Lately, the widespread issue of workplace toxicity has been getting more attention on the national stage.
In the spring of 2020, Buzzfeed broke an explosive story that revealed an unflattering portrait of The Ellen DeGeneres Show, including a culture of sexual harassment, intimidation, microaggressions and fear.
Microaggresions can be a statement, action, or interaction regarded as an instance of indirect, subtle, or unintentional discrimination against members of a marginalized group such as a racial or ethnic minority.
While toxicity in the workplace is nothing new, it can negatively affect all aspects of your life, including your physical, mental and emotional health. But when you’re facing work-related challenges, how do you know whether what you’re experiencing is normal stress, or stress caused by a negative work environment? Below we explore six signs of a toxic work environment.
You don’t feel safe to express concerns to leadership
A telltale sign of a toxic workplace is when you’re ignored or punished for raising concerns to management. As the Buzzfeed article revealed, most of the concerns raised by the staff of The Ellen DeGeneres Show were dismissed or simply swept under the rug.
If you’re in an organization where you’re on the receiving end of an uncomfortable or inappropriate interaction but you’re unable to get your manager or HR department to address it or take it seriously, run — don’t walk — to your next job. This is a sign of deep-seated cultural issues.
You dread going to work
If your stomach flips at the thought of going into work in the morning, this is your body’s way of telling you your environment’s not healthy. And yes, this includes work from home jobs as well. In fact, a recent Paychex report revealed that workplace stress is on the rise, so you’re far from alone if you’re feeling anxious about going into work. From gossip to overworking to a lack of transparency among management, there are a number of stressors that make work unpleasant. This quiz from the American Institute of Stress can help you pinpoint what it is about your workplace that’s causing your anxiety, and whether or not you should consider leaving.
You’re being overworked
Another major problem for the workers on the staff of The Ellen DeGeneres Show was the expectation for employees to clock ten-plus hours a day without complaint. While overwork tends to be a more insidious issue in American culture, when “You’re expected to work home on weekends and glue yourself to your laptop, e-mail and iPhone on weekends and holidays to perform adequately,” this is a sign you’re in a toxic working situation, writes Forbes contributor Bryan Robinson, Ph.D.
There’s a culture of gossiping and back-biting
Gossip is one of the biggest morale-killers in the workplace. And when it’s tolerated by leadership — or worse, leaders participate in it — this is a huge red flag. There are more than a few ways gossip can drag an entire work culture down, including:
- Decreased trust among colleagues
- Erosion of morale and motivation
- Divisions among colleagues as employees choose sides
- Damaged reputations and hurt feelings
- Decreased productivity
- Increased worry and anxiety among workers
While it’s almost impossible to completely prevent workplace gossip, when it reaches a threshold where you’re experiencing any of the above, this should be considered a toxic environment.
There is a lack of support and respect
A token aspect of a toxic workplace is a lack of support and respect. While it’s usually pretty easy to discern whether or not you’re being respected, there are some key indicators to watch for, including:
- You notice intense hierarchical structures (e.g., you need to ask your manager if you can use the bathroom)
- You experience micromanagement to the point where you no longer feel autonomous
- You don’t feel you can voice your concerns without retaliation
Additionally, if your manager approaches you with the attitude that you’re lucky to even have your job — a major issue brought to light in Buzzfeed’s expose of The Ellen DeGeneres Show — this is an indicator that you’re in a toxic workplace.
“If anyone ever makes you feel like you’re not good enough or implies that you’ll never find a better job than the one you have, all while under the pretense that they’re ‘trying to help,’ they’re manipulating you,” writes Laura Garnett of Forbes.
There’s a lack of empathy
Numerous former employees of The Ellen DeGeneres Show spoke of their experiences of being punished for taking time off for medical issues or bereavement.
When your organization “…operates on the premise that employees are dispensable, like machine parts, and, once used up, you will be replaced by someone else,” this is a clear indicator that there is a lack of compassion and empathy in your workplace, writes Forbes contributor Bryan Robinson, Ph.D.
In the midst of the current global crisis, especially, empathy is more critical than ever. “So many people are suffering right now, like parents of small or school-aged children and those who have loved ones who are sick or who work on the front lines,” points out Laura Garnett of Forbes. “There must be flexibility and support. If there’s not, start planning your exit.”
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