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Psychologists reveal 5 subtle warning signs you're in a…

  • Bullying is one of the most obvious signs you’re in a toxic workplace, according to Robert Sutton, an organizational psychologist and author of “The Asshole Survival Guide.”
  • But there are other more subtle signs you’re in a toxic workplace such as coworkers being afraid to speak up and appearing lethargic, Sutton said. 
  • Criticism and office gossip is another telltale sign, according to Paul White, psychologist and co-author of “Rising Above a Toxic Workplace.” 
  • If you find yourself in a toxic workplace, be prepared to speak up for yourself, lean on your work friends, and if necessary, quit. 
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Bullying is one of the most obvious signs of a toxic workplace — and it’s lot more common than most would expect. 

That’s according to Robert Sutton, professor of management science at the Stanford University School of Engineering and author of “The Asshole Survival Guide,” and “Good Boss, Bad Boss.” 

Nearly one out of every five US workers has experienced or is currently experiencing workplace bullying, according to a 2017 survey of more than 1,000 Americans by the Workplace Bullying Institute, an education and research organization on office abuse. 

But what are the other, more subtle indicators your workplace is awash in unfair practices and bad, unproductive, and perhaps even dangerous behavior? Here’s what the experts said.

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 Business 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 that 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, who explained 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 co-author 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 Business Insider.

5. Your mood outside of 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 literally be 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 HR department. 

  1. 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.” 

  1. 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. 

  1. Get out of there. 

If you find 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.” 


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