Signs You’re Working For A Toxic Company

Monday morning, you wake up to a banging reminder in your head that says you’re back to the grind again. You hate this routine. It’s not the best feeling in the world but you know you have to do it—drag your body to the office you despise and flash that fake smile to people who make your life miserable.

Does this sound familiar? You’re probably working for a company that’s becoming unhealthy both for your body and mind.

Here are the 3 signs you’re working for a toxic company:

1. Leaders tolerate a culture of fear and bullying.

The science of motivating people tells us two things: incentives help engage, while penalties enforce discipline. Great companies are good in balancing both, but toxic companies abuse the latter—they thrive on fear to get their employees moving. Seniors bully their staff to pass on more work, while leaders squeeze in unreasonable deadlines by reminding you that you owe them your jobs.

Like dementors who suck the last drop of happiness in you, they think happy employees can’t be too happy because they will slack off at work. Every move that you do feels like walking on eggshells—asking questions makes you sound stupid, and yet not asking makes you look you don’t understand the job. Every mistake seems to be blamed on someone in the office, like unlimited rice that gets generously pass around. The office is so toxic that you wonder if signing that employment contract was as good as signing a death sentence.

Great companies, meanwhile, believe that while discipline is necessary, it is motivation that keeps employees empowered and engaged in the long run. They praise, they reward, they offer support.

2. Unhealthy competition is the name of the game.

It feels great to be in a company where people challenge you every day towards success. When you are surrounded by colleagues who inspire you with better presentations, more creative ideas, and faster execution, you whisper to yourself, “I want to become like you too.”

It changes though when every employee starts to see colleagues, including their managers, as their competition. When the pressure to perform becomes cutthroat, and spaces for promotion are narrow, employees will only look out for themselves. That’s when the company becomes toxic.

Toxic companies excessively reward individual success at the expense of undermining the value of collaboration and teamwork. They breed employees who believe who will do what it takes to advance the corporate ladder, even if it comes at the cost of hurting others.

Great companies do otherwise—they make sure everyone is aligned with a shared, common goal beginning day one. They enforce a culture of racing together versus racing individually, and that there is no ‘I’ in teams.

3. Processes operate under a slow, painful bureaucracy.

It takes 28 managers to approve your project, you need to file 3 forms to ask for vacation leave, and it takes ages to claim your reimbursements. Do they sound familiar? Toxic companies frustrate their employees by requiring the most illogical and unnecessary steps to get simple things done. Out of paranoia and lack of trust, they enforce rules that have the right intentions but are outweighed by the inconveniences employees must bear.

Toxic companies operate like those incompetent government agencies whose employees do the bare minimum and design processes that make customers wait so long until they have no choice but to give up and leave.

Great companies do otherwise—they are obsessed with asking questions like: How can I get more done? How can I achieve this with lesser costs? How can I make this faster? They know that when their employees don’t need to worry about the small, irritating rocks that get to their nerves, their employees get to finish the big rocks that matter.

Think about your next steps.

Don’t prolong that stressful phase of working for a toxic company. (Hey, life is short, and it offers so many permutations on how to enjoy a happy life!)

For most of us, we will decide to quit while others may need more time to contemplate. 

In either case, consider asking friends and colleagues who can help you reflect if you need to stay. It’s easier said and done, but when you can’t change the situation, the best alternative is to change the way how you see it: is the company really that toxic? Or am I just the only one who’s feeling the hate?

Finally, while you’re waiting for things to change, or for a recruiter to invite you for a job interview, you may also opt to keep on dancing even if you don’t like the music—the DJ will change the song at some point anyway.

Good luck and I hope things get better soon! 

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