Top Signs of a Toxic Workplace—When to know it’s time to go

Workplace environments can feel notoriously stuffy. From the rigorous rules to the definitive clock-in and clock-out times, going to work can sometimes feel restrictive.

But what occurs at the workplaces where it goes from mere inconvenience of being at work itself to total toxicity within the environment? It is imperative to know the difference between the two so you can take the appropriate action.

These top signs of a toxic work environment may take you by surprise:

What is a Toxic Workplace?

Before we reveal what denotes a toxic workplace, it is essential to understand what toxicity in the work environment means. A toxic workplace can be defined as a place where negative behaviors are representative of the culture of the organization.

Toxicity in the workplace can cause the following:

  • High stress levels
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Infighting
  • Loss of productivity
  • Lead toward quitting
  • Discrimination
  • And more

Toxicity at work can make the employee feel psychologically unwell and unsafe. This form of abuse can wreak havoc on employees—and can even cause the business to shutter.

Top Signs of Workplace Toxicity

Many signs of toxicity at work exist. It is important to keep an eye out for the following signs:

No boundaries

Boundaries are what denote what is appropriate conduct and what is not—especially in the workplace. Management or other employees may breach workplace boundaries, thus causing a ripple effect of negativity. Boundaries are there to keep employees safe, productivity high, expectations known, and the business running smoothly.

When rules are not enforced, boundary-breaking must have consequences. If employees or managers are not held accountable, it creates a toxic working environment.


If business owners and managers expect employees to work over their allotted hours, it may signify a toxic workplace. Unfortunately, owners can become abusive, ringing out every ounce of energy of their employees for profit-maximizing.

Some owners and managers even require employees to come in on days off and weekends. The worst owners and managers do not pay for this overtime—which is highly illegal. This is a toxic workplace at its finest.

Gossip and rumors

When employees gossip about one another—or even management—it creates a fast-growing toxicity at work. Employees who are at the brunt end of rumors may experience mental hardship and self-esteem issues.

People can quickly become untrusting, and their work will surely suffer. Employees who are experiencing bullying may learn to stay quiet and feel extremely unsafe.

Sexual harassment

If an employee, manager, or business owner is making unconsented sexual advances, the workplace has become toxic. Whether it be men or women, inappropriate touching and/or comments at work are unacceptable.

Sexual harassment greatly affects hiring and retention, employee productivity, and the employees’ health. This form of abuse can be disguised as being ‘friendly’ or as ‘making jokes’.


A toxic work environment may not always manifest in the form of physical altercations. Microaggressions are a perfect example of underhanded abuse.

Microaggressions can include subtle interactions that specifically target marginalized groups. These groups include but are not limited to:

  • Sexual orientation
  • Races
  • Ethnicity
  • Gender
  • And more

Historically marginalized groups are more likely to receive discrimination in the form of microaggressions. Examples of microaggressions at the workplace include: “You’re so bossy” to a woman or “You’re so articulate” to a person of color.

Lack of growth opportunity

When employers do not showcase the opportunity for growth within the company, it can create a toxic workplace. The best way to increase employee retention, motivation, and productivity is to allow employees the chance to advance in their careers.

If employees feel pigeonholed in their position, it can destroy motivation and productivity. Therefore, the business is equally affected. Employees deserve to feel their work is valuable or it can create toxicity within the work walls.

Bottom Line

Toxic workplaces can cause great distress and harm mental health. Employers and managers are responsible for creating a safe and trusting work environment. Where they fail, the employees—and the business—suffer.

Lack of boundaries, overworking employees, stifling growth opportunities, sexual harassment, and gossiping and rumors are the top signs of toxic workplaces. If you feel any of the aforementioned applies to your situation, it may be time to begin a new path forward in a healthy workspace.


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