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Is your work environment toxic?

You wake up every morning and drag yourself into the office. You know there’s a reason you drag and don’t skip. The thought of being in your office makes your stomach turn, and you wake up every morning checking your temperature to determine if today might be a sick day rather than a work day.

Don’t worry. We’ve all been there!

I recently read an article in Forbes titled 5 Signs You’re in a Toxic Workplace. I’ll briefly summarize the five here:

  1. Narcissists on top: Leaders believe they can do no wrong and don’t believe the rules apply to them. They seek perfection from others, even though they don’t meet those standards themselves. And they believe disagreement is defection: it’s my way or the highway.
  2. Commiserating colleagues: Employees drown out the bad environment by listening to music with earbuds in their ears and then commiserate about their leaders through chat or text. When their bosses aren’t around, employees happily interact, gossip, and count down the hours til the days is over.
  3. Lack of transparency: Are your performance expectations clearly defined? Do you know how your performance will be measured? Do you know what your position entails? Is there a clear job description for your role?
  4. Inconsistent rule book: This one’s pretty self-explanatory; rules aren’t applied equally across all staff, including the leadership team.
  5. The place is sick, literally: Employees are often calling in sick, fighting off colds at their desks, etc.

A few years ago, I wrote a post called A Culture of Distrust. It lists 19 signs that you’re in a culture of distrust and even includes a couple of the items mentioned in the Forbes article. Take a look, as this type of culture is definitely toxic.

Shortly after writing that post, I wrote another one about culture issues called Circle the Wagons and Shoot Inward. My favorite lines from that one?

What happens when they circle the wagons and shoot inward? It’s exhausting. And quite toxic.

What does that look like? It’s like an autoimmune disorder, where the immune system mistakenly attacks healthy tissue, thinking it’s an antigen. Quite simply, the culture and the employee experience are a mess.

So why am I writing about this yet again? Nothing much has changed since 2014, right?

Exactly. Three years later, employee engagement is still dismal, and you hear more and more stories about toxic workplaces. Have you read about Uber’s culture lately? That’s not a unique story, sadly. Stories like that bring to light other, uglier issues that make the workplace quite toxic.

I’ve been thinking about more about this topic and wanted to add a few more signs to the lists in my earlier posts. I may have mentioned some of them in the previous posts, but if I have, it just means they’re worth mentioning frequently! Here goes…

  • You’re not having fun. (Listen. You spend a third or half of your day at the office; you need to have some fun there, too.)
  • Missing: sense of humor! You’re not allowed to laugh, be playful, or make jokes (at your own expense or anyone else’s). 
  • There’s a lot of anger and yelling. And name calling.
  • And bipolar behavior. How are employees or leaders going to act today? Will it be the same as yesterday or the polar opposite?
  • Oftentimes, conversations with managers and leaders can be described as patronizing and disrespectful.
  • Men and women are treated differently. I’m not just talking about pay; I’m referring to assignments, respect, appreciation, inclusion, harassment, and more.
  • Employees avoid each other or their managers.
  • There’s no appreciation or recognition or acknowledgement for a job (well) done.
  • Emails to/from colleagues go unanswered. People don’t care or don’t want to help each other.
  • Employees no longer collaborate.
  • But they do gossip.
  • The company (seems to) lack direction, purpose, a mission, and a vision.
  • There’s infighting among the leadership team.
  • Employees are monitored. Office arrival time, departure time, emails, work from home time, etc.
  • Trust is broken. Or non-existent.
  • There’s a clear lack of meaningful and transparent communication, i.e., information about the company and how the business is faring, from leadership is sparse or lacking.
  • Accountability is missing, especially among leaders.
  • Negativity abounds.

Doesn’t sound like a great place to be everyday, does it? I’m sure it’s not. There have to be great places to work. And there are. These great places build cultures that encourage trust, pride, collaboration, and fun.

Take a look at a post I wrote several years ago about about defining your employee-centric culture, which can be described as having strong leadership, trust, respect, communication, collaboration, empowerment, appreciation, recognition, and a solid understanding of vision, goals, and objectives. That’s a complete 180 from working in a toxic workplace!

To win in the marketplace, you must first win in the workplace. -Doug Conant