14 signs it’s time to leave a toxic workplace - from dreading work to competitive colleagues and micromanagement

We all have concerns about our jobs at times, but there are some issues which may mean a workplace is seriously damaging our health
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Most of us spend the majority of our time at work, because we all need to earn money to keep a roof over our heads, feed ourselves, pay our bills and hopefully also enjoy some well earned leisure activities.

With so much of our time being spent at work, it’s natural that there will be occasions when some problems may arise  - for example, we may clash with a colleague or feel somewhat overworked during particularly busy periods. This is generally part of the ebb and flow of life and the issues tend to be short-lived and effectively resolved. But, if a workplace is consistently causing issues and impacting on your mental or physical health then there is a chance that the working environment could be toxic for you.

There is a difference between a negative workplace and a toxic workplace, however, and the distinction between the two must be acknowledged. Expert in workplace wellbeing Sadie Restorick told NationalWorld: “While a bad work environment may involve challenges and occasional negativity, a toxic workplace is characterised by pervasive behaviours and attitudes that have severe detrimental effects on the wellbeing and performance of employees”.

The Career Elevator Coach Sinead Sharkey-Steenson told NationalWorld that toxic workplaces are “environments that will actually poison you” and will actually “damage your confidence and self esteem, and may also damage your health”. She added that the longer you stay in a toxic workplace the longer it will take for you to recover.

But, how do you know if your workplace is toxic and if you should get out? NationalWorld has spoken in more detail to Restorick and Sharkey-Steenson and other employment and health specialists to find out. Keep reading to find out the 14 signs you need to know about.

People are afraid to speak out and you do not feel you can speak freely

Entrepreneur and business author Jan Cavelle told NationalWorld that the only reason people would be afraid to speak about things that are bothering them is work is because they are fearful of what will happen if they do, and that is an unhealthy environment to work in.

Entrepreneur and business author Jan Cavelle. Photo by Paul Lane.Entrepreneur and business author Jan Cavelle. Photo by Paul Lane.
Entrepreneur and business author Jan Cavelle. Photo by Paul Lane.

All of the people you admire at work are leaving the company

Emma Last, founder of Progressive Minds, a company which seeks to improve overall health, wellbeing and performance in workplaces, told NationalWorld that if there is a high turnover of staff there is usually a reason for it that isn’t good, and therefore this could be a sign that a firm is not making their workforce happy.

Emma Last, founder of Progressive Minds.Emma Last, founder of Progressive Minds.
Emma Last, founder of Progressive Minds.

When key people leave an organisation it creates change, adds Abby Robbins, Talent Specialist at Yellow Bricks Recruitment, and she told NationalWorld that when this happens regularly it has a detrimental impact on those left behind to fill the gaps.

You’re not sleeping well, don’t feel happy and are experiencing symptoms of stress

If you can’t get a good night’s sleep and keep waking up because you are worrying about things related to work, or are getting upset regularly because of work, then this is a “huge sign that something isn’t right”, says Robbins.

Abby Robbins, Talent Specialist at Yellow Bricks Recruitment.Abby Robbins, Talent Specialist at Yellow Bricks Recruitment.
Abby Robbins, Talent Specialist at Yellow Bricks Recruitment.

Geraldine Joaquim, a clinical hypnotherapist and wellness coach, told NationalWorld that you may also experience a range from physical stress symptoms, such as digestive issues, headaches, muscle and joint pain, skin rashes, heart palpitations, high blood pressure, along with cognitive stress symptoms, such as brain fog. You may also find you are unable to make decisions, unable to focus or do fairly simple logical tasks, and feel very emotional too. She added that it’s “perfectly normal” to go through periods of stress at work and to experience any of the above symptoms, but when these things become prolonged then it’s time to reassess what the workplace is doing to you.

You feel your manager does not help you to reach your goals

A good workplace will support you in your progression. When leaders don't provide guidance, support, and inspiration, however, it can contribute to a toxic work culture, Faye Edwardes, a positive mindset expert and certified positive psychology coach, told NationalWorld.

Signs it’s time to leave a toxic workplace, according to experts.Signs it’s time to leave a toxic workplace, according to experts.
Signs it’s time to leave a toxic workplace, according to experts.

You have a deep feeling of dread when you think about going to work

Merrisha Gordon, a Leadership Coach and Organisational Consultant who works with companies to support staff retention and progression, told NationalWorld that toxic workplaces will leave you feeling stressed and anxious before you have even got there, so if you experience frequent negative feelings about going to work this is something to tune in to.

Merrisha Gordon, a Leadership Coach and Organisational Consultant. Photo by  Amanda Clarke Photography.Merrisha Gordon, a Leadership Coach and Organisational Consultant. Photo by  Amanda Clarke Photography.
Merrisha Gordon, a Leadership Coach and Organisational Consultant. Photo by Amanda Clarke Photography.

Joaquim also believes that if you’re spending your personal time overthinking about who’s going to be in work when you next are, what’s going to be said and the tasks that are pending, and that evokes feelings of sadness and anxiety, then it could be a sign that you need to make a change in your job.

Customers are falling out with the organisation

Robbins believes that how workers feel often flows through into the customer experience,  and that the general vibe of the company will also reflect on to clients. Put simply, she says, “if customers are turning to the competition they are certainly feeling negativity too”.

People are competitive at work rather than collaborative 

Sharkey-Steenson says that if you feel unsupported at work, or employees don’t appear to be friends with each other, and you don’t have any work friends yourself because people are insular rather than being team players, then this could indicate that a workplace may be more harmful than harmonious.

The Career Elevator Coach Sinead Sharkey-Steenson. Photo by  Gillian Robb.The Career Elevator Coach Sinead Sharkey-Steenson. Photo by  Gillian Robb.
The Career Elevator Coach Sinead Sharkey-Steenson. Photo by Gillian Robb.

You have an unrealistic workload and you feel pressured to work overtime

A “sure sign of toxicity” is if there is an expectation of working overtime, says Edwardes. She said that whilst we might all have work spilling into our personal time occasionally, especially as many people are now working from home, if your manager thinks you should be working beyond your contracted hours then this is a cause for concern.

Restorick also believes that unrealistic expectations regarding workload leads to chronic stress, burnout, and a decline in mental and physical well-being, particularly when there isn’t adequate support or resources to complete tasks, as is common with toxic workplaces.

Last adds that if people are encouraged to work through lunch, to work whilst they are on holiday, or to check emails or take work phone calls outside of usual working hours this indicates that a good work life balance isn’t supported by the firm. 

You don’t want to talk about your day with loved ones but they notice a change in you

Robbins says that the people who are closest in any individual's life, be it family or friends, will always spot the change in an individual first, so if your loved ones have said they are worried about how your work is impacting you, you should pay attention to this.

Joaquim says that people may choose not to tell their loved ones about their work related concerns because they do not want to worry them but, as work is a big part of our lives, if you can’t talk about it with those closest to you then that may be a sign that there’s something wrong. She added: “When work becomes more of a pain without any pleasure, then it may be time to consider your options.”

Geraldine Joaquim, clinical hypnotherapist and wellness coach. Photo by Kerry Harrison.Geraldine Joaquim, clinical hypnotherapist and wellness coach. Photo by Kerry Harrison.
Geraldine Joaquim, clinical hypnotherapist and wellness coach. Photo by Kerry Harrison.

You use things such as alcohol or food to make yourself feel better

If you find you are constantly reaching for something to treat yourself with because you believe you need it after the day you’ve had then it might indicate that something’s not right at work, says Joaquim. She adds: “There’s a difference in having a glass of wine because you enjoy it, as opposed to needing that hit of alcohol to make you feel better. If you’re relying on something to get you through the working week, then think about the long-term effects that might be having on you”.

There’s bullying and harassment

Restorick said that it’s common for toxic workplaces to foster a culture of bullying and harassment, where individuals experience verbal abuse, threats, or discrimination. She explains that “such behaviours create an unsafe and hostile environment that negatively impacts mental health and overall job satisfaction”.

Sadie Restorick, an expert in workplace wellbeing.Sadie Restorick, an expert in workplace wellbeing.
Sadie Restorick, an expert in workplace wellbeing.

You are micromanaged, don’t have autonomy and don’t feel your work is acknowledged

Edwardes told NationalWorld that a lack of recognition or appreciation from leadership can lead to demotivation, decreased morale, and a sense of resentment among employees. Restorick agrees and added that excessive micromanagement, where employees are denied autonomy and subjected to constant monitoring, is a hallmark of toxic workplaces. This also demotivates individuals, as well as stifling creativity and inhibiting their ability to contribute effectively, she says.

Certain people are favoured while others are excluded

If you notice that some individuals receive preferential treatment at work, often based on personal relationships or biases, then this may mean your workplace is toxic. This undermines trust, fairness, and teamwork among employees, according to Restorick.

You find you are often thinking about quitting your job

Gordon told NationalWorld that “your intuition always knows” what you need. She added: “If it doesn't feel right, chances are it isn't”.

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