Toxic Work Environment | 10 Culture Red Flags + Solutions

62% of respondents from our recent “Is your job toxic?” survey reported they dread going to work on Monday morning, a feeling Ramit has dubbed the “Sunday Scaries.” If you’re feeling underwhelmed, under-appreciated, and sick to your stomach every time you get up to go to work, you might be stuck in a toxic work environment.

  • 45% said they disliked their team, boss, or company they currently work for
  • 39% said that even though they have received a raise in their current role, they’re still stressed about money
  • 68% feel “stuck” in their career

Is your office full of rumors and gossip, unclear expectations from management, and cliques that make you feel like you’re back in high school? These are all red flags of a toxic work environment. Spending your entire day with people you don’t like or respect can make you feel unhappy and unproductive, wearing you down over time.

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Signs of a Toxic Work Environment

  • Management has no interest in your input
  • Unending employee turnover and reorganization
  • Superiors tell you you’re “lucky to have a job”
  • Coworkers are stuck in a never-ending loop of gossip and innuendo
  • Rival cliques have formed
  • You feel increasingly isolated
  • You believe you’re underpaid
  • You have been in the same role with the same title for 3+ years
  • You feel increasingly unsafe at work
  • Work stress is taking a toll on your mental and physical health

Ask yourself: Did a recently hired employee already leave the company? Are there more new hires starting today? Are their constant rumors afloat about yet another buyout, reorganization, or potential layoff plan? If so, it may be time to plot a new course.

Sometimes our nostalgia toward a company’s original goals, a particular manager, or past successful projects can make it hard to leave an organization even if it’s become toxic. If you’re constantly wishing things would “return to normal,” or “go back to the way they used to be”, it’s probably time to move on to greener pastures.

This is particularly common in organizations that have grown significantly since you first started out there. Workplaces that started out small, with nurturing and honest communication can transform into complicated bureaucracies over time.

If the atmosphere, people, or environment of your workplace is disrupting your everyday life with worry and anxiety, it could begin to take a toll on your physical and mental health.

If you’re feeling all of this, it’s time to think about an exit strategy.

How a Toxic Workplace is Damaging

It’s normal to take some concerns from work home with you. If you’re approaching a big deadline, a key client meeting, or the culmination of a lengthy project, it’s natural to stress out once in a while.

However chronic work fatigue —the kind that’s bred in unhealthy work environments is a whole different matter.

Signs of Toxic Workplace Fatigue

  • Insomnia/development of poor sleeping patterns
  • Increase in depressed and anxious thoughts
  • Constant fatigue
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Stress-related mood swings
  • Lashing out at family and friends
  • Increased drug and alcohol use
  • Lethargy — choosing the couch over the gym
  • Fluctuations in appetite
  • Settling for poor, unhealthy food choices

The most damaging result of being stuck in a destructive work environment is apathy. When we become apathetic towards our work, we begin to question our talents and start to believe that a toxic work environment is where we belong.

But you can break free.

Plotting an Effective Exit Strategy

Short-term solutions to finding your way out of a bad workplace address the immediate: relieving your immediate stress to place you in the right mindset to chart a new path.

Strategies to Cope in a Toxic Work Environment

  • Establish and nurture relationships with coworkers who are also frustrated with the organization’s corrosive culture.
  • Exercise to reduce stress and increase mental clarity
  • Try to improve your eating habits to ward off fatigue
  • Avoid negative coping mechanisms like drugs and alcohol
  • Refocus your concentration on your workload/client list
  • Concentrate on what you can control

While it’s possible for toxic work cultures to improve, it’s never wise to wait for an organization to change. That’s when it’s time to utilize your off-hours to plan your next move.

Setting the Groundwork for Escape

  • Research and compile information on organizations where your skills could thrive
  • Update your resume from scratch and highlight the skills and accomplishments you’re truly proud of
  • Seek out organizations whose work you personally and professionally align with
  • Reconnect with old colleagues and create new networks
  • Reexamine your passions and how you can align them with your professional goals
  • Consider short-term roles unrelated to your specific career as potential means of temporary income

You may have developed invisible scripts about your work life since getting stuck in a toxic work environment. Break down those invisible scripts by reminding yourself of the following:

  • You should be fairly compensated for the value you bring to an organization
  • You deserve to work in a safe, considerate work environment where people are supportive and encourage your growth
  • Making a change may feel overwhelming now, but once you decide to make a change, you’ll be amazed at how it transforms your life

What would you say if your friend told you they don’t like their coworkers, they haven’t gotten a promotion in years, and they aren’t listened to?

You’d tell them to GET OUT!

We all want to do meaningful work. We all want to get paid what we’re worth. We want to work with people we respect. And we want to have a life outside of work.

The Bottom Line

If you’re experiencing chronic work fatigue and feeling under-appreciated, unproductive, or even unsafe, it’s time to consider an exit strategy. Coping strategies like exercising, eating well, and focusing on what you can control can help you manage the negative effects of a toxic work environment in the short term. In the long term, it’s important to seek out organizations where your skills can thrive, reconnect with old colleagues, and consider short-term roles as potential means of temporary income. Remember that you deserve to work in a safe, supportive environment where you can pursue meaningful work that aligns with your passions and professional goals.

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Written by

Host of Netflix's "How to Get Rich", NYT Bestselling Author & host of the hit I Will Teach You To Be Rich Podcast. For over 20 years, Ramit has been sharing proven strategies to help people like you take control of their money and live a Rich Life.