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10 Signs You Work in a Toxic Environment (and Five Things You Can Do About It)

Angie Morgan, July 16, 2018

10 Signs You Work in a Toxic Environment (and Five Things You Can Do About It)

I’ve seen inside both thriving and toxic work environments for more than a decade, and there are clear, telltale signs that indicate whether (or not) you’re working in a healthy organization.  I’m compiling my list so you can assess the health or your group, and – more importantly – if you discover you’re working in a less-than-best environment, I wanted to offer you things you can do about it.  Here goes:

Top 10 Signs You Work in a Toxic Environment

  1. The brilliant jerk is tolerated and always gets their way
  2. Someone breaks down in tears at least once a week
  3. You have a nagging feeling that if you’re not at a meeting, you’ll be stabbed in the back
  4. There are no clear expectations for your role, but you’re harshly judged against random expectations
  5. Cliques form and you often wonder if you’re in or out
  6. The favorites always get more than their fair share of choice opportunities or the annual bonus
  7. You feel pitted against colleagues on a routine basis as if there’s a weird, ongoing loyalty test
  8. Tempers often flair, and there’s no check against them
  9. You often question your value or self-worth, feeling that you’re in a perpetual state of proving yourself
  10.  You have the “I want to quit” feeling nearly every day

I’ve worked in a toxic work environment before.  When I was working in sales many moons ago, I had a temporary manager who was still developing his leadership skills. (That’s putting it kindly!)  Working for him felt as if I wasn’t cared for, and it was a pretty sad existence for me.    I was relatively fresh from the Marine Corps, so I knew that there were better leaders in this world and, more specifically, there were more opportunities that I could explore where I could thrive.  So, what’d I do?  I quit. I was fortunate that I had that option when I know that many people who work in toxic environments don’t always have that choice.

I wanted to offer you five things you can do if you find yourself in a less-than-best scenario, which may not require you to quit … but could inspire you to confront your reality with the right mindset and actions.

  1. Be Accountable.  Is it really your environment, or is it you?  Is there something going on in your life that is limiting you from being your best while at work?  It’s easy to point the finger at circumstances to say why things aren’t going well, but challenge yourself to look internally, check in with yourself, and hold yourself accountable to the most important standards – your own expectations of yourself.
  2. Be Bigger than the Situation.  If, indeed, it’s your work environment – maybe a toxic boss, or a colleague – know that it’s not just you who are impacted by them.  Be the bigger leader in the group and extend your leadership to others.  Start your day off with the intentions that despite the circumstances, you’re not going to let your emotions get the better of you … and you’re going to spread positive influence among others.  This takes focus and discipline, but your efforts could help elevate the mood in the room.
  3. Do the Work.  Changing a culture requires committed leaders, like yourself, and it’s often a lengthy process.  Do the work. Set reasonable expectations for the change you’d like to see, and the timeline that it’s reasonable to achieve it.
  4. Decide if It’s Worth It.  If you’ve done steps 1-3, then ask yourself a pretty pointed question: “Is it worth it?”  Remember that you can likely make money anywhere.  Is the environment the right environment for you to thrive?  Does the experience connect to a greater goal, requiring you to endure a bit longer?  Draw some hard lines of what is and what isn’t acceptable for you.
  5. Find Joy Elsewhere. I’ve worked inside many amazing organizations.  I can say, with 100% certainty, that there is greener grass out there.  I recognize, though, that not everyone can make a career shift with ease.  Some, due to opportunities in their communities, might not have a readily available role outside of their current environment to transition into.  This is why finding joy, either internally or externally, to your work environment is key.  Find an external pursuit that fills your bucket – it allows you to ensure that work, and your toxic environment, don’t rule your world, and it reminds you there are other ways to find fulfillment.

Do you have some ideas on how, else, to confront a toxic work environment?  Share them here.

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