Toxic Office? Spot the 10 Signs

No, I am not talking about a Health and Safety inspector’s tick list (blessed as we are in the UK with an excellent HSE system protecting us from the historic excesses of the Industrial Revolution with its asbestos, lead, solvents and radium); I am talking about something more subtle, but no less poisonous.

Indeed, a toxic workplace can be an aesthetically pleasing suite of rooms, full of fine furniture, flowers and fresh air yet many people are gut-wrenchingly sick every day, dealing with the stress of working in a dysfunctional office leading to job burnout, fatigue, and depression.

It’s a serious problem that not only affects your ability to do your best work, but carries over into your home life, damaging self-esteem, relationships and your mental health.

The toxic ten

It’s normal to have the odd stressful day at the office, but there are key signs you may be in a toxic work environment. Here are 9 things to watch for.

1. Fear

It’s tangible. You dread going into work and are continually tense because you operate under a regime of micromanagement and bullying that dictates you are “lucky to have a job, so don’t complain, just get on with it”. Many people are so hardened to the bad environment they convince themselves it is worse to leave, but constantly feeling stressed and fearful about coming into work is a huge sign.

2. Silence

Literal and metaphorical silence often saturates a toxic workplace. Everyone speaks in hushed tones reminiscent of an exam room or school library ruled by a vicious head teacher or evil librarian. You receive negligible feedback about your work, and it’s often negative and critical. What’s more, you feel your boss or manager deliberately keeps you out of the loop on key decisions making you worry about your position and future in the company.

3. Stink

Attitudes stink. Your colleagues are unprofessional, sloppy and a lack of enthusiasm pervades. Morale is reminiscent of Hitler’s bunker in April ’45. You do the same thing day in and day out without variation and without enjoying new training opportunities that you were promised in the interview. You feel jealousy when someone finds a new job, or you cry at your desk when the only cheerful person goes on the sick, leaving you stranded with a cheerless and miserable clique of co-workers who side-line you.

Staff turnover is such the website-admin never bothers putting any staff member names or photos up because they change so often. Sometimes staff turnover may not be a problem, so don’t rely on this as indicative, nevertheless a toxic environment may still be present.

4. Credit theft

You stay late and regularly come in early to help beyond the call of duty, yet receive little acknowledgement for your efforts, indeed, your manager steals all the credit for your great ideas. When bringing your obvious contribution and successes to the attention of the HR team or your boss, you are promised “jam tomorrow”, but it never comes. You are undervalued and unappreciated.

5. Paranoia

Gossip and backbiting prevails. Like a Cold War propaganda poster you “Trust no one” and when colleagues go silent as you walk past them in the corridor you become anxious they are plotting your demise. You come into work with full-blown flu (presentee-ism) in case your enemies try to oust you in your absence.

6. Excuses

Meetings constantly go off on tangents of unfocused discussions and bickering, blaming and indecisiveness. “We’ve always done it this way” is the mantra and innovation is scoffed at. Good ideas may temporarily be received with enthusiasm, but since they cost money and require decisive action, the Finance Department finds an excuse to block expenditure until “that software is cheaper” or until “that contract is secured”.

7. Stalin

Control: You have none because your boss is not just a poor leader s/he is a dictator. The gulag awaits if you dare make an executive decision about buying new staples without a rubber-stamp from the ivory tower. If you do something wrong you may be screamed at or talked down to. Bullying can be subtle or overt and some managers may recognise you are better than they are, be jealous of your talents and will overload you with mundane work to keep you from outclassing them.

8. Red Flags

Stalins always carry red flags. It may be that your boss disrespects time boundaries and you feel you are in constant demand even on your precious days off or feel anxious your phone will ring when you are sitting by the pool on holiday. It’s difficult to enjoy a perfect work-life balance, but within reason, we should all enjoy reasonable leisure time off without fretting about getting a call from work.

You may also spot red flags if a boss or colleague compels you to act against your conscience, such as telling lies to customers or making something “disappear” from VAT or tax records. If you are working for an inherently dishonest company or manager you could be indicted as a criminal accessory. Those symptoms of sleeplessness, anxiety and guilt are there for a reason. It’s time to get out.

9. Illness

Constant stress leads to deteriorating mental and physical health. We are body, mind and spirit, and all three interplay. If you feel your energy and happiness levels are completely drained in your role and you are getting ill more often, it’s possible you are in a toxic working environment.

10. War

This is the big sign. A toxic office boils with angst and you or colleagues will not escape the conflict. It may be between you or your boss, or another colleague, or you may have to tiptoe around two warring factions who refuse to cooperate with each other. You are frustrated because you see the need for mediation but your boss lacks essential leadership skills, refuses to take sides or s/he may be the main protagonist.

If you recognise the majority of these signs you need some help.

Emergency Conflict Resolution

Through Carol Barwick Learning and Development Ltd., I provide a wide range of bespoke training courses to help you deal with workplace conflict and improve communication. The following three masterclasses provide powerful tools and techniques to deal with the most commonly encountered problems in conflict resolution:

  1. Managing Difficult Conversations

A dynamic and practical masterclass full of techniques, tools and tips in how to remain calm, confident and in control.

Essential tools and techniques designed to help you manage difficult situations. Ideal for front facing staff who deal with vulnerable customers displaying a wide range of emotions from threats of suicide to depression to anger. Help staff listen, respond and handle reactive and unpredictable situations positively, reducing stress and anxiety, to maintain team resilience and wellbeing.

  1. Understanding & Managing Conflict, Threat and Violence

This practical masterclass delivers essential techniques and tips in how to remain calm, safe and in control when working with challenging groups and individuals.

Training focuses on ‘Step Away Tactics’ and provides the basis for sound application of the participant’s natural strengths and the foundation for further skills development. It takes account of current UK law and applying the existing policy framework at the time of delivery.

  1. Understanding and Managing Challenging Behaviour

A high energy, practical masterclass packed full of techniques, tools and tips in how to remain calm, confident and controlled in all situations.

This masterclass is a fast-paced mixture of facilitator-led discussion and debate, group exercises and personal reflections on participants’ historic and future approaches to a range of real-life work situations.

And finally…

..Just because you have a job doesn’t mean you need to live in a toxic work environment. Contact me for help now.