The time we spend at work takes up so much of our lives. Sometimes, we spend more time with people at work than we do with our loved ones! You wake up every day, get dressed, have breakfast, and either head to work or sign on remotely. In an ideal world, you would always get along with your coworkers and enjoy where you work. Unfortunately, for many people, this is not the case.

Ways to Know You are in a Toxic Work Environment 

Your Boss is A Nightmare 

Some bosses give such bad energy to the office. When you imagine the traits of a good leader, what comes to mind? For me, it’s someone who:

  • Cares about their employees

  • Wants the best for everyone

  • Is understanding of employee’s personal obligations

  • Helps everyone to the best of their abilities

  • Handles problems professionally and fairly

  • Listens to the people and does what’s best for everyone involved

You may have a boss that seems nothing like these items listed above. Many bosses get power and money-hungry. They lose sight of what it is like to be an employee and use their title to misbehave and treat people poorly. 

No boss should ever have the right to yell at you, belittle your worth, infringe on your life outside of work, or make you feel uncomfortable. A boss should be a good leader – not someone who just doesn’t seem to care for anyone in the office at all.

Gossip or Bullying is Considered Normal

Many people bond over gossiping about others. Gossip can be toxic if it is happening in your workspace. Gossip targets someone and makes their mishaps, mistakes, or quirks something to laugh about or talk down on.

It can seem fun to be part of the in-circle. We all like to be liked! Being close with colleagues is a great feeling to have as you come to work each day. Unfortunately, if the only way you bond with co-workers is through gossip, there are two realizations you need to face.

One, these friendships are only superficial, and, two, they will probably talk about you one day. If you hang out with people who talk about others constantly, know that no one is usually off-limits. If you mess up in the future, you might be the next topic of conversation. With this in mind, try to curb your gossiping tendencies. It isn’t nice to bully or gossip about someone in the office at all.

There is No Room for Diversity and inclusion 

Your workspace should value the diversity and inclusion of all people. This should be reflected in the people hired, the workspace, and the work environment. Take a school for example. If you are a teacher, you and your school should be promoting inclusivity throughout the entire building. Lesson plans should cover a variety of topics and kids/staff should feel represented through the books you read, lessons you teach, posters you have in class, topics you discuss, etc. 

If you work for someone that shies away from these ideas or actively goes against them, this is not OK! Everyone who works somewhere deserves to be accounted for and valued. There should be awareness of diversity and inclusion throughout each workspace. 

Your Ideas Are Not Heard or People Are Stealing Your Creativity 

Always remember how valuable your voice and opinion are. You were hired for a reason! Your skills deserve to be utilized and your ideas should be listened to! If a boss or work environment seems like they are stifling your creativity or passions, this is not healthy. Also, if there is someone who is stealing your ideas that is not cool! You deserve to have ownership over your work and have pride in what you do.

Work is Burning You Out and Killing Your Motivation

Burnout from work is real. If you work somewhere that gives you no vacation days, time off, or enough breaks, you will start feeling the burn. Many jobs, especially due to COVID, are understaffed. These places will overwork the employees they do have and make everyone feel truly exhausted. No job is worth your physical and mental well-being!

Do you remember how you were when you first started working? You may have been bright-eyed and excited about the new job and experience. Now, you feel overworked, unhappy, and lacking in motivation. 

The Turnover Rate is High at Your Place of Employment 

If the job you have loses employees left and right, it is not a good sign. People who actually like working somewhere would try and stay in this position for as long as they could. If employees are experiencing any of the toxic things listed above, they might get so fed up and need to leave the position. If this happens a lot at your workplace, maybe you need to reevaluate the environment you are in. 

Low Self-Esteem’s Role

According to the APA Dictionary, self-esteem has to do with how you view and feel about yourself. People who struggle with low self-esteem and low self-worth are more likely to accept unacceptable behavior in the  work environment. If you don’t see the value in yourself and your work, others might do the same. 

People deserve to be respected always and no matter what the circumstances. Unfortunately, life is not always like this. Sometimes, people take advantage of your kindness and use it against you. You deserve to recognize these behaviors and stand against them!

Growing Self-Esteem Will Help You Combat Your Toxic Work Environment

Building self-esteem is important for many reasons in your life! In this case, it can help you fight back against any toxicity you face in the office. There are many ways to establish better self-esteem and worth. Here are some ideas:

  • Speak kinder to yourself 

    • Say positive affirmations every day

    • Push back against negative self-talk

    • Give yourself 3 compliments a day

  • List your accomplishments and be proud of them no matter how big or small they seem

  • Practice self-compassion

    • Accept your mistakes 

    • Learn and grow from these experiences

    • Move on

  • Talk to a therapist 

    • Therapy can help tackle negative ideas about yourself and help you reframe them to be more positive. This is usually done through Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

    • A therapist can help you improve your confidence and find ways to value yourself more 

  • Do more esteemable acts 

    • These are acts that promote a sense of alignment with your morals and values in life

    • Try finding what you are passionate about and doing things that deal with this passion (i.e. volunteering)

 As you improve your self-esteem, you will begin to recognize all the ways you shouldn’t be treated. It will highlight how valuable you truly are and show you that it is never OK for you to be in a toxic situation! You are worthy of being happy and respected each day at work.

Self-Esteem Gains Can Lead You to Many Realizations in Life

 You also may be expanding your current belief system and thinking more about the “what ifs” in life. “What if I could…”

  • “Start my own business” 

  • “Be my own boss”

  • “Travel the world”

  • “Go back to school” 

  • “Finish that certification”

The possibilities of what you can do when you believe in yourself are endless! 

Your thoughts will also expand on how you view work and your obligations there. You will start noticing that a toxic job shouldn’t have a hold on you. You may have thought in the past, “I need the money,” “This job is my only security,” or “I have to stay here for the bonus.” 

There are many times when you are not in a place in life to switch jobs, but building self-esteem helps you realize that you are worth so much more than a toxic situation. If a new opportunity came up, your positive self-esteem would help you have the confidence to apply and interview!

Always remember…

When we get better, we choose better 

When we know better, we do better 

When we live better, we feel better.  

If You are in a Toxic Work Environment…

I would advise you to reach out to Human Resources (HR). They should be able to help you deal with any internal problems in the office and find solutions. If HR doesn’t provide you with the help you deserve, your boss is terrible, and your co-workers are not being nice, I encourage you to rethink your options. If you are financially able to do so or you notice an opportunity come up, think about changing paths and following a new one.

Please take care of yourself! Notice when things seem toxic at work and use the red flags that you found in your current job to prevent you from falling into the same type of situation with the new one. Also, work on your mental health and value healing from any unfortunate situations or experiences you have been a part of through work. Talking to a therapist can help you heal and grow from any toxicity in your life. 

I wish you the best with your work endeavors. I hope you find a place to work that values your creativity, individuality, and voice. You are so worthy of that and more!

Jackie Caputo, LMFT in Woodland Hills, CA | Therapy for Anxiety and Depression in Woodland Hills

About the Author

Jackie Caputo is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist who provides therapy in Woodland Hills, CA. She also provides online therapy in California to individuals throughout the state.