the work that they find themselves unable to do. Even if that does not happen, rubbing shoulders with such tired and unmotivated employees you are very likely to end up demotivating you or charging you with negative energy. We all know that our colleagues can inspire us and be more productive. But at the same time, their lack of motivation and pessimism can make us disheartened and unmotivated.
Lack of Work-Life Balance
Your employer does not acknowledge the importance of work-life balance. Sufficient rest and life outside your job are important parts of normal human life and they should not be sacrificed for the sake of your job. So, if your boss is making you feel guilty about taking a day off, or maybe going on your well-deserved holiday, this is not a good sign. You should not feel guilty about doing something other than work.
The world we are living in is becoming increasingly hectic and volatile. Everything is competitive and to withstand competition and be relevant we need to rest and recharge our batteries. Otherwise, all of that will just wear us down. So, if your boss wants you to be available all the time, then it is a real sign that your workplace is toxic. The same can be said if your boss wants you to answer their emails on Sunday or Saturday.
Certainly, sometimes there are urgent situations that indeed may require your boss to reach out to you at inopportune hours. But that is different from situations when your boss simply expects you to be available twenty-four hours.
Poor Interpersonal Relations
Another sign you should look out for when you are wondering whether your job is a toxic place or not is how your co-workers communicate with each other. If you see that most of your colleagues have happy faces, they happily brew their morning coffee and chat, then perhaps there is little toxicity in relations between them. However, if you see that they are unwilling to make any verbal exchange with their co-workers and prefer to type scowling then it may be a bad sign.
There is another way to gauge the toxicity of a working place. If you find that you are saying hello to people and they simply ignore you (especially your boss), you probably should not think twice about whether you need to stay or not. Probably it would a good idea to leave for the sake of your mental health and your career success.
Anxiety and Depression
Employees working for companies with toxic environments are more likely to develop mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression. And this is not surprising at all – in a workplace where your boss can arbitrarily disrupt your peace on the weekends or tell you off for being unavailable during your holiday, your brain can simply go into a so-called “fight or flight” response, responsible for anxiety. If you are in this “fight or flight” mode, then depression is almost inevitable as it is the only way your body to tell you that it cannot cope with constant stress anymore.
If your boss does not care about your health and especially your mental health, then it also means that this place may not be a good one for you. Simply because mental health and overall health, if undermined by unreasonable work expectations, may lead you to develop a real physical illness, which will prevent you from being productive and even coming to work.
Of course, the best way to avoid a place with a toxic work environment is not to sign a contract with them. You must do your research about the company to avoid potentially toxic employers. Finally, you need to learn about the concept of emotional intelligence which will help you be better at gauging the emotional climate of places and people’s feelings and motivations. Possessing emotional intelligence will also help you withstand the toxic pressure coming from your employer and deal with it in the most efficient way. If you are willing to learn more about this important concept, check out the articles on our Shiminly blog and learn more about Emotional intelligence and its benefits for your career growth and personal development.
Russ Gadzhiev obtained his PhD in history and politics from University of Melbourne. He also holds a master’s degree in International Relations from Moscow State University of International Relations, a top-ranking diplomatic school. Russ is a strong education professional with a history of working in the higher education sector of Australia and effectively communicates with learners from diverse cultural backgrounds. He is enthusiastic about teaching and mentoring, writing, curriculum development, research, information management and public speaking. He is fluent in Russian, English, Spanish and Portuguese.