Everyone can have a bad day at work or a boss who you consider a tough one to please. But what happens when one bad day turns slowly into a bad year, and you may even start to question if it’s you or the company. If you find yourself dreading going to work, or communicating with certain colleagues or bosses due to the emotional toll it takes, it may be time to consider if you are on a path towards workplace burnout due to a toxic work atmosphere.
For me, this moment came when I realized that, as someone who formerly fed on constructive criticism and feedback, I was shutting down. I felt small, easily manipulated, and incapable, all traits I knew that weren’t true. I was yelled at, belittled, and discouraged, and most importantly, the rules of the game were forever changing. Not exactly a recipe for workplace success, let alone personal fulfillment.
Luckily I was able to change my life through my burnout recovery journey to encourage others to beware environments that are more than just a bad day, even if it’s hard to tell. Check out these common signs that your workplace culture is more than just a little tense, and may even cause you long term emotional damage.
#1 YOU LIVE IN FEAR OF BEING UNABLE TO PLEASE OTHERS
Many of my clients consider themselves recovering people pleasers. They would do whatever it took to make sure their boss, coworkers, and even subordinates were happy with them and their work. But at what cost? Quite an expensive one, it turns out. By constantly trying to please others, rather than focusing on your own contributions to the company, your part in collaborative teamwork, and the greater purpose your work is serving, you are handing power to the other person. Sometimes bosses (even accidentally) create this dynamic, and you don’t really have a choice in the process. Maybe they are always monitoring your work and scrutinizing small issues. Maybe they are making you feel as if you are constantly being watched. After trying your best to be empathetic and reasonable, f you are in an unhealthy relationship with your boss, and fear talking to them or hearing their feedback, you could be in a toxic work environment.
#2 YOUR ARE IN A GAME WHERE THE RULES ARE CONSTANTLY CHANGING
It’s one thing to want to please your boss and excel in your career. Often this is a healthy sign of workplace motivation. But if you are never able to accomplish that, it’s important to look at all the factors objectively to figure out why not. In some toxic work environments, the boss or other leaders don’t even know exactly what they want, and can become manipulative as you try to guess how to make them happy. Say you work on a project they’ve assigned you for weeks, pour all of your effort into it, and then at the end, they say “Oh, yeah, well we are going in a different direction now.” By not acknowledging, let alone encouraging the work you’ve already done, they are creating a toxic environment that unfairly causes you to question your every move..
#3 YOU CAN’T DISAGREE WITH STAKEHOLDERS
Politics in the workplace can be a strong force. We worry sometimes we can’t voice our real feelings, or give constructive feedback because the stakeholders will punish us or make a move against us if we aren’t agreeing with them. Are you in a workplace where your open and honest opinions are valued? Or are you limited in what you can actually say for fear of your position or your livelihood? Toxic leaders and workplace environments typically have missing, failing, or politicized feedback systems that are ineffective. After remaining truly open to where opportunities exist, and what processes can be evolved for the better, but don’t try and fix the problem yourself. Ultimately it’s up to you to decide if you feel it’s worthwhile to support (or contribute) around long enough to contribute, the company’s evolution.
#4 ENCOURAGEMENT AND DISCOURAGEMENT COME AT YOU IN CYCLES
What are you supposed to think if one day you are told “you are getting so much better” and the next you are the worst employee ever? This cycle or encouragement and belittling is a symptom of a toxic work environment. It implies that previous compliments weren’t genuine, but rather platitudes meant to keep you around and working. A true mentor at work is able to balance feedback with compliments that are meaningful, specific, and frequent to keep employee morale high.
#5 YOU FEEL YOU DON’T “FIT” INTO THE WORKPLACE CULTURE BUT DON’T WANT TO QUIT
If you are in a staff meeting and just not vibing with 90 percent of the content being presented, it can be a red flag. For long term success and a true “fit” at your workplace, you shouldn’t have to feel out of place, or that your beliefs don’t align with the leaders’ missions. If you are quietly suppressing your feelings on major workplace issues or the company’s direction, you should take some time to listen to your inner compass that may be guiding you away from a toxic company. This is a process we use during my 12-week course to realign with our personal core beliefs after many have been broken down by a toxic workplace environment.
Coming to the conclusion that you’re in a toxic work environment is not a black and white decision. It’s completely normal to waver back and forth and wonder if you’re not being open-minded enough, or if there’s something else you should try. At the end of the day, you know if your workplace is compromising your physical or mental health, and you know what to do. And when you start wondering who you’ll disappoint by leaving, just remember the people who matter already know you’re someone who would stick around for something that’s good, and by deciding for yourself that perhaps your work environment isn’t enough for you, you not only free yourself, but you show that same acknowledgment and path to others.
Written by Jessica Walther, CEO of Itivate