Seven signs of an unhealthy work environment

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How to understand that there is an unhealthy atmosphere at work

1. Colleagues discussing behind their backs

Of course, it’s a great team if you hear mainly praise or discussing how to please or help a person. But in reality, much more often, employees wash each other’s bones, look for flaws and pass on the gossip through a spoiled telephone.

As a result, the office or the factory floor becomes a battleground. And you do not allow yourself to relax for a second. You are forced to constantly control your behavior so that your actions are not misinterpreted and everything you say is not used against you. In such a stressful atmosphere, it is not easy to work.

2. Employees are criticized in an unconstructive way

Everyone on the team is human, and people, whether line employees or supervisors, are prone to make mistakes. So sometimes the result of work is not what you would like it to be. Moreover, no one can work with the same productivity all the time. Therefore, from time to time, it is necessary to admit honestly that it did not work out well and discuss how things can be improved.

Criticism helps you to develop, so there is nothing wrong with it. Another thing is how it is presented.

No one notices successes, but everyone is eager to point their noses at mistakes. Unpleasant, although this is half the trouble. The trouble begins where criticism turns into a mockery. For example, a person receives sarcasm and derogatory remarks in response to an idea, even if it is not very good. Or the boss criticizes not the work but the performer. Agree. There is a difference between “Let’s face it, it’s frankly bad. It needs to be redone” and “You’re just bad. What else could you do? Redo it.”

3. Colleagues allow themselves to make cruel jokes

Brutal jokes are appropriate if people have been in contact for a long time, understand the context of their statements well, and know that everyone will get it right.

It rarely happens at work, and common sense tells us to hold our horses. Because among friends, for example, a stupid racist joke can still pass as “You guys have known me for a long time, I’m not like that, and I understand that this is just stereotypes, but it’s a funny idea, and I can’t help myself and not speak out. But in the office, it would sound unequivocally unacceptable.

Discriminatory remarks can also be hurtful to people to whom they do not apply. For example, brunettes may react violently to jokes about blondes being stupid. Because it’s not the blondes who are stupid, it’s the witticisms. When such remarks escalate into barbs directed at those present, it’s outright evil, the source of which knows exactly what he’s doing. From there, it’s a shortcut to harassment.

4. There is a pariah on the team

Bullying in the workplace is not a rare problem.  Even if the victim of bullying is someone other than yourself, the presence of bullying proves that relations on the team are not very healthy. Because adults and emotionally mature people solve problems differently, hardly any places hire kindergarteners.

It’s not just the outcast who gets negative emotions in a bullying atmosphere. Moreover, if he quits his job, the mob will likely find a new victim. So it is hard to work in such an environment.

5. Bosses promote unhealthy competition

There are companies with a simple and transparent motivation system (read five ways to stay motivated when you feel like quitting everything). Everyone understands how you can earn more and get a promotion — to perform your duties better or offer fresh ideas. Employees are evaluated strictly on professional competencies.

But some companies encourage and punish solely by management’s decision. And that is why the staff spends much of their time not on work but intrigues and searching for opportunities to sink their neighbors and to rise on their background. Bosses, as a rule, only amuses. Otherwise, the processes would have been built differently.

Alas, people who are not prepared to play by such rules will have a hard time in such an atmosphere. No matter how good a person is, he will be at the bottom of the office hierarchy by being unsuccessful in backroom games. Although this doesn’t say anything about his work skills, it does hurt his self-esteem.

6. Corporate values are overly peddled

Corporate values are not so bad, but a lot depends on how they are implemented.

Take the subject of family. Throughout working in companies with small staffs, everyone becomes close — almost family. But in this situation, it usually comes from within. When these “family feelings” are imposed from the outside, as a rule, nothing good can come of it. It usually does not mean that you will always be understood and accepted by everyone. You will do everything for your well-being. On the contrary, there will be pushing of personal boundaries — and what’s the big deal, we are family; overtime — is it difficult to go out on weekends for a common cause; accusations of betrayal, if you decide to change jobs — how can you screw us over.

Another red flag is periodic statements like “you’re lucky to work at our company.” It is usually followed by a devaluation of merit in any controversial situation: you should be grateful, not indignant, not demanding normal conditions and a decent wage. Who are you anyway? This kind of attitude toward employees creates a highly fertile ground for toxicity.

7. Work makes you miserable

Sometimes there is nothing wrong with the team and the working relationship, and the unhealthy atmosphere only becomes unhealthy for you.

Let’s imagine the situation. You do not like to communicate with your colleagues. You talk to them only when it is necessary to discuss work issues and if you have no other choice. There are no days when you go to work with joy. Your self-esteem and mood are much worse than when you first got the job. You are constantly under stress. You feel like you’re in corporate hell.

If that’s the case, there’s a good chance that, for you, this is it. You may spend a long time beating yourself up and thinking that you cannot integrate into the team. That you do not want to go to work because of laziness. That there is no joy in life because, after 25 years, no one has it.

In this case, perhaps the problem is not that the team is toxic but that you are not in your place, and it just does not suit you.

Check now if this job is right for you!

What are the dangers of an unhealthy work environment?

An extended stay in a toxic environment is fraught with low self-esteem, loss of faith in their strength, and disappointment in the profession. And if the office atmosphere is constantly stressful, it can negatively affect your health. Insomnia, loss of appetite, irritability, emotional burnout, depression — the consequences may be different, but all are equally unpleasant.

An unhealthy climate in the team can affect other areas of your life and significantly worsen its quality.

What to do if you are in a toxic collective

Distance yourself

While you still work in the team, it is necessary to protect yourself from it somehow. And distance yourself in such a case is a working option, especially for people with a heightened sense of justice who boil over even when the situation doesn’t concern them.

Buy noise-canceling headphones so you can’t hear the discussions. Turn off sound in informal work chats. Sit back if possible. Finally, remember that you are not responsible for your colleagues’ behavior. You are not the same, but just strangers who your profession has brought together for a while. That should make it easier.

Find a safe place

Seek shelter in case things get entirely unbearable. It can be a room with a coffee machine or a corner behind the ficus, where you will be able to breathe out and take a breath.

Enlist the support of like-minded people

There are probably a few friendly people among your colleagues who are strangers to you. Communicating with them will help to level out the oppressive atmosphere. And also remind you that you are not a lonely violet in this world of cacti, and you meet good people as often as bad ones.

Rethink the potential scale of destruction

Usually, a toxic atmosphere is even more oppressive because it seems as if there is no way out. You’re paid for your work, which you live on, so you can’t just leave. It makes you feel like you’re stuck here forever.

In reality, it’s just a job. It’s only part of your life and doesn’t define you. So you can pay less attention to what’s happening, and losing your current place probably won’t be a disaster. Of course, this is much easier said than truly accepted. But it’s worth at least trying.

Separate work from the rest of your life

Don’t let the toxic atmosphere put out its tentacles outside the office and poison your free hours. It’s not easy, but it’s necessary. To make it easier, you can, for example, devise a ritual that will draw the line between the two worlds.


This advice should not be taken as a recommendation to throw an application on your boss’s desk tomorrow. But finding a new job will have to be included in your escape plan from toxic co-workers.

If we were characters in a soap opera, we’d team up with all the good people against all the wrong people — and we’d certainly win. But in life, fighting an unhealthy atmosphere is often a path to nowhere. So the logical thing to do would not be to go to victory but to another company.

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