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Career Advice

Signs of a Toxic Workplace - And What To Do About It

Posted by Jill Cotton

Career Trends Expert

Last Updated April 20, 2022

Ready to quit your job? You’re not alone. Record numbers of UK workers left their roles in 2021 as part of the ‘Great Resignation’. And new research has found that toxic workplace culture is the biggest factor pushing employees out the door.

More than 1.4 million anonymous employee reviews on Glassdoor were analysed by MIT Sloan Management Review to understand why people were leaving their jobs. The researchers found that employees in the US were 10 times more likely to quit because of toxicity within the workplace than they were due to compensation issues - and identified the 5 most common signs of a toxic workplace.

“If 2021 was the Year of Quits for employees, 2022 needs to be the Year of Hires for companies.” comments Glassdoor economist Lauren Thomas. “To do this, employers need to understand why workers are leaving. Toxic workplace culture is a major factor in the record number of resignations - but job seekers are also enjoying more choices than ever when it comes to selecting their next role. Putting employee engagement at the heart of the business is vital to retain staff and maximise productivity.”

What is a Toxic Workplace?

A toxic workplace is more than a single bad workday. It is a hostile culture in which employees are made to feel intimidated or offended, and the behaviour becomes almost normalised. It undercuts employee engagement, impacts productivity and crushes job satisfaction. This type of toxicity is symptomatic of how the entire company, rather than individuals, operates. 

What Are The Signs of a Toxic Workplace?

From the millions of Glassdoor reviews, researchers found that toxic work culture was most often described as:

  • Non-inclusive
  • Disrespectful
  • Unethical
  • Cut-throat
  • Abusive

So here’s what to look out for.

  1. Non-inclusive: A failure to promote diversity, equity and inclusion was often associated with toxicity. Practically this means that both subtle and obvious cliques exist and employees are excluded from groups based on grounds of race, religion, age, gender, sexuality, and more. Companies looking to hire should note that 72% of UK job seekers consider a diverse workforce to be an important factor when evaluating companies and job offers.
  2. Disrespectful: Showing a lack of respect or courtesy has the largest negative impact on an employee’s overall satisfaction with their company. When a culture of disrespect is created in the workplace, workers feel more comfortable treating each other this way, thus compounding the problem.
  3. Unethical: When it comes to overall satisfaction in a job, the culture and values of a company are what matters most to employees. Ethics are a fundamental aspect of company culture and when they don’t stack up, problems arise. Employees in toxic environments describe dishonesty, lack of regulatory compliance and unethical behaviours at work.
  4. Cut-throat: A culture of continuous undermining and high pressure is also a key sign of a toxic workplace. Cut-throat culture was mentioned negatively in the reviews alongside poor teamwork, ruthlessness and backstabbing behaviour. Employees were discouraged from speaking out or respectfully challenging things that weren’t working.
  5. Abusive: Nearly one-third of Glassdoor reviews discuss management in general, but 0.8% described their manager as abusive. This sustained hostile behaviour toward employees ranged from bullying to harassment and hostility.

Reading anonymous employee reviews is a great way to gain authentic insight into how a company operates. And if a review rings alarm bells, feel empowered to ask about the flag in your interview.

What is the Impact of a Toxic Work Culture? 

A toxic workplace is bad all round. Employees unhappy with their work often take these feelings home thereby impacting not just on their work life but also their personal life, and for employers an unsatisfied workforce will impact your bottom line. Other common effects of a toxic work culture include:

  • Increased levels of stress and burnout amongst workers
  • High turnover rates
  • Difficult to hire talent due to poor company reputation
  • Low employee morale and engagement means workers are less productive
  • Diminished trust and respect amongst workers

How to Deal With a Toxic Workplace?

Even if you are working in a toxic culture, few people have the luxury of resigning with no job to go to. So if you find yourself loving your job less and less, here are a few tips to make your workday more manageable.

  1. Don’t be drawn in: Toxic workplaces are hostile environments in which poor behaviour becomes the norm. While looking for new opportunities don’t be drawn down to these levels of behaviour - remain neutral and focus on completing what is required of your job role.
  2. Connect with like-minded people: Chances are you aren’t the only person at work finding the environment uncomfortable. Avoid gossip but seek out those who might feel the same way as you so that you can lean on each other during the workday.
  3. Leave the stress at work: It can be easy for unhappiness at work to overtake your homelife. Seek advice from those you trust if you want to leave the company, but remember it can be unhealthy to dwell and allow the situation to overwhelm you outside of work.
  4. Protect your wellbeing: Mental health can be impacted by toxic workplace culture. So if leaving your job isn’t an immediate option, take time outside of work to focus on your wellbeing - giving you something to look forward to at the end of each workday.
  5. Create an escape plan. If you decide that the work culture isn’t for you, take a step back and figure out how you can get out of your current situation responsibly. Before you leave, take the time to recognise what you didn’t like in the role so that you don’t make the same mistake - and check out reviews of any companies you are interviewing for to get the inside track from current and past employees as to what it’s really like to work there.

What Are the Signs of a Positive Work Environment?

If you’ve had a bad experience at one company you’ll be keen to find somewhere that promotes a healthy work environment. It’s key to finding a job you love, but what does a positive work culture look like?

Glassdoor reviews reveal that the best places to work share these common traits:

  • Company values are considered and team ethics are strong
  • The overarching company goals are clear
  • Job roles are defined and understood by employees
  • Communication is supportive and assertive
  • Decision making is based upon agreement, not just top-down 
  • Transparency runs through the company
  • You can bring your full self to work
  • Conflicts, when they arise, can be resolved
  • Leadership and senior management are respected, trusted and supportive
  • Good career growth, training, responsibility and exposure