7 signs your workplace is toxic

Like a bad relationship, we don’t realise how unhappy our jobs are making us until after we have left them. Many organisations are run on systems of fear and distrust of employees; today we’ll explore some of the main indicators of toxicity, to help you figure out if your workplace is worthy of your time and talent. 

You’re paid less than you’re worth 

Knowing your worth is a huge step towards finding your perfect role. Compare your position with similar job listings to see if you are being underpaid for the work you are doing, and make sure to factor in the cost of living where you are based because a good employer will take this into consideration. If the cost of rent is high in your city, then your salary should reflect that. 

Unfortunately, there are many competitive industries (media, publishing, the arts) in which just landing a job in the first place is considered fortunate, and employers within these industries use this as an excuse to underpay their staff. So many jobs which seem ‘cool’ or ‘creative’ on the surface come with strings, and may put you in an undervalued position because of how easily replaceable you are (this is pretty much the basis of internships). 

Staff are permanently stressed 

It should be obvious that stress is not conducive to a high-quality output of work, no matter what industry you are in. Yet so many employers use stress as their primary motivator because the people in charge don’t care about the negative effect it has on their workforce.  

Of course it’s natural, in most jobs, to experience an occasional bout of stress; when deadlines are nearing or emails are piling up or there is pressure from clients. But if your stress levels, and those of your colleagues, are constantly being pushed to the limit of what you can handle then something is wrong. If progress is measured by how stressed and burned out everyone is by the end of a project, get out while your sanity is still intact. 

Avenues for progression are blocked, or non-existent 

A good employer will encourage your growth. They will accept the fact that most people do not want to stay in one role forever, and that their employees will eventually take the skills they have gained and move on to the next opportunity. That opportunity may be within the same company, but if it’s not, that shouldn’t matter so long as the employee is happy. 

To be made to feel guilty for wanting to take steps forward in your career progression is a horrible position to be put in. It’s no different to being in a toxic relationship and having your partner tell you who you are allowed to be friends with or how often you can leave the house. A person’s growth should be encouraged, and your employer should be doing anything they can help you on your journey, whether it’s offering further training or allowing you to attend interviews. 

The company is ruled by politics and hierarchies 

Hierarchical structures lead to inequality. There’s no denying this fact; yet most companies continue to operate within outdated models, in which people at the bottom have no say and those at the top hold all the power. And in a world of zero-hours contracts and job insecurity, the issue is only getting worse.

Companies that are willing to address the flaws in these types of authoritarian structures, and give staff equal say in important decisions, are rare. We have a long way to go as a society before we can begin to re-build structures that benefit everyone, but until then, look out for warning signs of power being abused by those at the top. Do your senior managers think they are better than everyone else? Are you made to feel worthless or gaslit by your superiors? Is your position being taken advantage of by those above you? 

Hard work is not recognized, and mistakes are magnified 

Human beings make mistakes, and they always will. If your employer’s response to an incident of human error is to punish you using embarrassment, judgement or shame, then they are not treating you with dignity. A good employer will speak to you privately about the matter, give you a chance to explain yourself, and work with you to formulate a solution. They will trust that you are telling the truth and use the experience to improve processes in the future. 

And it is equally important that your workplace has incentives in place to reward hard work and motivate you to keep caring. If your achievements are not being recognized, then your loyalty is better placed elsewhere. 

Profits come before people 

Ever felt guilty for calling in sick, even when you were puking your guts up? Feel as if your mental health is disregarded by your employer, that they treat you less like a human being and more like a robot? 

As companies grow in size, it becomes easier for senior management to see employees as numbers or job titles rather than people. If you’re lucky, you will have a manager that you can be open with, but when we work somewhere that puts profits and stress-mongering above employee wellbeing then we will eventually burn out. Remember: you are a human being. Mental health issues are just as relevant as physical illnesses. They have no right to make you suffer. 

You’re discouraged from speaking the truth 

If you have recognized any of these warning signs of toxicity within your own workplace culture, then you are well within your rights to speak up about your mistreatment. A good employer will listen to you, and take action. But even if you only tell a trusted colleague how you are feeling, you might be labelling something that has been festering for a long time, bringing light into a dark place.  

Just remember: staying in a horrible job can kill you. We are fed many disempowering myths about work from a young age – our relatives and friends tell us that ‘jobs aren’t meant to be fun’, or ‘at least you’re getting paid’, or ‘there’s no money in doing what you love’. These are the mantras of the beatdown generation, the societal conditioning that we are slaves, we have no choice, we are stuck.  

Well, guess what? It’s not true. You deserve to be happy, to make money AND be treated well. All it takes is standing up for yourself, recognizing your worth, and deciding not to put up with their crap any longer.  

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