5 Signs You’re in a Toxic Work Environment

3 minute read

Do you get the ‘Sunday scaries’? Have you had a sense for some time that your job isn’t right for you? Perhaps you’ve been wanting to move, but you’re worried you won’t be able to find anything else. The good news is that if you do choose to search for a new job, there are likely to be plenty of appealing positions out there for you.

But first, it’s time to figure out exactly what’s making you unhappy, and whether it’s worth trying to change these factors in your current role or whether it’s simply time to quit. Here are five common signs of a toxic work environment.

1. Poor leadership 

Bad leadership can seep into every aspect of a charity’s work, leading to a lack of trust and demotivated employees. Unfortunately, it isn’t always easy to spot.

There are several poor management styles. Some bosses are disorganised and chaotic, jumping from one decision to another without any apparent attention to strategy. Others are micromanagers who don’t seem to trust any of the team to work autonomously. Others still might have no respect for employees’ wellbeing, piling on the pressure with unrealistic work demands.

If you’re experiencing poor leadership in your charity, a lot depends on where that manager is in the organisation’s hierarchy. If they’re your direct line manager, it’s always worth speaking to them to explain how you feel. You might find they respond well to constructive feedback and things begin to shift. If the poor leadership is higher up in the organisation, it’s still worth letting your manager know how it’s affecting you and your team. If they’re unable to do anything about it, it could be time for you to move on. But be sure to explain why you’re leaving during your exit interview.


quitting job in post-pandemic times


2. Bad communication 

Strong communication skills are vital to the workings of any good organisation, whether in person or via email, instant messaging and remote conferencing. When effective communication breaks down, it can cause big problems. Examples of poor communication that can lead to a toxic work environment include:

  • Passive-aggressive communication. This is also often associated with a culture of blame in the workplace. 
  • Communication out of hours. It’s important to keep your home and work life separate, especially since the rise of remote working.  
  • Chaotic communication. Lack of clarity can be demotivating.  
  • Mixed messages. If different team members receive different messages about a project, it can lead to confusion and lack of trust.  

If you experience any of these in your organisation, it’s always worth feeding back. Try not to point fingers, but instead use team meetings to suggest new, better ways of communicating. And if you receive communication out of hours, don’t feel that you need to respond.


3. Office politics 

Office politics exist to a degree in almost every organisation, but in some cases they can really affect your experience at work. Employees may use them to advance their personal agendas, sometimes at the expense of others. They can lead to the formation of cliques, which exclude and alienate certain people.

Gossiping, bullying or any behaviour designed to belittle particular employees—often subtle—are all signs of a toxic work environment.

It could well be that your manager is unaware of these office politics, so it can help to bring this to their attention. Share any strategies that you feel might improve the situation. If you find nothing changes, it might be time to leave.



4. Lack of opportunity for growth 

If your organisation isn’t offering you training opportunities, mentorship or other ways to develop your skills, they’re not investing in you as an employee. A lack of growth can easily lead to low morale. If you’re passionate about the work your charity does but feel you’re not being developed, speak to your line manager. Research the courses you’d like to take and prompt discussion about how you see your role developing. If they ignore your suggestions, think about whether the charity is right for you in the long term.


5. No work-life balance 

This is a key factor when it comes to toxic workplaces. Being overworked leads to burnout, poor sleep and ultimately bad mental health. If your workload is becoming unmanageable—or, as we’ve already covered, if your line manager or colleagues are messaging you out of hours—try to speak up as soon as possible. It’s a good idea to let them know whenever you feel that extra resources are needed on a project.


bullying in the workplace


Go with your gut feeling 

Listen to what your instinct tells you about your workplace. If you’re passionate about your organisation’s cause, but you feel that certain elements of its culture are letting it down, work hard to change it by speaking to the leadership team and making suggestions. If you feel that you’re not being listened to, or that the negative practices are too ingrained for you to make a difference, it’s time to leave that toxic work environment and seek a new challenge.

Thinking of moving on? Take a look at the thousands of roles available on CharityJob.


This post was originally published in 2021 and has been updated to ensure relevance and to reflect the current jobseeker experience.

Tomas René

Tomas is Senior Content Manager (maternity cover) at CharityJob.