How to Recognize a Toxic Work Environment

The workplace is where you spend most of your adult life, and this being the case, you want it to be somewhere that you can enjoy a comfortable and rewarding job. Unfortunately, this isn’t always how things play out. A workplace is only as good as the people who work there and the policies that are handed down from those in power. A combination of factors can lead a workplace to become a hostile environment that can have negative effects on both your mental and physical health. Let’s take a look at some of the ways that you can recognize a toxic workplace and use this knowledge to avoid a crisis.

The Effects of Poor Leadership

How a workplace runs is in many ways a product of the management that runs it. Sure, you may have some problematic employees, but managers can fire and replace troublesome people. If these types of people are tolerated, then those who are in roles of authority are to blame.

Another aspect to consider when it comes to the workplace leadership is the fact that they should be pulling their weight even though they’re in a position of authority. For example, a manager who delegates all their work onto an intern would be an example of someone abusing their power and setting a bad example for the rest of the team.

Effective leadership starts with being an example to those you manage. A good leader will follow the rules, enforce them fairly, and do what is expected of them. They also typically don’t engage in micromanagement and instead trust their subordinates to do their job correctly.

Toxic Workplace Policies

Sometimes the problems in a company come from a higher level than the managers and supervisors. If a workplace has oppressive policies that make life difficult for the employees, it can also create a hostile workplace and an overall toxic company culture.

A good example of this is a workplace that doesn’t respect its employees’ work-life balance. An employer can do this by making their employees work longer hours for less pay if they know that they’re in no position to quit or negotiate. They may also try to increase productivity by denying sick days and/or maternity leave or hiring people as contractors instead of employees so that they don’t have to provide benefits such as health insurance and retirement.

Policies such as these usually come from the CEO and executives, so management tends to have very little power to change anything. This is because the CEO and executives tend to focus solely on maximizing profits to the exclusion of all else.

Dealing with Toxic Coworkers

It isn’t always the fault of the managers or executives when a workplace becomes toxic. Sometimes it’s your coworkers that are the problem. This is because the workplace tends to have a lot of people from varied backgrounds with different personalities. It’s a given that not everyone is going to get along all the time.

One way that coworkers can be a problem is through bullying. Some people have issues that make them feel good when they put others down. Bullying can be done directly, such as name-calling or cruel pranks, or indirectly, such as saying negative things about a coworker behind their back.

The best way to deal with bullying is to first talk to the bully. Surprisingly, many bullies will stop if you just tell them to do so. If a bully won’t stop their behavior, or if they intensify their bullying, then speaking to a manager or supervisor is your best course of action.

It is also worth noting that you should take into account your behavior to make sure that you’re not unintentionally interacting with others in a passive-aggressive manner. Having good communication, being open-minded, and maintaining a positive mindset can create a better work environment for everyone.


Recognizing a hostile work environment takes a certain level of emotional intelligence since the lines can be blurred at times. However, once you are aware of the signs of a hostile workplace, there are several steps that you can take to make things better.

If you have an issue with a coworker, the first step is to communicate. Talk to them and try to resolve the issue yourself. If this doesn’t work, take the issue up the chain of command until someone does something about it.

On the other hand, if the managers and supervisors are the problem, your options are more limited. You can try talking to HR, but in many cases, it is there to protect the company, not the employees, so you may be out of luck.

When bad policies made by out-of-touch executives are the main aspect creating a hostile workplace, there isn’t much you can do about it other than to start looking for another job. Deciding when you’ve had enough does take a certain level of emotional intelligence, and you may not be in a position to quit your job immediately.

Other means of dealing with a hostile work environment include unions, lawsuits, and even contacting the press if the situation is enough of a crisis. However, these options are not always available. In the end, you should use your judgement, and make the best decision you can regarding your situation. Everyone has to work, but you shouldn’t have to endure a hostile work environment.