Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

4 Signs You're in a Toxic Workplace

By Daniel B. Kline – Jan 23, 2018 at 7:35AM

You’re reading a free article with opinions that may differ from The Motley Fool’s Premium Investing Services. Become a Motley Fool member today to get instant access to our top analyst recommendations, in-depth research, investing resources, and more. Learn More

Like a character in a horror movie, sometimes it's not easy to see the situation from the inside.

Early in my career, I worked for a now-defunct newspaper chain that was a dreadful company to work for. This company didn't even pretend it was in the business of local news. Instead, it was very clear that its goal was sucking every dime out of the business in the short term while leaving little behind of long-term value.

Everyone who worked for this company knew that the big bosses were awful. It was a toxic workplace, but for many of us, it was the only outlet available where we could pursue our passion for being newspeople.

A ton of good work went on inside poorly staffed newsrooms full of broken equipment. The employees knew it was an awful company, but that didn't take away the pride people felt in doing their jobs in the best way possible.

Still, eventually, most of the talented people left -- though a few now work for the company's new, much better owners. In most cases, staying in a toxic environment will take a toll on you, and you should get out. Here's what you should look for to identify whether your workplace has taken a turn toward the toxic.

An illustration shows three angry people with storm clouds over their heads, and one person happily running away from their argument, with the sun peeking out from behind a white cloud over his head.

A toxic workplace can be bad for your health. Image source: Getty Images.

Employees spend a lot of time talking about their misery

Even at really good employers, sometimes the lunchroom or break-time talk turns to something bad the company did. At toxic companies, this discussion permeates nearly all interactions between employees.

In addition, be wary if the idea that the company is bad has become a given. When people openly talk about how miserable they are and how terrible their employer is with no fear of reprisal, that's generally a very bad sign.

The boss is proud of doing awful things

When I interviewed with the CEO of that now-defunct media company, he told me he likes to fire people randomly to keep everyone else on their toes. Since I was "someone" and worked for his company, I wondered when I might randomly end up in his crosshairs.

Bragging about doing something terrible isn't leadership. It's something a deranged dictator does, and it's most certainly a sign of a toxic workplace.

Turnover is high and fast

If you work someplace where people make rules like "I'm not learning your name until you've been here for 60 days," that's another major red flag. It's OK if low-level, low-paying jobs or even some sales jobs have a lot of turnover, but if the whole company seems like it's filled with people leaving or looking to leave, that suggests the workplace environment is less than ideal.

It's a one-way street

If your boss is always asking you to go above and beyond but never offers anything back, that's a major concern. For example, if you work late four nights a week for months and then ask to come in a little late because you have a dentist appointment and are denied, that should set off your internal alarms.

Of course, working extra is not always a one-for-one swap, but it shouldn't all be in one direction, either. If your company takes but never gives, then it may be toxic.

Try to be aware

Sometimes our need for a job outweighs our need to be in a positive environment. In the short term, that's fine, but in the long term, it's important to be aware that you work in a toxic workplace. That might be acceptable for a while, but it's not a good situation for your career or your mental health.

The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

Premium Investing Services

Invest better with The Motley Fool. Get stock recommendations, portfolio guidance, and more from The Motley Fool's premium services.