- On Tuesday, investigators found Gov. Andrew Cuomo sexually harassed multiple women in his office.
- While harassment is one of the most obvious signs you’re in a toxic workplace, there are more subtle signs.
- Robert Sutton, an organizational psychologist and author, shared telltale signs.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
On Tuesday, the office of New York Attorney General Letitia James announced its independent investigators found that Gov. Andrew Cuomo sexually harassed multiple female members of his own staff, state employees, and a state trooper.
In a 168-page report, investigators wrote that the governor engaged in actions that “created a hostile work environment for women.”
Over the past few years, in the wake of the #MeToo and Black Lives Matter movements, more workers have been speaking out about hostile and toxic workplaces. Some of the biggest recent examples include current or former employees at media outlets such as Refinery29 and Bon Appétit, the fitness company CrossFit, and the US military.
Bullying and harassment are some of the most obvious signs of a toxic workplace – and they’re a lot more common than most would expect. That’s according to Robert Sutton, a professor of management science at the Stanford University School of Engineering and the author of “The Asshole Survival Guide” and “Good Boss, Bad Boss.”
In a 2017 survey of more than 1,000 US workers, nearly one out of every five had experienced or was experiencing workplace bullying, according to the Workplace Bullying Institute, an education and research organization focused on office abuse.
There are subtle indicators that your workplace is awash in unfair practices and bad, unproductive, and perhaps even dangerous behavior. Here’s what the experts said you should to identify them – and your options if you realize your workplace is too toxic.
This is an updated version of an article originally published in June 2020.
1. People at work don’t speak up
One of the telltale signs that an office is toxic is how much, or how little, people talk in meetings and in group settings, Sutton said.
“When people with less power try to speak up, they get shut down,” he told Insider. “There’s sort of a cold silence as leaders talk. That, to me, is a sign of fear.”
When you’ve got a few people in power who do all the talking, and everyone else sits idly by, it’s an indication not everyone’s ideas are heard and that there are stark differences in the way people at different levels are treated, he said.
2. Your coworkers lack energy
“People being worn out; that’s a sign of a toxic workplace,” Sutton said, adding that lethargic coworkers could indicate neglect, employees being overworked, or that they have started thinking that contributing isn’t worth the criticism they’ll likely receive.
3. Employees don’t stay at their jobs for very long
If you catch wind that a company has a high turnover rate, run the other way, Sutton said.
“That’s clear as day, when people start leaving,” he said.
4. People criticize one another, and there’s a lot of gossiping
In a toxic workplace, communication isn’t clear and open, which leads to misunderstandings and arguments, according to Paul White, a speaker, trainer, psychologist, and coauthor of “Rising Above a Toxic Workplace.” Leaders don’t express appreciation and praise, and that negative attitude spreads throughout the company.
“Grumbling and complaining by employees is common – they can find something to complain about almost anytime. Then sarcasm and cynicism show up, which demonstrates a growing lack of trust of management and leadership and turns into a low-level seething disgruntlement,” White previously wrote on Insider.
5. Your mood outside work changes for no other apparent reason
Everyone has some stress that affects them at work, but if you find yourself lashing out at your partner, withdrawing from friends, having trouble sleeping, or gaining weight, it might be because you work in a bad environment, according to White.
It’s important to deal with the stress head-on, as the effects can be genuinely life-altering.
“Emotionally, we become more discouraged, which can lead to depression. For some, they are more irritable, ‘touchy,’ and demonstrate problems managing their anger. Others experience anxiety and a general sense of dread when they think about work. These symptoms then can lead to increased use of alcohol, prescription drugs, and illegal substances,” the psychologist wrote.
If this sounds like your workplace, here’s what you should do
1. Be prepared to speak up for yourself
If you sense you’re working in a toxic office, be prepared to stand up for your own interests, Sutton said. If you feel comfortable, talk with your boss or human-resources department.
2. Avoid the bad apples.
“When you have a nasty boss, avoid them,” Sutton said. “One person I know, where she works, she has the option to work from home a lot. So she and her colleagues will all sort of coordinate to find out what mood the boss is in and will work from home if the boss is in a bad mood.”
3. Make friends at work.
Find a friend or two at work with whom you can vent or joke.
“There’s always stuff that you can’t change, that you have to cope with. So to me, it’s about supporting each other emotionally. It’s joking about it. It’s reminding each other this isn’t going to last forever,” Sutton said.
4. Get out of there.
If you find that you’re being passed up for opportunities, your voice isn’t being heard, and you’re constantly dreading work, start looking for another job and updating your résumé. Take a personal day to get a head start on your job search. When all else fails, especially if your physical and mental health is suffering, quit.
“I’m a big believer of quitting,” Sutton said. “Quitting is underrated.”