Unfortunately, toxic workplaces are all too common. The real question is whether or not your workplace is the worst kind of toxic. I'm not talking about your run-of-the-mill dysfunction, back stabbing, poor attitude, lack of respect, and office drama/gossip type behaviors.
It's crucial to know how to spot the worst aspects of culture--the signals that you're in an environment that will most quickly erode your soul and cause you to quit (or that should cause you to quit).
If you can answer "yes" to any of these five questions, it's time to quickly reconsider if you should answer questions of a different kind--in an interview for employment elsewhere.
1. You regularly question your value.
The opposite of meaning is the feeling that what you're doing doesn't matter to anything of consequence to you. I've been in this place. Where your work doesn't seem to link to any company/division objective, goal, or mission, it's never recognized, and credit for it might even be hoisted by a co-worker or boss. It's all too easy in this scenario to go on autopilot, reasoning that work is work.
But your work must work hard for you and give you a sense of accomplishment and make you feel valued and valuable. Anything less and it's time to move on. Period. Your work life (and your life in general) is too short.
2. You're on your own for career development.
Work is supposed to be a place where you learn and grow and have a clear path towards professional betterment and increased responsibility and challenge. Enough progressive workplaces are setting this as a baseline expectation now that you simply shouldn't settle for anything less.
If you're stuck, get moving by realizing that unstuck stats with "u" and that you must expect more from your place of work. While you should always be the primary owner of your career, it shouldn't be a solo act. You have the basic right to an environment that nurtures your personal growth, curiosity, and desire for advancement. No workplace should force you into getting airtime in meetings or to constantly toot your own horn to get ahead.
A communal approach to career development means you work in a community, not a cold corporation--you deserve that.
3. Accountability is elusive at best.
There may be nothing more toxic and fundamentally dysfunctional than a workplace culture that ignores accountability. I've been on teams where everyone's default mindset was "not my square," where blaming and finger pointing was the norm, where chronic under-performers weren't addressed, and where toxic outbursts weren't admonished.
Beyond frustrating. Beyond comprehension. Accountability is one of the greatest forces for good on earth. The utter absence of it is chaotic and something you should hold yourself accountable for demanding out of a job. If it isn't happening where you're at, you know where I'm at on this.
4. Speaking your mind and taking risks is encouraged in theory, punished in reality.
I've worked in environments where meetings after the meeting were when the best communication took place because no one would speak their mind when it counted. There was a leader who talked a good game about wanting people to speak up, but then lashed out in a variety of ways at team meetings when they did.
This is Toxic with a capital "T" because such behavior causes even less desire to speak up than if that leader never said they encouraged it to begin with. People need to weigh in before they can buy in. When leaders give no weight to employees weighing in (and even discourage it), getting buy in becomes a very tall order.
5. Information is held close to the vest.
It's hard enough to compete in today's business world with the information we're able to get about competitors. So why would leaders withhold the information they have to give freely within their own company? But indeed, too many do withhold information, to retain a command and control culture or due to their own insecurities, and the result is disastrous.
Employees feel out of the loop, unable to do their best work, feeling undervalued and untrusted. The information that should be shared (but isn't) can take many forms: the company vision, strategic plans, challenges ahead, internal culture-survey results. Many variations with one common thread: Sharing the information would be incredibly enabling and just takes effort--effort leaders aren't willing to invest.
Toxicity is highest when these five questions get head nods. If they do, you might need to head for the door.