Signs of a Toxic Workplace and How to Deal With It

female employee looking stressed at work whilst employees look on

A toxic workplace can make your job miserable. Here's how you can take action to make the office more comfortable for everyone.

In a toxic work environment, the professional development and positive relationships needed for career growth is almost impossible. When they’re stressed, mentally worn down or physically worse for wear, employees aren’t going to be in the right headspace to thrive. And while everyone has bad days, it’s when these feelings – and the behaviours that cause them – happen more often than not that things start to become a concern.

A toxic workplace isn’t difficult to spot – we’ll show you what to look out for over the course of this article – but thankfully, they aren’t impossible to change. Take a look at the warning signs to watch out for, and along with some effective strategies on how to deal with a toxic work environment so everyone can benefit, below.

What is a toxic work environment?

A toxic work environment is one where negative behaviour, like conflict, bullying and passive aggressiveness – have become entwined into the fabric of the business’ culture. Left to run rampant, these behaviours see decreases in productivity and trust, increases in stress levels and discrimination amongst the workforce. The feelings this can create might spill into our personal lives, leaving us feeling anxious, depressed or burned out.

Signs of a toxic work environment

The first step of learning how to handle the effects of a toxic workplace is identifying the telltale signs. Be on the watch for the following:

High employee absence

The physical toll that a toxic work environment can put on people can frequently lead to an increased amount of colleagues phoning in sick. Or worse, they’re attempting to work through the sickness instead – something that’s going to harm productivity greatly.

Ineffective leadership

Since many of us look towards leadership as a way to remain focused and inspired, it can be especially dispiriting when their actions result in the exact opposite. Ineffectual leadership can come about as a result of micromanagement on their part, a refusal to take responsibility or not treating employees as equals.

Unmotivated colleagues

The knock-on effect of unmotivated employees can be catastrophic. If even just one colleague has realised their work lacks purpose, then it can start to affect others too. Unhappy, disengaged employees are a clear sign that there’s some organisational issues trickling down from the top.

Poor communication

Poor communication comes in many different forms. It might be that employees aren’t receiving the relevant information needed to carry out quality work. Or, even if they are, there may be a lack of positive feedback for the work they do. When they’re only told where they’re going wrong, negative criticism can wreak havoc on an employee’s wellbeing and purpose.

Exclusionary behaviour


Businesswoman Being Gossiped About By Colleagues In Office

Businesswoman Being Gossiped About By Colleagues In Office

Cliques and hierarchies can be a breeding ground for toxic behaviour, leading to certain colleagues feeling excluded and alienated. Whether it’s spreading rumours, outright bullying or projects being offered to certain employees over others, acts like this can create an atmosphere of paranoia and anxiety.

High turnover

People will only put up with a toxic work environment for so long. If a company is cycling through employees at an alarming rate, then it’s clear that the negativity has become too much for them.

How to deal with a toxic work environment

Before a toxic workplace becomes any worse, you can combat its effects by trying the following:

Build up a network of colleagues you trust

Banding together is always a good idea. Not as a way to join in on exclusionary behaviour, but as a means of surrounding yourself with those who aren’t judgemental and will hear you out if you need to open up to them. With colleagues like this, you can turn to them for support and empathy whenever you’re faced with difficult situations.

Invest in people

If you’re involved in HR or a management position, then learning more about your employees and what they need to flourish in their roles is going to be vital. Let them vent their feelings in a private conversation with each of them. It may take time, but by understanding their issues – and brainstorming solutions to deal with them – you’ll be able to rectify the toxic behaviours across the office that are holding them back.

Make time for yourself out of work

Your work is only one part of your life. Make sure you’re minimising the effects of a toxic office by letting off some steam in your personal life too. Whether it’s going to the gym, doing a spot of yoga or learning a new hobby. By unwinding with something you love doing, you’ll be able to lead a more fulfilling life outside of work – one that reduces the negative feelings surrounding your workplace.

Avoid the rumour mill

“If you can’t beat them, join them” goes the old adage. Where workplace rumours are involved however, it’s best to avoid following the pack. By joining in with the gossip, you’re only perpetuating this kind of behaviour. So by all means maintain relationships with your colleagues, but remember to set boundaries and remain professional.

Recognise successes

Again, this one applies more to leaders and managers, but if you’ve fallen into the habit of not regularly praising your team, make the time to.


Shot of a team of creative businesspeople applauding an achievement while working late in the boardroom

Shot of a team of creative businesspeople applauding an achievement while working late in the boardroom

If someone has done a good job, then make them feel appreciated by recognising or rewarding their hard work. Whether it’s sending them an email or providing bonuses, extra time off or prizes like gift cards, gestures like this make for a more positive environment, one where active celebration takes the place of toxic competition amongst employees.


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