Are you happy at work? Do you feel that you can fully express yourself? Are you listened to? Do you feel like your boss and colleagues are supportive of you? Do you feel psychologically safe?

Or do you go home each day stressed, anxious, overwhelmed and feel like you’re heading towards burnout? If so, that could indicate a toxic work environment.

To watch the extended YouTube version of this article, click here.

5 Signs of A Toxic Workplace

Identifying signs of toxicity is crucial. As I’ve already mentioned, toxic work environments significantly impact your well-being both physically and mentally. So, recognising these signs is critical because, as I’ve written so many times before – awareness is everything because we can’t change what we aren’t aware of.

1. Poor Communication and Lack of Transparency

One of the most evident signs of a toxic work environment is poor communication. When there’s a constant breakdown in communication channels, a lack of transparency, or instances where important information is withheld, it creates an atmosphere of distrust and confusion.

This lack of clarity often leads to misunderstandings, unresolved conflicts, and a pervasive sense of unease within the workplace.

Common examples that I often see happening to my clients include:

  • Withholding important information – then being criticised for making the wrong decision

  • Being missed off circulation lists

  • Not being included in WhatsApp group chats

  • Not being invited to outside work events

  • Not being invited to meetings where your input is crucial or where important decisions will be made that will impact you

2. Unhealthy Power Dynamics and Favouritism

Toxic work environments often harbour unhealthy power dynamics and favouritism.

When there’s a prevalent culture of favouring certain employees over others, it can lead to feelings of resentment and disenchantment among team members.

Additionally, unequal distribution of power or decision-making, where some individuals consistently hold more influence or are granted preferential treatment, fosters an atmosphere of unfairness and disengagement.

Common examples include:

  • Unfairness in task allocation

  • Unequal distribution of work where some people get more than others or unfairness in the types of tasks, easy vs hard

  • Giving praise or even awards to less deserving team members

  • Giving poor performance ratings or even enhanced performance ratings without adequate evidence

  • Inequality in the allocation of time, attention and other resources

3. Negative Interactions and Harassment

Instances of negative interactions, bullying, harassment, or discrimination among coworkers are glaring signs of toxicity.

Whether it’s overt instances of verbal abuse or more subtle forms of mistreatment, such behaviours create a hostile and unsafe work environment. It severely impacts employees’ mental health, contributing to increased stress, anxiety, and a decline in overall morale.

I’ve talked a lot about this in my bullying and narcissism articles and videos.

Examples include:

  • Putting you down privately (which I would classify as covert behaviour) or publicly.

  • Talking about you behind your back – gossiping

  • Turning others against you

  • Being confrontational, rude or mean

  • Gaslighting – I’ve done an entire video on gaslighting (click here to watch).

  • Making jokes at your expense and saying, ‘I’m only joking’ or ‘You’re too sensitive’ (they’re good examples of gaslighting.)

4. Micromanagement and Lack Of Autonomy

Micromanagement is another tell-tale sign of a toxic work environment. Feeling excessively monitored, scrutinised, or restricted in your role leads to feelings of frustration, decreased motivation, and hindered productivity.

A lack of autonomy in decision-making or execution of tasks can stifle creativity and innovation, fostering an environment of stagnation and disempowerment.

Examples may include:

  • Not being able to make even the simplest of decisions without running it by your boss.

  • Having your boss scrutinise everything you do

  • Having to report back to them on every little thing

  • Not feeling trusted to get on with your job

  • Feeling like you’re always being watched or that you’re constantly in trouble

5. Excessive Stress, Burnout, and High Turnover Rates

A toxic work environment often results in a high-stress atmosphere, increasing employee burnout. Persistent stress negatively impacts mental health, causing physical and emotional exhaustion.

A significant indicator of a toxic workplace is higher turnover rates as employees escape the detrimental effects of such a hostile environment. That leads to a loss of talent and continuity within the organisation.

Signs to look out for include:

  • Changes in sleep patterns (too much/too little, waking up in the middle of the night and not being able to get back to sleep)

  • Unexplained aches and pains with no apparent underlying cause.

  • Stomach/digestive issues.

  • Changes in appetite –overeating, craving fatty, sugary, high-carb foods or inability to eat.

  • Inability to concentrate or make sound decisions (pre-frontal cortex has gone offline).

  • Panicking, worrying, overthinking

  • Feeling exhausted and fatigued, no matter how much sleep or rest you get

  • Losing interest in things you once loved – hobbies and interests

  • Numbing through online gaming, shopping, social media scrolling, eating, drugs, alcohol, excessive Netflix binging – all these types of behaviours indicate that you’re in the FREEZE state of the fight-flight-freeze stress response

  • Trouble maintaining relationships

To watch my full video on this topic, ‘5 Surprising Signs Your Job is Making You sick’, click here.

The Wrap-up

Recognising that you’re working in a toxic environment is crucial for both your mental and physical well-being.

First and foremost, acknowledging the toxicity enables you to safeguard your mental health. Toxic work environments are breeding grounds for stress, anxiety, and even depression due to constant negativity, unrealistic expectations, and a lack of support.

By identifying the toxicity, you can take proactive measures to protect your mental resilience, whether by seeking HR support, setting boundaries, or considering changing your work situation.

Not only that but recognising a toxic environment is essential for your professional growth. Toxic workplaces stifle creativity, productivity, and collaboration, hindering personal and career development.

Also, and maybe most importantly, the longer you stay in a toxic work environment, the more it will affect your confidence, self-esteem and self-worth, and that will affect EVERYTHING. Not least, your ability to secure another role in a healthy organisation.

Acknowledging the toxicity will allow you to reassess your goals and values, helping you to seek opportunities that align with your aspirations.

It opens the door to exploring healthier work environments where you can thrive, contribute meaningfully, and cultivate a positive and fulfilling career trajectory. 

What Next?

If you recognise that you’re in a toxic environment but are staying because the whole CV/resume writing, interview skills, or job hunting seems just too overwhelming, I have an online programme that can help with all of that.

I’ve helped over 6,500 thousand people find jobs through my corporate training programmes, and my online program takes all the best bits from that training and wraps it up in one easy-to-follow package. Click here for more information.

In the next video/article, I’ll discuss psychological safety at work. So, if you haven’t done so already, please like, comment, and subscribe so that you don’t miss it.

Finally, thanks for your continued support.

FREE Guide, 'How to Hack Your Happy Hormones!'

Unlock exclusive insights and stay up-to-date with the latest news by subscribing to my newsletter today - your source for valuable content delivered straight to your inbox! 


Claim your FREE gift: Instantly access my 32-page 'Happy Hormones Hacks' mini-course, a £39.99 value, as a token of my appreciation!

You have Successfully Subscribed!