3 Signs How To Recognize A Toxic Work Environment When Job Searching

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If you’re trying to enter the work force for the first time, it can be difficult to recognize a toxic work environment as you don’t have much experience.

I’ve had great employers and not so great employers in the past.

These not so great employers are what I would now consider a toxic work environment. When I’ve had not so great employers, I was just entering the work force and did not have much experience.

I was young and naïve and did not see these things as red flags.

The ones I did see, I ignored because I was desperate for a job and an income. In the end, I’ve only stayed in these toxic work environments for about 6 months before I quit.

One time the company was such a toxic work environment that I quit before I had my next job lined up!

I will lay out the red flags of a toxic work environment I’ve experienced here to let you know in case you are not aware.

If you’ve noticed these in your interviews, it’s ultimately up to you to decide if you would like to continue on or not.

Everyone’s situation is different. Some may have the luxury of declining an offer, while others do not be as fortunate.

Of course not every single one of these red flags is an indicator of a toxic work environment on their own. But if multiple flags are appearing, you may want to take a second and consider if this is the right position for you. So here are 3 signs of a toxic work environment.

3 Signs of a toxic work environment

High turnover rate

During your search on job posting websites, you notice that there are many positions available at this company.

Unless this is a very large company or they are undergoing a big expansion, there shouldn’t be this many openings at a company. The only reason there would be is if people quit regularly. Perhaps because of a toxic work environment maybe?

In addition, if you’ve been job searching for several months (or years) and you notice the same position pop up again, you should ask yourself why?

Are they having trouble filling this position? If so, why? Did they hire for this position already and the person has already quit?

This would also be a great question to ask in the interview. Ask the hiring manager why this position is available? Did the previous person quit or were they fired? The previous person in the role quitting or being fired can be a sign of a toxic work environment. Find out how long the previous person was in the role for.

Ask the hiring what the average tenure of people on the team or department is.  Less than 2 years would be pretty short and considered a high turnover rate.

Vague terms

These are red flags of a toxic work environment that were not so obvious to me in my younger years: Vague terms. Vague terms indicates several potential issues.

Some of these may overlap.

Poor management/Direction


  • “self-starter with a can-do attitude”
  • “Rockstar/Guru/MVP”
  • “Wear many hats”
  • “hit the ground running”

“Self-starter with a can-do attitude”

This translates to: you will get no support or direction from management, but they expect you to figure it out anyway.


They’re looking for a “rockstar” because they don’t really know what they are doing. This “rockstar” is expected to run things, but I can guarantee you will not be compensated like a rockstar.

Also, this analogy make no sense. Rockstars are usually known for partying too hard with a lot of alcohol and drug consumption, as well as being self-centered and narcissistic. Why would you want that?

“Wear many hats”

These terms to me indicate that your job description and expectations aren’t very clear. Management did not take the time to sit down and think about your job description and properly define your role.

Because they’re not clear, you will be managed very poorly. It’s difficult to have a mid-year review when you’re job is to “wear many hats”. What does that even mean? How will you be evaluated on that? How do you get a promotion from “wearing many hats”?

That just leaves the door open for management to throw whatever they want at you, or worse, not even tell you these are the new expectations. They are too cheap to hire enough employees and you agreed to “wearing many hats” in your job description. You will be doing 4 jobs and will only get paid for 1.

“Hit the ground running”

This basically means the company expects you to know what you’re doing and contribute to the company right away with very little training and support. I’m not sure how anyone is supposed to “hit the ground running” when they are a brand new employee.

Good companies have a very structured onboarding process. This onboarding process will provide new employees with training and support so the new employees can learn how to do things properly. They will also not expect new employee to hit the ground running because anyone with common sense will know that training and learning takes time!

Unrealistic expectation

Terms that indicate you will be overworked (and probably underpaid for all the work). Examples of this include:

  • “Insatiable appetite”
  • “Other duties as required”
  • “we’re a family here”
  • “Not a 9-5 job/Make your own hours”
  • “Work hard, play hard”

“Insatiable appetite”

Let’s be clear. No one has an insatiable appetite for anything. We work because we need a job to get an income to survive. Are you working for free and on passion alone? I don’t think so.

You do not have an insatiable appetite because you would not do it unless you were getting paid. Which is what this is. A JOB.

“Family vibe”

This is one of my biggest pet peeves and is almost always a sign of a toxic work environment. Any company that is trying to sell you the fact that the company is one big family is complete BS. “Family” means they will expect your loyalty. They will expect employees to go above and beyond what is normally required from an employee because, well…you’re family! 

Expect to prioritize the company over all other commitments and responsibilities you have in life.

Company falling behind on something? You can come in on a Saturday or stay late to help the company catch up because you’re family right?

Company needs a volunteer for something? Of course they can count on you to help (maybe even without being compensated) because you’re family.

If you do not meet these company expectations of being “family oriented”, you’re suddenly labelled as not a team player.

Do not be fooled by this corporate toxic culture. You are not a family. The company is not your family. Your company is a business and the most important thing to them is the bottom line. Your boss will lay you off or fire you the minute it becomes advantageous to the company. Are you a “family” then? No.

You already have a family. You do not need a corporate family.

“Not a 9-5 job/Make your own hours”

What this really means is, you should not expect work-life balance. The company will give you a lot of responsibilities and a lot on your plate, but justify it by saying you have the flexibility to complete it during whatever time is convenient for you.

They may even think they’re being considerate and accommodating!

“Work hard, play hard”

Terms like work hard, play hard just means you will work hard, and then work even harder. And the one hour you get to play, you play hard, BECAUSE YOU ONLY GET ONE HOUR in your whole day to yourself.

I used to be a workaholic and did not mind being abused that much. But as I got older, my priorities have changed where I like to enjoy my life and free time more now.

That may not be you. You may be a workaholic yourself and love to work. And that’s ok. But if you’re going to be overworked and abused, at least make sure you are being paid well for it. Which brings me to my next point.

Unfair salary

Another sign of a toxic work environment is how poorly they treat their employees. The biggest way they can do this is by underpaying them.

This will require a little research from you. You can look up the roles on glassdoor to get an idea of what the market rate is.

What’s even better is if you can ask a contact that you made from consistently networking what the salary for this position is. This person should be in a similar role.

Be careful with this one though. Make sure you are close to and are on good terms with your contact. Some people will be offended if you ask them this question.

In my personal opinion, I think salary discussions should not be taboo. The only person benefiting from not discussing salaries are corporations. That way they can unfairly pay different people different rates, and no one would know.

I am very open with my salary for anyone that asks.

Stressing potential income over actual income is a red flag. Stating that your salary could be XYZ is irrelevant to you now. Potential is not reality.

When you are contemplating salary, make sure you contemplate the whole compensation package.

The compensation package is not only the salary, but also includes things like bonuses, health insurance, vacation days, stock options, retirement plans, any other benefits they offer, etc.

Related: 5 benefits to ask for before accepting a job offer

These extra things make up a significant portion of your entire compensation package.

I accepted my second job offer because the salary was good. After starting in the role, it turns out none of these benefits were provided. I even had to get my own health insurance, which was a significant portion of my income.

Paying for all of these extra things on my own made my disposable income actually a lot smaller than I initially planned. So make sure these benefits are clearly stated to you or negotiated before you accept a job offer.

There are no perfect jobs and you’ll have issues everywhere you work. I’m just saying there are definitely some places that are worse than others.

Some places are DEFINITELY a toxic work environment. Ultimately it’s up to you to decide what you want to and can put up with.

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