Management Magazine
Office Diary

Signs you are in a toxic office


The office is like a second home for many employees, and we probably spend more time with co-workers than families. Unfortunately, too often, employees find themselves in toxic and potentially harmful work situations. Forbes Magazine describes a toxic workplace as one marked by significant drama and infighting, where personal battles often harm productivity. A toxic workplace has; tyrannical leadership, back-stabbing, politics, destructive gossip and tons of negativity. A Harvard study on Toxic Workers by Michael Housman and Dylan Minor explains that toxic behaviours like engaging in negative gossip can end up hurting the business’ bottom line.

Toxic workplace experience

Emilie Aries wrote in the March 2017 issue of Forbes Magazine of her toxic workplace experience. She notes that despite a good pay, it is impossible to work in such an environment for long. Her distress points out to complete unquestioning obedience being cherished above all other employee qualities. The following signs may be pointers that you are in a potentially toxic workplace;

You have to keep your head down

According to Prof Ronald Riggio of Psychology Today, a punitive environment is the first sign of a toxic workplace. If workers feel that if they stand out, make a mistake, suggest or criticize, they get scolded and/or punished, they are in a toxic environment. The shut-up-and-keep-working environment stifles any sort of creativity or innovation and leads to ongoing emotional distress.

Everyone has a bad attitude

If everyone around you is miserable, then you may be trapped in a hostile environment. In this type of office, there is no enthusiasm; no one has smiles on and no one ever says, “I love working here.” A high turnover rate among employees is a sign that people are quickly fleeing toxicity.

You have a tyrannical boss

This boss controls your every move and you feel s/he is just waiting to catch you messing up. Toxic bosses don’t listen to others and feel their way is the right way. This boss loves wielding power and showing others they are in charge. If your boss expects you to come to work even if you are on your deathbed, you could be experiencing a tyrannical and toxic boss.

Nothing functions

In a toxic work environment, meetings feel like a waste of time, they are disorganised, chaotic and nothing is accomplished. If the company’s operations are disjointed and failing, the workplace is full of confusion and malaise that “this is the way it’s always done”, this is a sign of toxicity. If new policies or regulations are constantly getting added, this is a symptom of a larger problem stemming from poor leadership.

The office is sick, literally

Toxic workplaces lead to employee burnout, fatigue and downright illness. The Harvard study indicates that high levels of stress cause digestive problems, immune deficiencies and increased risk of heart attack or stroke.

You can detoxify your workplace by confronting your bullies, holding back office gentleman conversations or raising complaints with human resource office to mediate relationships between you and your supervisor or even co-workers. If all efforts fail, start planning your exit.

Derrick Vikiru is the Sub-Editor Management Magazine. Email:

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