Top 10 signs you work in a toxic office

I don’t work for one of those cool small businesses you always talk about. Instead, my manager is a jerk, the owner is absent and this place runs on fear. I wish I had known before I started, but for various reasons, I’m stuck here. — Jerry
Yes, it is easy for pundits like me to wax poetic about positive workplace cultures, the importance of being a good boss, and why money shouldn’t be the bottom line, but let’s not kid ourselves:
Not a few workplaces are toxic.
While that is not surprising, what does amaze me is how these sorts of companies stay in business. One of my mantras is that happy employees make for happy customers and happy customers are repeat customers. But obviously, that is not always true.  Sometimes, too often really, a horrible place to work is still a moneymaker.
That said, how do you know if your office is toxic, or, if the business you want to work for is a toxic one?
Here are 10 signs of a toxic office:
1. Bad bosses: I once had a boss who threatened to put his cigarette out in my forehead. Different era. Today I would sue. Back then, I just quit.
We all know the bad boss. This is the guy or gal who berates people or ignores them. It’s the boss who engages in office gossip or who pits one employee against another. It’s the one who takes credit for other people’s work. The boss who never gives a raise.
Bad bosses create toxic work environments. They belittle people and make work, well, a four-letter word.
2. High turnover: The correlation to No. 1 is that the toxic office has a tough time keeping people around; either they quit or are fired. If you are looking for a job and find out that the place has a high turnover rate, run, don’t walk, to the nearest exit.
3. “It just doesn’t matter”: Did you ever see the movie Meatballs starring Bill Murray? At one point, the Murray as the head camp counselor is trying to tell his campers not to worry about the big match against the cool camp across the lake. To reinforce that, he starts a chant: “it just doesn’t matter, it just doesn’t matter!”
Well, that could easily be the rallying cry of the toxic office. Show me an apathetic workforce and I will show you a company with a bad culture, terrible bosses, low pay, or all of the above.
4. Communication breakdown: Why don’t people care? One reason is that the higher-ups don’t communicate well, or at all. A non-toxic office is one where there is, among other things, an open line of communication between management and staff.
And yes, vice-versa.
5. Gossip rules the day: Oh sure, there will always be office gossip. That is human nature and half the fun. But there is a difference between harmless and harmful gossip. The former is, typically, innocent, the latter is intentional.
6. Intimidation station: Another sign that your office is toxic is that it is run on intimidation. There are many ways to motivate people, and yes, frightening them is one, but it sure isn’t fun and studies show it doesn’t work nearly as well as positive reinforcement.
7. Money is the bottom line: Yes, we all like to make money, and a business can’t survive without turning a profit, but toxic businesses take that to a whole other level. They pay people poorly and put a premium on profit at the expense of everything else.
8. Policies trump people: Small businesses especially are a different animal. What we can do that bigger businesses cannot as easily is offer that personal touch, whether it be with a customer or a staff member. Toxic workplaces thrive on bureaucracy. Policies become a crutch and a wall to hide behind, masking all sorts of bad behavior.
9. Cliques rule: In a toxic office, people are not on the same team and, worse, the teams often gang up on one another. Teamwork, so critical in business and sports success, is absent in the toxic office.
10. People work too hard, or not enough: Ironically, though people hate working at toxic offices, they are often forced to by their bosses. Other employees have learned how to skate by. Whatever the case, it’s bad.
The good news is that most offices are not nearly this bad, and changing the bad ones is often simply a matter of getting the right people in positions of authority.
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