12 Signs You're Working in a Toxic Company.

And how toxic workplaces triples your risk of Depression.

(Originally posted on kayatoastforthesoul.com)


Are you wondering whether it's finally time to leave your job?


I recently wrote an article that talked about finding Meaning at work. In short, I shared the four dimensions of meaningful work and how I used research-based principles to help make the last few months at my ex-company moderately more enjoyable.


It garnered a number of emails, with common questions being:


"How do I know when to give up trying to find Meaning in my work?"


"Can I still find Meaning when I hate my job?"


Well, the simple answer is this - Even if you did find some semblance of Meaning in your current job, as long as your workplace is toxic to you, you are probably never going to be happy.


Mind you, in the previous article, focusing on finding meaning in my work served mainly to change my inner world - it helped me refocus my attention, find space to pursue my interests and built friendships with people I cared about.


It doesn't change the fact that my ex-company is still a psychological nuclear accident waiting to happen.


It's the reason why I left my previous job even though things got a little bit better.


At it's core, that company was toxic at so many levels - whether it was the leadership, poor communication, pathetic team culture and so on.


And if you're finding the same to be true for yourself, please take the stance of an Olympic discus thrower and get ready to toss that letter of resignation.



Being stuck in a Toxic Environment triples your risk of Depression.


This is actually a very new piece of research published in the British Medical Journal.


The premise of the study was simple. It followed a little over a thousand employees over a year to see who among them was diagnosed with serious depression.


They then checked to see what workplace factors were influencing why people fell into mental health troubles.


The results were pretty clear. If you work at a company that is overrun by toxic people and behaviours, and where your psychological well-being isn't valued, your risk of depression shoots up 300 percent.


It also begs the question - what are toxic companies?


The simplest definition would be that toxic companies are those run by leadership that does not consider employee's psychological health to be as important as productivity.


When toxicity flows down from the leadership level, it inevitably spreads to the rest of the organisation.


A research study has underpinned four types of behaviours that exist in toxic companies:

  1. Toxic Behaviours of Co-workers

  2. Toxic Behaviours of Managers

  3. Toxic Social and Structural Behaviours

  4. Toxic Work Cutlures.


To put some fat to these four broad categories - here are 12 Warning Signs that you're working in a Toxic Company.


And if you find that many are true for you, then it's time to get out.



1) Everyone looks like they've dragged themselves to work.


If you walk into work and everyone around you looks dead-eyed and miserable, then you may be trapped in a hostile working environment.


In my previous company, no one ever greeted each other in the morning. We would walk in, try our best to avoid eye contact, plop our bags on the floor and get straight to work.


Likewise, if no one in your company comes into a work with a smile on their face or if you rarely hear anyone say "I love working here!" - Then that's a bad sign.


It's probably the case that there is a high turnover rate amongst employees too. Low company morale is going to come round and bite you.



2) Your boss is a Tyrannical Ruler.


Bosses are an important part of your work environment, and having a lousy boss can really impact your mental health.


It's especially so around abusive or narcissistic bosses. These are people who belittle their employees, or behave aggressively or even passive-aggressively.


In my ex-company, there was one notorious "leader" who would shout at his team every few days. Whichever poor sod's turn it was, He would call them into his cubicle and demean their existence. The entire floor could hear him shout.


Otherwise, a more subtle sign of bad management practices is that your team is run like a dictatorship. Most of the information runs top-down from the boss, and seldom do you get a say in what you're interested in doing.


People are expected to stay in the office until the boss leaves, or your whereabouts during work hours are closely monitored. It feels like you're being closely watched by the Gestapo at times.



3) Your team mates are professional ball-carriers.


You may not work in a sports company, but your team mates really know how to handle balls.


They are the ones who are always appear to busy and hardworking when your boss is around, but become the invisible man the moment your boss goes into a meeting.


Whether your boss leaves at six, seven, or eight in the evening, that's the same time they leave too. Whether or not they actually have work to do, nobody ever knows.


Otherwise, they are the ones who always have to make some useless comment during team meetings, or they actively buy cakes and presents when it's the boss's birthday, but forgets when yours come around.


A picture of my ex-colleague.

4) The outspoken talkers, bullies and ball-carriers run the show.


Unfortunately, because leadership has always been made up of people who have talked their way up, carried more balls than a Wimbledon Ball Boy, or actively boost their egos by belittling others - such behaviours become recognised as the key way to climb the career rung.


As such, whether it is at the C-suite level, or amongst directors or managers, it's the same few types of people who run the show. In my company, we had the:

  • The Asian Tiger Mom types.

  • The Red-faced shouting bully types.

  • The Always-have-something-to-say types.

  • The Whatever-the-bigger-boss-says-I-agree types.

  • The Scary Passive-Aggressive Psychopath types.


I will say I was lucky to have a good boss that was none of the above. Yet, the very fact is, we would inevitably have to work with these talkers, ball-carriers and bullies, and they always ruin the show.



5) Communication-wise, people are always being left out of the loop.


One moment you're in an email chain, the next you're not. And then three months later, you're suddenly back in that same chain again with a back-log of historical emails you now have to catch up on.


It might also be that you're always being sent invites to join meetings, without any information about what they are for. Alas, that only causes you to walk into the meetings feeling like a deer caught in the headlights.


A pervasive lack of communication characterises most toxic workplaces. Some other examples include:

  • People seldom wanting to share what they're up to.

  • Your team works in small, little silos.

  • People chase you for a piece of work, and when you submit it, there is no thanks or feedback about what happens to it.

  • You're left out for emails by your boss or teammates, and you find out later that they are taking the credit for your work.


How organisations still don't understand that honesty and transparency is important is something I'll never understand. It only works to eliminate mutual trust, making the team feel like a disjointed unit rather than a cohesive one.



6) Your office has more gossip and back-stabbing than a Korean Drama.


Sigh, if your team is made out of little cliques, it might feel like you're back in Primary School again.


Now, there are the office auntie cliques; the cool people cliques; the motherhood cliques; the slacker cliques; the always out for coffee cliques; the we-are-better-than-everyone-else clique.


Name it and you will find.


The whole toxic, cliquey environment simply turns a friendly workplace into a hostile environment. There are different WhatsApp groups floating around, where some you're part of and others you aren't.


There's always rumours or gossips floating around the office and misunderstandings of selective favouritism. It becomes a dog-eat-dog world.


Can't we just leave all the dramas for Netflix time?




7) You find yourself keeping your head down.


Ah well, with all the above going on, how do you protect yourself?


One of the biggest signs of a toxic workplace is a punitive environment. Namely, where people learn that if they stand out - make a mistake, comment, or ask a question out of curiousity - they get attacked or shut down.


It's a shut up and keep working kind of environment, where you're expected to just do the work giving to you without asking why. You can't complain otherwise someone will leak it to your boss that you're unhappy with him or her.


Even if you have a good idea, you keep it under wraps because people might not be open to it.


It's stifling for any sort of creativity and innovation, which leads to the next point.



8) A common saying is "It's always been done this way".


Ugh. Everytime I heard this, a little part of me dies.


I've always wondered how these people managed to learn how to use a Smartphone. If they are so phobic about change, how are they not handwriting letters instead of sending emails?


If they themselves can adapt to new technology and innovation, why can't they see the larger organisation doing so? One reason is that it's simply a lot less effort to just keep doing things the same way they've always been done.


Well, okay. If that's the case, let's just keep doing what we've been doing and not evolve. Let's just lose our business to competition. It's great for company morale to know all of us are working in a sinking ship.

Great work leaders!



9) There's no clear career trajectory.


Nothing, absolutely nothing, kills motivation like a dead-end job. Organisations that don't recognise good performance are destined to fail.


In fact, let's blame HR. It's their responsibility to ensure there is clear and visible job progression for you.


It's also their responsibility to ensure there are good performance review systems in place, instead of it being the once-a-year, awkward half-hour session with your boss.


For example, performance reviews should also include:

  • Constructive feedback on areas on improvement.

  • The strengths you've been showing that are valued.

  • A clear roadmap to your next promotion.

  • A discussion of your areas of interests or where you'd like to focus on in the near future.

  • Openness in sharing your difficulties without it harming your chances.


Do you job HR! We want more of the "human" in Human resources!



10) Remote working is discouraged because management "likes it when people are in the office".


The pandemic has finally made the idea of "remote working" in Singapore become mainstream. Many workers have welcomed this new work-life style with open arms, myself included.


It has demonstrated that companies can very well continue to function, even if we slowly move away from 100% remote into a flexible, hybrid office-home work environment.


The benefits are evident - more work-life balance, less commuting time, being able to sleep a little longer, the ability to enjoy different work environments, and for now, not having to wear a mask the entire day.


Yet some organisations want their workers to go back to being in the office full-time ASAP. It's okay if they can articulate a reason for it, for example, that there really is a need for face-to-face interaction everyday.


However, if the reasons cited are "we just want people in the office" or "it's easier to manage people this way", then by golly, something is clearly wrong.


Aiya, have to back to office again.


11) Not having sufficient people to do the work and high levels of burnout.


Burnout is a sure sign of a lack of clear boundaries and work-life balance. I've said it before and I'll say it again, companies should have an ethical duty of looking after their employee's wellbeing.