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How Dysfunctional Is Your Office? 8 Signs of a Toxic Workplace

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Toxic Workplace

For many people, the office can be like a second home. You spend the majority of your waking hours there and your co-workers may likely be the people you interact with most in your life, after family or a spouse.

It’s impossible to be effective and feel fulfilled in a toxic workplace. Even if you work from home, the negativity of a toxic workplace can transcend physical walls. The intangible qualities that make work a healthy or unhealthy place can impact everything from your personal life and health to your self-esteem.

The increased stress of working in a dysfunctional office can lead directly to job burnout, particularly for Sensitive Strivers.

Why Toxic Workplaces Affect Sensitive Strivers More

  • Your deeper sensory perception means you can sense –– and more bothered by––when things are “off”
  • You feel things deeply and can be easily hurt by criticism or harsh behavior from toxic people
  • You put a lot of pressure on yourself to perform and assume a sense of responsibility to make sure everyone around you likes you and is happy
  • You’re attuned to everything happening around you, which can lead to constant vigilance that is emotionally draining
  • You may have been told you’re “too sensitive” or take things “too personally” so now you’re afraid to speak up and assert yourself
  • You become overworked and overstressed which further burdens you’re already overloaded nervous system

8 Signs of a Hostile Workplace

How can you identify if you’re trapped in a hostile workplace? Here are seven telling signs you may be working in a toxic office environment.

1. You’re told to feel “lucky you have a job.”

If you’ve ever heard this statement from your boss, it’s a major red flag. This scare tactic is a means of threatening you into staying in a marginalized position and is symptomatic of an organization that thrives on bullying behavior and control.

2. Poor communication.

Do you feel like you’re left out of the loop regarding important information? A pervasive lack of communication characterizes most toxic workplaces. You may get little to no feedback about your performance, and when you do, it’s negative and harsh — not the constructive type.

You may be doing the work of two, three, or four people, yet it’s not unusual for your boss or colleagues to take credit for your accomplishments.

3. Everyone has a bad attitude.

If you walk into work and everyone around you is miserable a la “Office Space,” then you may be trapped in a hostile environment. In this type of office, there is no enthusiasm; no one coming in with smiles on their faces and no one ever says “I love working here.” A high turnover rate among employees is a good sign that people are fleeing very quickly, most likely because of their unhappiness and poor morale at the office.

4. There’s always office drama.

If cliques dominate your office, it can feel as if you’re back in high school all over again. You may be anxious and paranoid that your colleagues are talking about you. Toxic, cliquey co-workers are most likely to be found hovering around the water cooler whispering in each other’s ears. They make what should be friendly workplace competition seem hostile and dog-eat-dog. There’s always rumors or gossip floating around the office; misunderstanding, favoritism, and infighting are the norm.

5. Dysfunction reigns.

Do meetings feel like a waste of time, inevitably blowing up into disorganized chaos where nothing is accomplished? Are the company’s operations disjointed and failing? Toxic workplaces are full of confusion, arbitrary deadlines, lack of focus, and a general malaise that “this is the way it’s always been done.” If new policies or regulations are constantly getting added, or if management is never around to help solve problems, these are symptoms of a larger problem stemming from poor leadership and low morale.

6. You have a tyrannical boss.

This type of boss is always trying to control your every move and you feel as if he or she is just waiting to pounce on you for messing up. Toxic bosses usually seem unwilling to listen to others and feel as if their way is always the right way. Your boss loves wielding his or her power and showing others that they’re in charge. He or she probably isn’t willing to lend a hand to help in tasks or give you credit for a job well done. If you feel as if your boss would expect you to come to work even if you were on your deathbed, you might be experiencing a tyrannical and toxic boss.

7. THERE’s no growth

If you’ve approached management or HR several times regarding a lack of recognition and growth opportunities (such as promotions, raises, and challenging assignments), and have seen no changes, it may be time to leave.

8. You feel in your gut something is off.

When your intuition says something is amiss, trust it. Physical symptoms you develop, such as sleepless nights or a racing heartbeat, can be your sensitive nervous system alerting you of danger.

How To Stay Sane and Survive a Toxic Workplace

Quitting immediately isn’t always an option, so here are a few tips to improve the situation while you devise an exit strategy.

DON’T:

  • Let negativity win. Ruminating about your terrible job keeps you in a pessimistic mindset and prevents you from seeing solutions.
  • Participate in drama. Get sympathetic allies on your side. Limit time with destructive jerks or people who gossip.
  • Skimp on boundaries. Take your full lunch break. Avoid answering emails after hours or working on the weekend. Use your PTO.
  • Fail to advocate for yourself. Think creatively about shifting toxic elements of your job, for example by delegating, changing supervisors, or switching teams. 
  • Hesitate to document. Keep track of inappropriate or abusive behavior so you can report it if need be.
  • Lose your sense of self. Seek a sense of mastery, momentum, and satisfaction from another outlet, such as a side hustle or hobby.

DO:

  • Use your ground as a testing ground. You have an opportunity to develop and practice much-needed skills like assertiveness, conflict resolution, difficult conversations, and much more.
  • Find support. Build a circle of confidants within the office or externally through a professional association or peer community. Consider working with an experienced coach. You need trustworthy people in your corner who can provide a sanity check.
  • Create a positive workspace. Surround yourself with images, quotes, and colors that relax you or bring you happiness.
  • Prepare your exit. Focus your energy on your next steps and finding something better. 
  • Manage your self-talk. Remind yourself that this situation is temporary and reframe how you perceive it. It’s not a crisis; it’s a challenge. Your boss isn’t intolerable; they’re just emotionally immature.
  • Remember your job doesn’t define you. Revisit your values and what you stand for outside of your job title.

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Hi, I'm Melody

I help smart, sensitive high-achievers overcome insecurity and overwhelm so they can thrive in the workplace.

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