Whining about your workplace might not be a God-given right, but it is certainly something that we all have done at some point in our careers. And while everyone complains about their boss or coworkers, there is a difference between a less than ideal job situation and a truly toxic work environment.
Still, it can be hard to trust our instincts when it comes to the workplace. When things aren’t going right at your job, it is easy to turn inward and blame yourself. So how can you tell if it is you or your work environment that needs an adjustment? What are the signs that your workplace is more than just “meh” but actually malignant? Here are a few things to consider:
Stressed out: In this go-go world, avoiding work stress is unrealistic. But there’s a big difference between sporadic stress that comes with deadlines and the pervasive sense of fear and anxiety that is part of a toxic workplace, said Christine DiDonato, founder of Career Revolution, an employee development organization.
“All jobs come with some degree of stress,” she said. “There may be projects or short time periods that require more intense work or hours, but in a toxic environment is always that way.”
Burnout and bullying: Constant stress leads to burnout and meltdowns, said Kolby Goodman, founder of jobhuntr.com and a career coach.
“If you see a lot of people breaking down at work,” he said. “That is a very clear sign something is wrong. If you or your co-workers are berated or bullied, that’s another one.”
All that bad energy won’t just result in tears – it can also begin to affect your health, writes Amy Scholten, MPH, a health communications specialist and holistic wellness educator.
“You and your coworkers develop stress-related physical and/or emotional illnesses,” Scholten explained. “These illnesses can run the gamut from musculoskeletal problems, gastrointestinal upsets, anxiety and depression, to autoimmune diseases, cardiovascular disease, and even cancer.”
Turnover: Another clear indicator that dysfunction and darkness dwells at your workplace is constant and chronic staff turnover.
“Although there's no magic number to indicate that turnover is at a toxic level, you will, however, hear of people leaving abruptly and sometimes without having another job lined up,” DiDonato said.
Goodman said who is leaving can be as instructive as how many people are leaving.
“A big sign is that there is little or no movement in upper management,” he said. “If all the people are leaving are in middle management or lower level employees, it means it is toxic and that it’s probably not going to change.”
If that’s the case, DiDonato said, there is no fixing the situation and her advice is simple: “As soon as a good opportunity comes along, take it.”
Jennifer Davies is the assistant dean of external affairs for UCSD Extension. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.