Toxic Workplace Checklist: What Creates A Toxic Work Environment?

Reviewed by Melinda (Santa) Gladden, LCSW

Published 06/24/2022

A toxic workplace can affect a person in many ways, both inside and outside of the work environment. Work is one of the top stressors for people in the United States, according to 2017 statistics released by the American Psychological Association (APA), alongside issues like violence and crime. Work stress can be attributed to many things, whether that is a coworker that gets on your nerves, serious time crunches, or something else. However, how do you know if your workplace has crossed the line into toxicity? Keep reading to find out.

Toxic Workplace Checklist: What Are The Signs Of A Toxic Workplace?

Here is a 13-item toxic workplace checklist. If you notice these signs, you might be struggling with a toxic work environment.

  1. There’s gossip

Gossip is never a good sign. If there is constant gossip among your coworkers and higher-ups, it could affect you in a number of ways. Some of it may not be true, for one thing, and for another thing, this could quickly become bullying. If gossip is a big part of your workplace, and every time you come in, you hear, “I can’t believe X wore this,” or “Isn’t Y that?” you probably have a knowing that you could be the butt of the next joke, and you probably feel terrible for the other person but feel pressured, prevented, or brushed off when you try to speak up. Instead of addressing any teasing, they might say, “you’re being too sensitive.” That is a sign that the people at your workplace are immature and malicious, or that, at least, your workplace culture has come to that.

  1. You worry that you could get fired constantly

If you are always worried that you could be fired or let go, especially without any tangible or logical reason, it is a sign of a toxic workplace. You put your all into your work, sometimes to the point of profound stress. You are sacrificing yourself to do well, and yet, you feel like you are always on the edge of potentially being let go. In some cases, this could be attributed to anxiety or other concerns. However, in many cases where someone has the constant fear that they will be fired or let go, it is a sign of manipulation. If you always feel like you could be let go, you will scramble to do anything you have to in order to keep your job, and that can be toxic.

  1. There’s no communication

Few relationships, including professional ones, function well without communication. If there is no communication and you never know what is going on, it could be a sign of a workplace that is either disorganized or toxic.

  1. You feel less-than when you’re at work

Of course, bosses and managers have certain privileges. However, if the hierarchy is everything at your workplace, and you feel less-than as a person because of it, it could be a sign that your workplace is toxic. Is it all about labels and titles? Do you feel looked down on or underappreciated? Is it true that you never receive praise for your work? Is it true that your boss or manager would never step in and help with a task if you needed it? Is this feeling preventing you from speaking up about important issues? If so, that is a sign of a toxic workplace.

  1. The use of phrases like, “we’re a family here”

In theory, hearing “we’re all a family here” sounds like a good thing, but it is not the sign of a healthy work environment. Often, phrases like, “we’re a family at ___” are used as a manipulation tactic. Think about it: you would go to more extraordinary lengths for your family than you would your boss, right? In addition, whereas, at work, you should be being paid for everything you do, you do things for your family for free, right. After all, for many of us, the family is everything. This phrase severs that gap intentionally. If you feel like your workplace is a family, you will be held to a higher obligation there - without being paid for the extra work. You might feel moral guilt if you do not extend yourself past what you are actually higher to do because, well, they have tricked you into feeling that you are a family.

  1. Everyone is secretly unhappy or fearful

If every person at your workplace is unhappy or fearful (this could be for any reason - fear of being fired, no room for growth, toxic behaviors like gossip or bullying, and so on), this is a sign of a toxic work environment. Especially if everyone is miserable, and no one feels that they can bring it up to the appropriate party (HR, managers, etc.) or change it, it is a bad sign.

  1. Pay is withheld, or you don’t get paid on time

Again, this may sound like a given, but there are very real instances where this goes on despite it being illegal. This might go under the radar at small companies or in situations (such as personal assistant work) where you only have one person to report to. If your pay has ever been withheld, or if you are not paid when you should, it is inexcusable. Do not be afraid to get the law involved.

  1. You have no say

If you and your coworkers have no say and feel as though you can’t speak up about rules, practices, and scenarios (such as harassment) that are unfair or harmful, it’s a big sign that your workplace is toxic. Yes, you are an employee, but you should have a voice. If something unreasonable or damaging is going on, you should be able to speak up and get it looked at.

  1. Your boss or managers are toxic

If your boss or manager behaves in a toxic way, it is unlikely that your work environment will be healthy. No one’s perfect, but some things simply are not excusable. If your boss makes jokes at someone else’s expense, takes advantage of their power, or mistreats employees in any way, your workplace may be toxic.

  1. Stress is impacting your health and/or performance

Have you ever called out due to stress, or do you dream of doing so constantly? Do you have stress headaches? Is the stress from work causing you to explode on your family, or is it affecting your performance at work itself? When you talk about work with other people in your life, is the consensus always that you are so overwhelmed and stressed that you are sick? Maybe, your boss has unrealistic expectations about what can be done in a day, hour, or week. Perhaps, this goes back to the constant fear that you could be let go or that people are talking about you behind

  1. You have no work-life balance

A sign of a healthy workplace is that you have a good work-life balance. If you feel like work has become your entire life and personality, or if you are missing important things due to work (such as milestones in your child’s life or the opportunity to spend any time with family at all), it is time to set some boundaries.

  1. There is harassment of any kind

This one should be obvious, but it is a sign of a toxic workplace regardless. If there’s any form of harassment, whether that is sexual harassment or something else, it might not just be toxic, but illegal. If there is sexual harassment, discrimination, or bullying related to your sexuality or gender, verbal harassment, or something else, it is not okay. You should not have to put up with this at work or anywhere else.

  1. When you bring a concern to HR, no one does anything


It can be easy to read number #12 and think, “if there’s harassment, just report it.” One of the most significant and undeniable signs of a toxic workplace is that, when a problem is reported, no one does anything. It could also be that the highest of higher-ups is the one harassing you, in which case, you might not have anyone to report to. You might not be able to leave right away, but when you can, go. If you are ever in danger, or if illegal harassment or practices of any kind are going on at work, do not be afraid to look outside of the workplace and get the appropriate parties involved.

What Creates A Toxic Work Environment?

If you look at the toxic workplace checklist above, you will notice some consistent factors that have the potential to create a toxic work environment. These include a toxic leader or a leader of poor character, lack of boundaries or work-life balance, immaturity, hostility, a lack of communication, a workplace that moves at a pace too quickly to be healthy or efficient, and the poor treatment or manipulation of workers. There are some cases where stress management tools or boundary setting may be beneficial, and there are other cases where your best option is to look for a new job or report your experiences. If you are not sure how to handle stress at work, you may consider talking to a licensed counselor or therapist.

Take the Mind Diagnostics Toxic Workplace Test

After reading this toxic workplace checklist, are you concerned that your workplace could be toxic? While the Mind Diagnostics toxic workplace test is not a substitute for individual medical, mental health, or career advice, it can give your insight into what you might be experiencing. Click here to take the Mind Diagnostics toxic workplace test.