College-aged students often find themselves balancing the world of academics alongside holding down a job or internship. Gone are the days of summertime shifts at the local fast food joint; now, it’s all about coffee runs, administrative tasks and (of course) all the other responsibilities.
Unfortunately, far too often the work situations that people of all ages find themselves in are toxic and potentially harmful. Being stuck in a toxic work environment can actually be dangerous and cause real, lasting physical and emotional harm.
Toxic environments may not be easy to recognize, especially for those just starting out in the workforce, so here are some of the signs of a toxic work environment.
1. Lack of Communication
In internships and entry-level positions, it is more than likely that, being young and new to the workplace, you are not going to be in a high-ranking position. Regardless, you should still have an idea of what is going on within your company and any important decisions that are being made by higher-ups.
If you’re finding out information relevant to your position or the company’s future from third-parties (i.e. not your boss) or if you’re finding out about decisions well after implementation, this could be a sign that your work environment is toxic.
Also, if you discover that you’re being fed false information or being lied to about anything relating to your job or the company, that’s a definite red flag.
Communication in any organization is critical, since lack of communication can lead to poor implementation of policies and can impact the trust that workers have in their employers. If you’re finding yourself confused about what’s going on in your workplace because of lack of information, it might be a warning that your workplace isn’t as functional as it should be.
2. Problematic Bosses
No one gets along perfectly with their boss, no matter how great they are. There are bound to be conflicts of interest and personality that arise at some point in an internship or job. Most conflicts between employees and their bosses can be overcome; however, there are some signs that a problem with a boss might be more serious than a minor disagreement.
Condescending behavior is one such sign of a toxic boss. If they are constantly talking down to you or other employees or act like they’re better than others because of the position they hold, that’s a sign of inappropriate behavior.
Toxic bosses can also be manipulative. Toxic bosses will often forge information or misrepresent information to make themselves look good, and make sure that others look poor in comparison. They might also take credit for the successes of others that work alongside them so that they will get the glory for successes.
In addition, toxic bosses are rarely appreciative. No one will receive praise for everything that they do, but it can be beneficial for many workers to feel that they are positively contributing to a workplace. If an employee is seeing positive results from their work and putting forth a great effort but still feeling as if there’s no respect for their work, that can be a sign that something is amiss.
Disrespect or verbal, physical and sexual harassment are not something that anyone should have to tolerate in a work environment. Abuse can come from anyone, from fellow co-workers to bosses or managers, but it is always inappropriate and inexcusable.
Behaviors can include a range of different activities, some of which include: someone putting down your work or role in the company, someone showing unwarranted aggression toward you or another employee making unwanted sexual comments.
No one has a right to make someone feel unwanted or unsafe while they are trying to do their jobs. If a work environment encourages or tolerates inappropriate behavior, it is a clear sign that the environment is toxic.
The Next Steps
It can be difficult to realize and come to terms with the reality of working in a toxic environment, but there are ways to fix the situation. If there are issues with harassment or dealing with co-workers’ or bosses’ behaviors, scheduling a meeting with an HR professional is the first step in dealing with problems.
HR staff work to ensure that workplaces are safe and comfortable for all employees, and they can assist with problems as they arise.
Of course, sometimes situations arise that are so damaging that quitting might be the best option, especially if you feel threatened or suffer from mental health issues that are exacerbated by work. Toxic work environments have been shown to correlate with depression and anxiety, and one shouldn’t sacrifice their sanity for a job.
However, if quitting is not an option, there are still some strategies to make the best of an unfortunate working situation. One such coping mechanism is to form a strong support group outside of work.
Finding friends to vent to can be one of the best ways to release pent-up anger and frustration in a positive outlet. Everyone needs someone that can be there for them during difficult times, and finding support can be key to surviving a toxic workplace.
Work isn’t always fun, but work should never be a place that you genuinely dread going to. Toxic workplace environments foster a culture of disrespect and confusion that can ultimately take a serious toll on the mental and physical well-beings of employees.
As college-aged students move out into the workforce, it is critical that everyone has an understand of what behaviors are common in toxic environments, and what can be done to fix the challenges in them.