Signs of a Toxic Work Environment + How to Cope

Every job comes with some amount of stress, even on days where everything goes well.

When does your work environment turn toxic? Keep reading to learn more about the common signs and how to cope.

However, working in a toxic environment can add extra stress to your day and make you dread going into work

When you have a toxic work environment it’s difficult to interact with your coworkers because you may become resentful of their actions. Sometimes, it’s difficult to determine whether or not your current workplace breeds toxicity, but let’s face it – we’ve all worked somewhere with people we didn’t exactly get along with. 

To protect your own health and work-life balance, it’s important to recognize what toxicity really looks like. Whether you are at a new job or are harboring negative feelings towards your current coworkers, knowing how to deal with a toxic work environment is crucial. Not only can this knowledge prevent you from hating your job, but it can relieve a lot of stress and make work much easier.

People at computer together

Signs that your work environment is toxic

If you’ve worked in the same place for a long time, you might not even realize how toxic it is or how much it is affecting your body. Similarly, identifying toxicity at a new job is difficult as well. You’re still learning the ropes and know it’s going to take some time to adjust, but is it them or is it you? Here are 3 tell-tale signs that you are in a toxic work environment.

1. Your co-workers breed negativity

Four years ago while finishing school, I worked in sales at a designer furniture store, helping people pick out custom furniture for their home. Our products weren’t cheap, so one or two sales a day was a good day. The rest of the day, I spent in the company of some miserable coworkers. They complained all day long. What did they complain about? I couldn’t even tell you – I was too busy being miserable myself. I hated waking up for work, I hated being at work, and I hated coming home from work only to think about how much I hated work. 

Drama and negativity can be easy to get caught up in, but it can also make you miserable. In addition, a study conducted by Harvard Business found that negativity and gossiping behaviors found in workplaces hurt business in general.

Read next: Ways to Relax After Work

2. A narcissist is in charge

At my sales job, my boss would stroll in halfway through the day with an angry look on her face as she tossed her belongings on her desk. She spent the rest of the day ordering us around, finding something to scold us about, and demanding perfection from each of us.

In the meantime, she made her eyelash and nail appointments and scrolled through her phone, gossiping about the latest celebrity scandal. She liked being treated with respect, but she often failed to return it. 

One study found that between 20-30% of people felt that a boss’s narcissism caused problems in the workplace. Narcissists are hard to connect with and sometimes cultivate stressful work environments. It can lead to high rates of job dissatisfaction – something nobody wants to have.

Read Next: How to Define and Navigate a Toxic Relationship

Person working at desk

3. Inconsistencies keep you on your toes

My boss wasn’t too keen on using our computer for storing information. Instead, she wanted all store codes, phone numbers, and important information typed up and placed in a folder.

Every few weeks, she wanted me to re-do the folder. She consistently wanted to change something, only to take away from my time with customers. Then, she would tell me that I wasn’t spending enough time with customers. Her inconsistent demands drove me crazy. 

Healthy work environments have a clear set of demands and expectations. They also promote transparent communication and open-door policies so employees are clear on what they should do. It’s impossible to grow as an employee and have confidence in yourself when your job is encompassed with inconsistencies and unclear goals.

How to deal with a toxic work environment

Long term research has proven that toxic work environments are linked to increased health issues, mental illness, and substance abuse. It also leads to increased turnover, low employee satisfaction, and reduced productivity.

From the outside, you might ask, “why doesn’t a person just leave a toxic work environment and get a new job?” Well, sometimes it’s not that easy. Some people live paycheck to paycheck or have other circumstances that prevent them from quitting their job abruptly. Instead, it’s important to know exactly how you can navigate a toxic work environment. 

The key to dealing with toxicity when you can’t escape it is self-care.

After all, a job is a job, and it isn’t permanent. Rather than commiserating about your job all day, take time to relax and prioritize having a work-life balance.

When you get home, do something you enjoy – like going to the gym, taking a warm bath, or cuddling with your fur-baby while streaming your favorite show. Detach from the stressors of your workplace, and take time to care for your mind and body.

Read next: Setting Boundaries at Work and In Business

Make sure you’re getting enough sleep and eating a nutritious diet, as these things can help regulate your mood as well.

Another practice that I find helpful is mindfulness. I made sure to do some self-reflection to see if I was contributing to the toxicity in any way – and I was. It was hard not to get consumed by the gossiping and negative behaviors, but it wasn’t doing me any good. I had to start being kinder, more patient, and more loving.

Once I did that, work didn’t seem as bad as before, but I was still grateful when I got out of that job. During the weeks leading up to my last shift, I realized I had learned from the whole experience.

I became a better communicator and a more patient, understanding person. In the end, the things I learned made me better at my new job – and more self-aware, so I can stop toxicity before it blooms.

About the contributor, Hailey Parks

Hailey Parks is a freelance writer and health advocate for Executive Medicine of Texas.

She has a B.S. in Health Sciences, loves creative writing, and hiking with her dog. 

Hailey Parks



  • YES! All true for my previous job. My immediate sup was a narcissist and it became a triggering environment when she threw me under the bus for performance after she told me not to worry as a new hire and providing no training. The energy was soooo bad that I had to quit with very little notice.

    NO job is worth my peace of mind and health. PHEW.

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