7 Signs of a Bad Workplace



7 Signs of a Bad Workplace


Recently I read an article about growing up in good neighborhoods versus bad ones and how the effects live on into adulthood.  It had me wondering about work environments.  The good, bad and the ugly.  The ones I’d been in.

Just like coming of age in a neighborhood filled with altruism, watching over one another’s kids, pets and property engenders trust in others.  The reverse is true for a bad neighborhood.  A guarded sense of I know you’re going to “punk me” at some point.  So I’m watching you and watching my back and that sets in.

Work neighborhoods (i.e., settings) are no different.

If we’re above a certain age and have been employed at some point in our lives, we know both kinds.  The question becomes, sometimes we don’t know the level of negativity until the affects have marked you, in a career and life.


Looking back on life, what environments have changed you?

At the time, did you know what was happening?

Can you correct it?


Pre-9/11 when the world felt like an entirely different planet, I worked for a non-profit.  Although not affiliated with the ‘cause,’ nor was I ever pressured to become a member, most of the employees were upbeat. The pay was below-average but the setting was a garden-like old building, cold in the winter but rich with history.  Joyfulness was encouraged and part of the culture.  Everybody said “Good Morning” in a sing-song voice.  Much of the conversation about work dilemmas (even uncomfortable ones) were carried out in hushed, empathetic tones.

For the year and a half that I worked there, I felt more inclined to wish strangers at the market or on the street a “Good Morning!”  My demeanor was light.  One day someone I’d known for a few years teased “Why are you whispering?” Because this is how we communicated at work!? We kept it light and that attitude stayed with me before I got to my desk, after 5:00 p.m. and on the weekends.

Fast-forward over a decade, my workplace environment along with world had sharply changed. Social media emerged. We were fed a nightly diet of news featuring global and domestic terrorism. The Great Recession lingered. This workplace employed a group of sophisticated, career-minded individuals with cutting, witty banter.

It took several interviews and a few months of phone calls and emails to secure this position.

Once hired, I soon realized how different it looked from the outside, as a hopeful applicant sitting in the waiting room. a nervous smile on my face.  The air was toxic. Not everyone at this office was what you’d call evil (some were actually pretty cool), but a cut-throat vibe of suspicion and envy wafted down the halls. This workplace culture reeked of stonewalling. I needed to send a general text to everyone in the office in order to excuse myself to the restroom in case “someone was wondering where to find you.”

While rounding the corner of Always Up Beat Company Man’s small office, I heard him on the phone a week earlier speaking with a quiet, small voice (something he rarely did) that “there are some major payroll changes coming.”

During open enrollment I was encouraged by The Firm to drop my own personal health insurance I carried as a temp because in a few month’s I’d be fully covered by their’s.  When it was time to receive my insurance cards I felt something was off.

I asked the head of the firm who coldly replied while surveying stacks of files “I’m busy.  Now is not the time.”  Picking up the phone I rang the health insurance agent and found “I’m really sorry…there was no application included with the rest of the office for you.  Are you certain one was completed?”

Check out Rising Above a Toxic Workplace: Taking Care of Yourself in an Unhealthy Environment

As a result of my insurance investigation I presented it to Mr. Cold and Calm (still working in his stack of files) informing him that our agent never received my health insurance application.  In an instant I found out what the saying look out for the quiet ones is really about.

After being fired that day, my unemployment was denied.  The holidays were in less than a month. It took 6 months, but I received the little back unemployment from which I was owed. The firm sent me a bill for one month’s worth of health insurance stating that the agent was gravely mistaken.  I’d found another part-time job in the meantime.

Showing up for the unemployment hearing the words “I should have left sooner before it came to this” echoed in my head like a bad movie.

This job greatly affected my health and belief in people. In the end, the greatest take away from this job was not the skills I learned.  It was if the instinct of “This is not going to work” appears, it should heeded much sooner.  As painful as it was, this termination was actually a relief.

A question to myself (and anyone reading) is, how do we know when a workplace has changed us?  Are we able to quickly correct it?  Are we financially able to move on even if we know it’s doing us harm? How much is self-esteem worth versus a cut in pay.  A cut in acquaintances or success ranking from our family of origin?


A line in the Jackson Browne song Boulevard:

Down on the boulevard they take it hard
They look at life with such disregard
They say it can’t be won
The way the game is run
But if you choose to stay
You end up playing anyway
It’s okay


I interpret this to mean assimilating to a particular culture (i.e., keep your job) and whatever that takes.

Here are a few points to consider if you suspect your workplace is wrong for you.  Right or wrong, these are simple observations I’ve made.


What is the leader’s demeanor.  Even if you’ve rarely interact with this individual, a company’s culture mimics the person at the helm.

How did people react to you on the first day? Welcoming or guarded?

High versus low turnover.  Sometimes you won’t have a clue until you actually have been behind the scenes for awhile.

Watch and listen to how individuals treat one another.  Backbiting, gossip? Or is there an understanding that problems inevitably arise in an group setting but can be managed with little ego and blaming.

If a minor disagreement with a co-worker arises, is it handled behind the other’s back.  Is there a tattletale crying of grievances when you weren’t even aware one was committed?

Does management make an effort to hold company functions, bring a bit of fun to the environment as a reward and publicly acknowledge great work? Even if problems exist, people tend to feel some allegiance to their employer when this occurs and it spills over into co-worker interactions.

How “Open Door” is HR really? Just like a great tele-evangelist some HR Departments sing the praises of their open door policy and others walk the walk.



No mistaking it, daily modern life has become easier thanks to technology. And daily modern life has become harder thanks to technology. Social media connects the world. It makes it easier to spy on others, thus forming opinions and bias. Robotics easily replace arduous tasks and take away jobs from humans. Anyone can become famous or go viral at their own hand.  It also causes competition to be not just great at something but a guru/influencer who has a massive following before age 19.

Looking back on life, what environments have changed you? At the time, did you know what was happening? Can you correct it?

Stay well…




If you would like to write a post for Wise Heroes, please contact us at wiseheroesinfo@gmail.com for guidelines.



Affiliate Links

Business Category (English) 300x250