7 Signs That Can Help You Recognize A Toxic Workplace

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As Uber deals with the fallout of not only embracing an extremely toxic workplace culture but also actively enforcing it, it’s time for all organizations and employees to take a closer look at their own workplaces.

Toxic workplaces are an insidious thing, since most of the time; they aren’t overtly visible to outsiders. Sometimes, they aren’t even evident to an organization’s own employees, since they tend to be behaviours and practices that are considered the norm.

Why would you question something if you’ve been a part of it from the start and therefore, have internally normalized it? Or conversely, why would you question the rules of a toxic workplace, if the organization itself seems to be winning at everything like Uber was?

But despite how successful an organization is, one simply cannot ignore the signs. Here’s how you can spot a toxic workplace, be it your own workplace or one that you are considering joining.

Inconsistencies in the way employees are treated

In a toxic workplace, you will notice that all employees are not treated equally. Some employees will receive more benefits and perks than the others and some employees are treated harshly. Some inconsistency is to be expected in most organizations, because let’s face it, we all experience unconscious bias. However, when the inconsistencies are too great to ignore, that is when we must take note.

The legality of the organization’s practices are suspect

If you think that your organization’s practices tend to fall into an area that you consider morally dubious, you can be sure that your workplace is toxic. Unethical practices being carried out and openly encouraged indicate that the organization has no qualms when it comes to using unethical methods to get ahead. And here is one more thing you should know. If an organization has no qualms using unethical means, then it is not a stretch to imagine that they would expect their employees to do the same as well!

Workplace violence occurs and instances are swept under the rug

As horrifying as it sounds, workplace violence is a thing that exists. According to OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration), workplace violence is defined as: “Workplace violence is any act or threat of physical violence, harassment, intimidation, or other threatening disruptive behaviour that occurs at the work site. It ranges from threats and verbal abuse to physical assaults and even homicide. It can affect and involve employees, clients, customers and visitors.”

Most organizations will shrink in horror at the very thought of workplace violence. In a toxic workplace, however, threats will be thrown around freely and instances of workplace violence may even be brushed under the carpet.

Workplace safety does not exist and employees feel unsafe

If threats of injury and assault are freely thrown around in a workplace, you can imagine how safe a workplace like that feels. Violence at the workplace, even the very mention of a threat is a huge red flag that the workplace in question is actually a toxic one. After all, we can never predict when a threat is going to turn into reality.

There’s a lack of clarity when it comes to customs and procedures

At a toxic workplace, practices and customs tend to be frustratingly opaque. And the most common answer you will hear whenever you question something is this, “We’ve always done things this way.” There’s no inclination to change and more often than not, employees and senior leaders will stringently reject any attempt to change, sometimes even going so far as to sabotage work, equipment, office property etc.

Problem employees are a mainstay

In toxic workplaces, you will notice that instead of the problem employees, the ones leaving are other employees who are fed up with the workplace and its practices. When organizations refuse to let go of problem employees despite the problems they have caused and justify their continued presence in the organization, it is a sure sign that the organization is a toxic one. Because by holding onto problem employees, an organization indicates that as long as the problem employee helps the organization get further, it justifies all the problems they are causing.

Insufficient communication

In a workplace, communication and the transmission of information is vital. After all, that is how work gets done. However, in a toxic workplace, information frequently gets withheld, sometimes for the silliest and pettiest reasons. Not only is information withheld, but in toxic workplaces, employees can even be forbidden from communicating with others or a single employee with the intention of isolating them.

When we do not protest against toxic workplaces, we are perpetuating work cultures that put a higher percentage of the employee population at a disadvantage. Because the only people who benefit from toxic workplace cultures are executives at the very top, such as Travis Kalanick, Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly etc.

However, understandably, it’s not easy to protest about toxic workplace culture either, especially when the one doing the protesting is at risk of facing considerable backlash. At that point of time, the best thing to do is leave at the earliest or soon as you find a back-up.


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