Toxic workplaces are a constant source of stress for almost all involved but they often don’t appear in the cartoonish fashion we have all come to expect from media representations and, well, articles just like this one.
We all have employment rights now and near-constant media examples of power gone awry so very few of us have to work for long under a screaming bully of a boss or keep a blow up mattress under the desk for the deadline periods (as one friend of mine did in his job!).
However, if you’re a generally resilient person who is beginning to feel the mild nausea and constant pressure then maybe you haven’t realised the impact of your environment, or just how toxic the place around you is.
Here are 10 signs you are working in a toxic environment.
1 - Work is fraught with constant low level problems or annoyances
Computer systems crashing regularly, clunky work systems, slow internet, bottle neck managers holding up your work or getting caught in between two supervisors; when we think of stress we think of high octane drama, screaming and shouting (more on that later) but when you are driven and want to get a good job done then these constant low level frustrations can have just as great an impact on your stress levels.
2 - Bad behaviour goes unchecked
Whether it’s team members not pulling their weight, staff using aggressive language, slamming down telephone receivers or slacking off early, when bad behaviour goes unchecked it creates a level of friction that can be difficult to manage, particularly when…
3 - Team members are treated unequally
So your team member regularly turns the air blue but you get a bollocking for saying bollocks? The reason for the inequality is not the issue here (although it is a big issue by itself) but inequality itself is a problem that will fester unless full addressed. If you feel that you are being unfairly treated by your boss or the people around you whilst the same behaviour is condoned, or at least acquiesced to, when the office Golden Balls says it, well you can hardly be blamed for…
4 - Regular complaints, whingeing or whining.
We’ve all had a bad day, we’ve all let off steam or said exactly what we think about Brendan in accounts and the rampant nepotism in Team C over there, but if you or your colleagues are frequently airing your grievances in the office then the negative feeling is likely spreading. Studies show that negativity is as contagious as the common cold and even the most peppy people can get dragged down by the dissatisfaction.
5 - Gossiping, sharing secrets or slagging management off
Did you hear that that director did that thing and that this happened? Well I heard that so and so said that behind Sheila’s back. just like complaining and whingeing, gossiping and slagging people off is an inherently negative activity and none of us feel great about it, even when we’re being mean about a celebrity. So talking smack about the people you work with isn’t just going to leave you feeling even more distanced from work, its going to have you wondering just what those gossiping colleagues say when you’re not around
6 - For all the talk, nothing changes.
Whether it’s gossiping, complaining, whingeing or endless ‘we know we’re all busy’ missives from on high, is there’s plenty of talk and little action then the blood pressure of all concerned is going to steadily climb. If you’re working for a company that openly acknowledges problems and does nothing about them you’re pretty likely to fall into the ‘they don’t value me’ narrative and feel even more detached and despondent. Managers who are stuck in the ‘we know it’s wrong but can’t resolve it’ trap are left with a hot potato ticking time bomb on their hands and know it’s just a matter of time until it explodes - so rather than engage and humanise we armour up and remove ourselves from the face of dissent, thereby sparking even more frustration and disconnect.
7 - Nothing to see here move it along
Or perhaps you’ve all gotten very stiff upper lip about it all and decided that, despite the decidedly dodgy issues you have going on, you’re going to pretend it’s all fine and DON’T MENTION THE WAR. No-one likes a Delusional Dolly in charge and it’s one of the quickest ways to lose respect and see staff members fall in to 4 and 5 above. Be human, admit your faults or sack your staff and work with robots. It’s your call.
8 - It’s all a big stagnant and stale
Businesses need growth because people need growth. There are very few of us who are prepared to do the same repetitive tasks, day in and day out, without some extra sparkle attached. Learning and growing is part of the human condition and if work is stagnating, because of a lack of cashflow, market instability or simply because Stella got her groove and ain’t going to look beyond that, then work is backsliding. If staff and managers don’t feel like they’re making progress, systems and functions will slow down until eventually something falls apart, and we all know when we’re in a dying office.
9 - There’s no gratitude or appreciation
Even if you’re not at the falling-apart stage of stagnation, it’s easy to fall into the trap of assuming everyone knows their job and that’s that. Every single human being on the planet is a dopamine seeking wannabe junkie and without regular feedback, praise where it is due and a concerted positive outlook, we will slowly atrophy and slide into disengagement. If Sheila in the corner has been doing her job brilliantly for the past 5, 10, 50 years, for god’s sake tell her that. Good work deserves good words - it takes very little and can shake even the most Negative Nelly out of the slump
10 - Or maybe it’s you
It’s incredibly easy to look at a working environment and blame everyone else. It’s the shitty systems, it’s the lack of efficiency, the managers don’t what the f they’re doing and everyone around you is stupid.
It’s every single person’s fault but yours?
Or maybe, just maybe, you are the ground zero of the discontent soup you’re currently swimming in. A fixed, negative mindset can develop over time, particularly if you’ve been over-extending yourself for some time, getting eroded by exhaustion and feeling increasingly cynical and dis-engaged. What I’ve described right there is burnout, the occupational phenomenon that causes us to become depleted, cynical and less effective at work.
The good news (don’t groan at me you Cynical Cid) is that changing up the way you think and behave around your work is something that you can have complete control over, don’t need to wait for anyone else to overhaul their systems or personality and can take as little as five minutes a day.
Studies show gratitude to be one of the most effective methods there are to cultivate happiness, create engagement and nourish better relationships - all of which can help reverse the effects of burnout and help us to feel happier and more proud of ourselves.
If nothing else, cultivating gratitude and happiness may go some way to inoculating yourself from the toxicity around you and anything that can mitigate those effects has to be a great thing.
PS If you’re short on time but want a crash course in creating this within yourself, then check oout my home study course The Happiness Habit Bootcamp. 28 days of daily exercises of 10 minutes or less and at a tiny price to boot. Click here to find out more and buy your copy - or keep swimming in the soup of struggle, let me know how you get on with that!