5 signs of a toxic workplace

How to spot the warning signs that a workplace has turned sour.

According to findings from HR system Breathe’s latest Culture Economy report, one in five Brits have quit their job due to toxic workplace culture. With that in mind, it’s safe to say that nearly all of us will at least have some idea of ​​what a ‘toxic workplace’ may look like.

But, sometimes, the elements that go into building up this kind of culture can fly under the radar, meaning you may not realise the extent of the problem before you’re already at the center of it. For those beginning to question their positions or those on the lookout for red flags as they consider switching roles, here, with help from life coach Sukhi Johal, we’re exploring five signs that a workplace has turned toxic.

1. There’s no, or very little, career progression

“When organizations don’t invest in developing and encouraging the growth of their employees, this is a red flag,” Sukhi says. “You can usually spot this organization if they don’t have a ‘learning and development unit’ within the HR system, or have no liaison to reach out to about training needs and promotion opportunities.”

This is something you can ask about at the interview stage if you are looking for a new job, or is it worth considering and discussing if it applies to an organization you are already working for. As Sukhi points out, workplaces that do not provide these opportunities tend to have a higher staff turnover rate, as individuals feel unseen and immaterial to the progress of the organisation, and so begin to look elsewhere.

2. Lack of communication

It’s a core pillar of any healthy relationship, and that’s no different when it comes to our workplace ones. “Failure from leadership to communicate the organisation’s progress, and provide regular updates on projects and timelines, can leave employees feeling detached and unimportant,” Sukhi explains. “The effect this has, particularly on the wellbeing of those working from home, creates feelings of despondency and a lack of motivation.”

But it’s not just an organisation’s progress that you should be in the loop with, as Sukhi says that you should also have a sense that you are able to communicate your concerns in a supportive and confidential environment.

3. There is constant confusion

“Where organizations lack direction and operations are indistinct, or where there are undefined roles and responsibilities, this creates feelings of confusion and disorder,” Sukhi explains. “This often results in repetitive meetings and time-consuming discussions. Poor leadership and direction lead to a lack of engagement, as employees feel unclear as to what they should be achieving.”

Your time is valuable, and if you spend a lot of it confused as to what you should be doing, or where your working priorities lie, this is a sign that something isn’t clicking. Your role should be clearly defined in your job description so if in doubt, take a look over it and see how it stands up against your day-to-day experience.

4. Unfair practices and policies

When it comes to unfair practices, especially discrimination against protected characteristics (age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex, and sexual orientation), there are laws in place to protect you . That said, sadly, this kind of behavior can still persist.

“Organisations that exhibit unequal treatment of staff, such as overt favoritism, sexism, and discrimination in career progression opportunities, are toxic workplace environments,” Sukhi says. “If there are no clear policies in place for bringing your grievances forward, this is a sign that management is unconcerned about their accountability.

“This toxic culture will leave employee wellbeing at an all-time low as they feel unsafe and insecure in their environments. When employees feel this way there is often a spike in sick absences and prolonged leave.”

5. Everyone is despondent

“If there is a constant sense of negativity, dejection, and bad patterns such as gossiping around the office, this is a clear sign of a toxic culture,” Sukhi says. “This usually occurs in organizations where employees are threatened with job insecurity and they feel underappreciated or overworked.”

Check in with your colleagues, and take note of how they are feeling. They may echo the same experiences and feelings as you or, on the other hand, you may even discover that you are unknowingly benefitting from the same culture.

Whatever the case may be, the bottom line is that we all deserve to be treated with respect and dignity, and spotting the signs that something isn’t right is the first step to taking action.


Sukhi Johal is an NLP qualified personal and professional development trainer. Find out more by visiting Life Coach Directory.

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