Top 5 toxic work environment characteristics

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Toxic work environment characteristics may be difficult to identify if you have just entered the workforce. If this is your very first job, how are you supposed to know what is normal and what is toxic? How are you supposed to know if you need to grow up and deal with it or run away as fast as you can?

Even if you have been in the workforce for awhile but have switched companies or career paths, you will be in a new environment where you may not know what the new normal is. Being in a toxic work environment is not only detrimental to your career, but it will also negatively impact your personal life and well being.

Ideally, you would recognize the signs of toxic work environment characteristics while job searching and would have declined the job offer or interview in the first place.

Related: Signs of a toxic work environment while job searching

However, in the unfortunate circumstances that you are already in the role, it’s a good idea to recognize the toxic work environment characteristics

Top 5 toxic work environment characteristics

Management always speaks negatively about previous employees

Employees may leave a company for many reasons. They could be unhappy about the state of the company or their direct managers. They could be feeling unfulfilled in their current job. They may leave because they can get better opportunities elsewhere, whether it be in salary or a promotion.

Companies invest a lot in hiring and training their employees. So it’s understandable that management is upset when an employee leaves. Nonetheless, management should not talk badly about employees who leave. More importantly, they should not talk badly about EVERY SINGLE EMPLOYEE WHO LEAVES.

Firstly, talking negatively about a previous bad employee is unprofessional. But I can understand that we are all human and mistakes happen once in awhile. However, speaking negatively about every single previous employee who left is a major red flag of a toxic work environment characteristic.

How can every single previous employee be a bad employee? This probability is highly unlikely. If they were such bad employees in the first place, why did they not get fired? Instead, they left the company for better opportunities.

In addition, just because an employee decides to leave the company to pursue other things, it does not mean they were a bad employee. Management labelling them so is very immature.

This is a big indication of how they will speak about you when you decide to leave this toxic work environment.

High employee turnover

If you’re sitting at your desk questioning if you’ve reached your tolerance for misery or not, look around you. Is everyone dropping like flies?

Are people leaving the company at a high rate? If they are, that’s a good sign of a toxic work environment characteristic.

You should also look at who is leaving the company. Are they older colleagues who have more experience and may be wise enough to know what to put up with and what is BS?

Are they your colleagues at your level? If so, this is an indication that the toxic work environment is a result of your managers.

Are the people leaving in more senior roles, like director roles and above? This might be an indication that there is a bigger problem in the company and the toxic work environment might be stemming from high above.

Either way, high employee turnover is not a good sign. It’s a sign of toxic work environment characteristic and you should evaluate your current position at the company.


I will preface this by saying micromanagement isn’t always 100% of the time a toxic work environment characteristic. It just is most of the time.

There could be an instance where your boss is a micromanager just because they always want to be updated on the details but are otherwise a genuinely nice person. Although this is exceedingly rare.

Regardless of the backstory, being micromanaged will most definitely make you hate your life. If you are a new employee, being micromanaged in the beginning might be a good thing and even expected as you have no idea what you are doing yet.

However, now you are a fully competent adult with all the necessary training to complete your tasks. If you have a new manager, you were doing a fine job before they came into the picture. Being micromanaged is never productive nor necessary.

Related: How to deal with a micromanager boss

Morale is low

A manager’s job is to manage people. A good manager will foster a productive and encouraging environment. They should help remove the barriers for you to perform your job better and more efficiently. They realize the importance of morale.

A manager should never yell or scream at you in the first place, but they should definitely not yell at you in public and in front of other people. Not only is this unprofessional, but also degrading and does not help morale. A manager should reprimand in private, and praise in public.

A good manager knows that it is equally as important to manage down as it is to manage up. What I mean by this is that they will realize the importance of keeping their direct reports happy, and not just their boss’ happy.

I once had a new manager who was also new at managing people. She was very consumed at managing up, that she forgot to manage down. She was very devoted to delivering for her boss and making sure that her boss was happy with her and her performance, that she forgot to manage her people.

She did not deliver on the things that her direct reports required of her. She did not complete things that her reports asked. If she did complete them, it was definitely not in a timely manner and only after multiple follow up attempts. She forgot to make her people happy as well. She probably didn’t see this as important, but as a result, the morale of the team became very low.

We started to feel that she did not really care about us and what we needed to do our jobs. That she only cared about herself and her career trajectory. In the end, her team disintegrated as people left to other teams or quit for an opportunity at a different company.

And I bet THAT definitely did not look good on her performance with her boss!

Poor communication

A big toxic work environment characteristic is poor communication. Poor communication makes it incredibly difficult for you to do your job.

There is poor communication from the top down. Management often comes up with new ideas or pivot in direction without informing employees about it, or if they do, it is often too late. As a result, employees are always out of the loop.

Managers might solicit feedback from employees for insights as employees sometimes are more aware of what is going on as they are often on the ground or in the field and more aware of the details. This feedback is never taken into account and management forces their direction or vision anyway.

There could be poor communication laterally or across departments. This makes it especially difficult when you are expected to collaborate on a team project or cross-functionally.

There could also be poor communication with managers across teams or departments. This makes it incredibly difficult and frustrating for you to complete a project if managers are not even aligned.

I understand that in larger organizations, there is bound to be some communication mishaps and it will not be perfect. You need to decide on your level of tolerability and what you will deem acceptable for your job.

So there you have the top 5 toxic work environment characteristics. If you see these characteristics at your workplace and it is making you unhappy, does it really matter if you can classify them as toxic or not? The bottom line is that it is causing you to be unhappy, and that’s all that matters.

You should stick it out or is it time for a change?

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