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Build Your Career Office Life

5 Ways to Tell If Your Workplace Is Toxic

5 Ways to Tell If Your Workplace Is Toxic
Credit: Creativa Images/Shutterstock

Do you dread going to the office every day? If you find yourself hiding in your cubicle until it's time to go home, you might be working in a toxic environment.

Whether it's due to tension among employees or management that just doesn't care, a toxic workplace can have a seriously negative effect on your business and even your well-being. A little stress is normal in the workplace, but if your entire staff is feeling drained from all the drama, it could be problematic.

But how do you know if your workplace is toxic? Dr. Paul White, psychologist and co-author of "Rising Above a Toxic Workplace: Taking Care of Yourself in an Unhealthy Environment" (Northfield Publishing, 2014) shared these five signs to look out for.

1. There's a lack of communication. One of the biggest signs of a toxic workplace is a lack of communication across multiple channels, White said.

These communication problems can include things like employees finding out about decisions after they've been implemented, passing on messages through other people, withholding information, giving misleading information and more, White explained. And it doesn't have to affect only employees — poor communication can impact everyone, from management to customers. [The Secret to Effective Communication: Keep It Short ]

"Why is communication so key to a healthy organization? Because without effective communication, working together to accomplish the tasks of the organization is virtually impossible," White said.

2. The communication that is occurring is largely negative. Besides an overall lack of communication, if all you hear is constant complaining, your workplace is probably a toxic environment.

"Grumbling and complaining by employees is common — they can find something to complain about almost anytime," White said. "Then, sarcasm and cynicism show up, which demonstrates a lack of trust of management and leadership."

White said that this leads to making excuses and blaming others, and eventually, your team members will start to withdraw and stop interacting with others, or they'll just quit.

3. The policies and procedures are inconsistent. Whether it's because management and employees ignore the office policies or because there just aren't any procedures written down, inconsistency can cause a lot of problems.

"When a company's policies and procedures are not followed, chaos, inconsistency and poor quality follow," White said. "Customers, vendors and employees wind up hating having to deal with the company and its staff."

White noted that this is often a problem in family-owned businesses because family members often try to go around the policies that are in place for employees.

4. There are toxic leaders in the system. When management is toxic, it's inevitable that it will trickle down and affect the rest of the workplace.

"It is not clear whether toxic leaders create toxic workplaces, [or if] toxic workplaces are a magnet for toxic leaders — in either case, the two go together," White said.

So, what makes leaders toxic? Their hallmark characteristic, White said, is narcissism. They feel that they are better than anyone else, so they think they deserve special treatment and that the rules don't really apply to them, he said.

"Toxic leaders relate to others in a condescending manner; they take credit for other's successes, and they manipulate others to ensure that they look good," White said. These leaders may appear successful at first, but after a while, trust and teamwork deteriorate in their areas, and their turnover rate increases, destroying the health of the organization, he added.

White also noted that, usually, these toxic leaders aren't at the top of the organization but rather in midlevel management and front-line supervisory roles.

5. Your health is being affected. Working in a toxic environment isn't just bad for the company; it's also bad for your health.

"When a workplace is toxic, it is, by definition, unhealthy and damaging to those who work there," White said. "Individuals who work in toxic work environments, especially over a long period of time, begin to see problems with their own personal health. This can include symptoms such as not being able to sleep, gaining weight and having increased medical problems."

Perhaps not surprisingly, these types of environments can also impact your mental health. White said that a toxic workplace can lead to depression, anxiety and anger management issues, as well as an increased use of alcohol, prescription drugs and illegal substances.

A key sign that you may be in a toxic work environment is if your friends and family have been making comments about how "you've changed" or "seem stressed," or if they suggest you see a therapist, White said. If your job is affecting your personal relationships, it's probably time to rethink the situation, he added.

Originally published on Business News Daily.

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