Considering how much of their day many people spend in an office, workplace boundaries are crucial. How do you know if your workplace is healthy? What does a toxic workplace look like? Sometimes, it's pretty easy to see if your workplace or one of your colleagues is not healthy for you. "In general, to spot a toxic coworker in your workspace, look for the telltale signs: It’s all about them, they take credit for the work of others, and they’re interested in your company as long as you have something to offer them," relationship expert and author April Masini tells Bustle. And even in the most obvious cases, it can be difficult to know what to do about it. But the truth is, many times the problems in your work environment might not be so obvious.
A lot of the time, it can feel like you're imagining it or overreacting. You don't want to kick up a fuss by saying something. And, especially if your other colleagues seem to just be going along with it, it can be difficult to trust your gut that your workplace is unhealthy. But there are a lot of ways that an environment can be toxic even if you don't realize it. Here are the signs.
1Living In The Grey Area
It can sometimes be difficult to articulate what is and what isn't acceptable behavior — but it's not OK to exploit that ambiguity. "After hearing from tens of thousands of women about workplace situations and issues," Georgene Huang, co-founder of Fairygodboss, tells Bustle. "I've come to realize it's impossible to perfectly and exhaustively define in a 'bright-line rule' manner what constitutes an acceptable versus unacceptable boundary at work. That said, I do believe that in many cases there is a clear line for what is acceptable, e.g. there should be zero tolerance for sexual assault or sexual harassment."
But if it's a gray area, you will likely know. "However, in many gray areas, you simply have to trust your judgment and gut intuition and communicate that you are uncomfortable if you cannot avoid a work situation or workplace relationship (e.g., it's not a one-off client interaction) that is toxic or abusive or simply overly negative or passive aggressive in nature," Haung says. So a workplace or a coworker that exploits the gray area is a real problem.
2Having Your Boundaries Ignored
Boundaries are important. And you're allowed to express yours and — as long as they're within reason — they need to be respected. "Communicate your limits clearly," Peter Yang, the co-founder of the résumé company Resume Go, tells Bustle. "For example, if you don't want your colleagues to call you on the weekends or in the evenings when you're home already, tell them this explicitly and specify the hours during which you will be available. Of course, sometimes you may need to accommodate emergencies, but stating your limits up front will help you establish boundaries between your work life and personal life." If you make your limits clear and they're consistently ignored without good reason, that's a toxic environment.
You've probably heard of water cooler gossip — and it can seem innocent. But often times, it's a sign of a toxic environment."When you find a coworker who is more often than not talking trash and badmouthing others, you’ve spotted a toxic coworker," Masini says. If gossip is rife or it's seeping into actual work, there's a problem.
While being assertive is often commended in a work environment, it sometimes can be done at another person's expense — and that creates a toxic work environment. "When someone takes delight in the failure and misfortune of others, you’re dealing with a toxic coworker," Masani says.
5Friendships Turned Into Cliques
Office socialization may not seem like a bad thing, but it's often cliques that can create a toxic work environment. "The biggest problem with a toxic coworker is that they become a magnet for others with lesser character," says Masini. "When a toxic coworker becomes the leader of a grown up mean girls club or a grown-up 'Lord of the Flies' paradigm, there’s no limit to the damage they can cause." Even if it's out-of-work socializing, it can create a hostile environment in the office.
6Encouraging "Being Dedicated"
Sure, it makes sense that a company would reward good work ethic — but if they're burning out employees while demanding that they be 'dedicated', then something's not right. You shouldn't feel anxious or at the end of your tether about work. If you are, you should say something.
"The longer you let these symptoms continue without heeding their call and making changes to your schedule/life, the greater your chances of burnout, and eventually, possibly, depression or other mental illness," clinical psychologist, speaker, and founder of AZ Postpartum Wellness Coalition Christina G. Hibbert, Psy.D., tells Bustle. "This is why it’s so important to pay attention to these signs and symptoms, to take them seriously, and to seek help in overcoming them as needed."
7You're Not Being Valued
You might just think that you've got a tough boss, but not being acknowledged or appreciated for what you do can be toxic. "A toxic work environment is any that makes you feel uncomfortable, unappreciated, or undervalued," certified professional coach Lori Scherwin tells Bustle. If you're never getting any credit or being straight up ignored, you have reason to be concerned.
It can sometimes be obvious you're in a toxic work environment — but it's not always the case. If your gut tells you something is wrong, listen to it. And never be afraid to speak up; you deserve a healthy work environment.