What Is a Toxic Work Environment?

A toxic work environment is a workplace where employees feel stressed, uncomfortable or even unsafe due to negative attitudes, lack of support, bullying, discrimination and/or harassment. Such an environment can have a significant impact on the mental and physical health of employees, leading to high levels of turnover, absenteeism and low productivity.

29% of workers will call in sick if they don’t feel like going to work in a toxic workplace

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The Effects of a Toxic Work Environment

A toxic work environment can cause negative behaviors as well as mental and physical unhealth. Here are a few of these effects:

  • Depression. A toxic work environment can lead to work-related depression when employees experience negative emotions or low energy in their workplace.
  • Low productivity. A badly run workplace harms employees, and lack of motivation will lead to low productivity while sapping energy of the employees.
  • Stress. Workplaces that invoke flight or fight mode for individuals affect long term health, leading to a host of physical and emotional problems.
  • Work-life balance. Employees experience stress if there is no balance in work and life due to a toxic work environment.

Signs of a Toxic Work Environment

A toxic work environment will make you feel psychologically unsafe, along with other negative feelings. Here are a few signs to look out for.

No Boundaries

An example of a lack of boundaries at work would be if a manager gives a task at the end of the day and wants it back first thing in the morning. There could also be an expectation for responding to emails after work hours.

No Room for Mistakes

Toxic managers might not share work-related information with teammates or throw coworkers under the bus when something goes wrong. People will start to do whatever they can to avoid being blamed.

No Support for Employee Growth

In toxic workplaces, managers expect employees to figure out their own career growth with no support or mentorship to help them grow. Working virtually has made this worse because it is easier for management to disconnect from the team.

Employee Disengagement and High Turnover

Employees in a toxic workplace disengage because of the disconnect they may feel with management, or their immediate supervisor’s lack of communication. Employees disconnect and have growing concerns about the company. This can lead to employees resigning, which might lead to high company turnover.

Factors That Create a Toxic Work Environment

Many factors can lead to a toxic workplace. Some that contribute a toxic work environment are:

Poor Communication 

When communication is lacking or ineffective, misunderstanding, conflict and resentments can arise. Managers gaslighting their employees after an employee has voiced a concern is a major sign of poor communication.


When managers or another member of the team micromanage employees, it can create a lack of trust and respect because they are always wanting to run the show and know every little detail. This environment slows down productivity as well, since a micromanager can never truly delegate tasks.


When employees are discriminated against based on their race, gender, age, sexual orientation and other factors, it can create a toxic environment. Another example of discrimination in the workplace is when individuals are bullied or harassed about their religion or parts of their life that are protected by the government.

Lack of Accountability

When there is a lack of accountability for mistakes, it can create a culture of blame and resentment. Lack of accountability occurs when upper management does not hold the correct people accountable and puts the blame on others.