Pretty much everyone dreams of working at a great place, doing something they’re passionate about, surrounded by smart, interesting co-workers. Not to mention reporting to a considerate, competent boss. (For some, these dreams may also involve bean bags and pool tables.)
Unfortunately, that isn’t always an option. Hierarchies, the daily grind, a few nasty individuals—all these are realities most of us have to deal with. Nevertheless, there’s a line that separates the mediocre and the bad workplaces from those that are outright toxic, where the environment saps you of your energy and can negatively impacts both your career and your personal life.
Here’s how you can tell when that’s the case.
1. Your manager doesn’t provide support
Your immediate supervisor plays a huge role in how your work life turns out. A friendly boss ensures a team runs smoothly, backs you up when you make a mistake and teaches you how to fix it, and also gives you opportunities to grow. An unhelpful one, however, will leave you floundering in the dark, worrying about every move you make and frustrated with your lack of progress.
2. Nobody likes to take responsibility for anything
When no one—neither the management, nor the employees—takes ownership of decisions, whether solid or misguided, it can stifle the organization. Coming down to the individual level, it would be very hard for you to work effectively if you’re worried about being pulled up all the time or being made the scapegoat for someone else’s mistakes.
3. Co-workers compete, not cooperate
Some organizations effectively have their workers compete against each other. This may not always be a bad thing—in some cases, a healthy amount of competition encourages everyone to constantly improve themselves. But much of the time, what really happens is that competition leads to conflict. The result is that you’re increasingly stressed out, everyone’s at each other’s throats and you can’t quite trust any of your colleagues not to throw you under the bus.
4. The management doesn’t value your time
Sometimes, you’re called upon to put in a few extra hours at work to get things done—maybe the deadlines for a big project have been brought forward, maybe another employee is unexpectedly unavailable. It’s only natural—as long as it stays ‘sometimes’. If you find yourself staying back every single evening, if you’re repeatedly given “small tasks” to work on over the weekend, if your bosses expect you to be on call even when on vacation—that’s when you know it’s crossed the line.
5. Your opinions are continually ignored
Let’s say you notice that your team’s workflow isn’t very efficient, and you come up with this great idea on how to change that. Or maybe something, or someone, is bothering you and you want to file a complaint. You go to your team lead or your manager or HR with your ideas and your problems. Now if your concerns are summarily dismissed—or if the person you’ve approached makes a great show of listening very carefully, but then nothing ever comes of it—it’s clear that your point of view is not getting the respect you deserve.
6. Your personal life is out of whack
A healthy work life results in a healthy personal life, and vice versa. If you’re unhappy at work, it affects you even when you’re outside the office. If you find that your relationships are souring and you’re spending less and less time with friends and family, a toxic workplace may very well be the culprit. Speaking of friends and family, make sure to pay attention to what they have to say. Often, they’ll be able to spot problematic changes in your behavior and red-flag them much before you will.
7. Frequent health problems
Stress, overwork, a lack of time for yourself—all of these can severely impact your health (both mental and physical). If you’re constantly fatigued, you fall ill more and more often or you no longer have any interest in your work or your hobbies, seek medical help immediately. Again, keep an eye on other people’s reactions—they can act as an early warning.