When you hear the term “toxic relationship,” you may think about an ex-partner, your parents, a sibling or a college roommate. But you can have toxic relationships with people in your professional life, too, or even with your job or career as a whole.
You can have a toxic relationship with your job whether you’re an entry-level worker or the boss. Employed by a company or work for yourself. A remote worker who shows up in sweatpants or someone who heads into a gorgeous office every morning.
Toxic work relationships don’t have to do with your authority, role, where you work or your regular schedule. They have to do with how your job or colleagues make you feel on a regular basis.
14 Warning Signs That You’re in a Toxic Relationship With Your Job
Are you happy, secure, respected and at peace most of the time? Do you have the freedom to be yourself, even if it’s a buttoned-up, professional version of you?
No? Then you probably feel anxious, drained, worried or self-conscious. You may show this physically, too, through a nervous stomach, headaches or constant colds. Thinking about work could make you lightheaded, shaky or exhausted. Here’s what else you should look out for to determine if your job has become toxic.
1. You’re always drained, never energized
Even if you expend more energy than you get back, you should get something for your time. Being physically tired doesn’t mean you have to be mentally drained, and the other way around. Is your job drawing on your energy in every way without giving you energy in any way?
If you’re constantly looking for ways to self-soothe outside of work, it could be that you feel beaten up by your job. Another expensive outfit or a big, greasy meal isn’t going to fix your toxic work relationship, though. You should be getting at least some comfort from the job itself.
2. You put in more than you get back
Do you feel like there’s an imbalance in how much work you put in versus what you get in return? As an employee or a business owner, you don’t need a “thank you” every time you do something you’re supposed to – consider your paycheck your “thank you.” However, you shouldn’t feel like everything is falling on you, either.
Different roles will put forth different amounts of work. Your boss won’t perform the same tasks as you. But everyone’s effort should be valued in a similar way. If you do an excellent job all quarter, you should get a good review from your boss. If you’ve done your part for a team project, then everyone else should do their parts, too.
The people you work with don’t have to hold your hand, but they should be encouraging and reassuring – and you should want to be the same way to them. The value you bring to work should be acknowledged even if it isn’t praised.
3. The toxic relationship makes you feel like you’re always betraying yourself
If you get home every evening and can’t look at yourself in the mirror, maybe you’re not proud of your actions or how you’re handling things at work. You shouldn’t have to lower your standards or betray your expertise or morals for your job.
You have to be a team player and compromise – that’s true of any relationship – but you should also bet on yourself. When you adapt your better judgment to what everyone else wants, it’s impossible to feel invested in your job.
Furthermore, you should be able to say “no” to something within reason. You can’t say “no” to doing a main component of your job – that’s what you were hired for – but you should be able to tell your boss when you’re overworked or say “no” to taking on work that isn’t your responsibility.
4. It seems like you can’t do anything right
Do you feel like you’re always getting it wrong? Maybe you’re not cut out for this job. Maybe your employers didn’t do a good job of communicating what’s expected or what your purpose is. Or, maybe you work with people who are never satisfied.
Do what’s in your power to do – go over your job requirements and goals with your boss, assess the value you bring to the company, etc. If this still doesn’t improve, though, you may have to accept that it’s out of your power.
5. You don’t trust your job, your boss or your team
Distrust can be a hard emotion to put your finger on. Are you always worried about how people will react to you? Lack of self-confidence can come from a distrust of your surroundings. You may also wonder if your job can take care of you. Maybe your suggestions are never heard or your paychecks don’t come in on time.
You need to be able to rely on the people you work with, from your coworkers and boss to the HR department and payroll. To trust your job, you need to feel like you have people on your side.
6. Instead of clear communication, there’s passive-aggression (or just plain aggression)
Being passive-aggressive is a replacement for being clear and to the point. In business relationships, there’s no room for skirting around the issue. You should be comfortable and confident enough to communicate clearly, and you should feel that the other person will respond in a clear and professional way, too.
To be open with someone you work with without putting them on the defensive, take responsibility. Instead of saying, “I feel like you haven’t given me the feedback I need. I don’t know if you’re happy with my performance,” you can say, “Is there something I should be doing differently? I want to make sure my work is meeting your standards.”
Even worse than passive-aggression is regular ol’ aggression, especially if it’s in public. Does your boss reprimand you in front of your coworkers or people you’re in charge of? Do your team members belittle you in front of a crowd? You’re in a toxic relationship.
7. There’s a battle for control
If someone is at the head of your team, department or company, that person is in control. However, you were hired for your expertise, skills or talent, which means you have something to offer. Are you always bending to the whims of someone else? Are you stuck in a battle for control when you’re the person who should have a say at the moment? There’s a problem.
People who always try to be in control are also unable to be controlled. They may leave work early or show up late, neglect to do their part of a project, or generally shirk their commitments because they do things their own way.
And don’t forget about a micro-manager boss. Often, the control gets worse as time goes on. It’s one thing to have your boss check in on you a lot as you’re learning the ropes at a new job. It’s another to have him hovering over you after you’ve been at work for a year or more.
8. There’s more envy than competition
Every job has a hierarchy, and there are also distinct differences between coworkers on the same level. However, people shouldn’t be overly envious of one another. Healthy competition means seeing what you want in someone else and striving for it. Envy is more insidious. It creates toxic relationships between you and the people you work with, and it keeps you from reaching your goals.
Instead of stressing about why one person is performing better or making better connections, learn from them. You’ll expend the same amount of energy as if you seethe with jealousy, except this time you’ll actually make progress.
9. You feel like you’re harshly judged a lot
There’s a thin line between toxic criticism and healthy critique, but you’ll know which side you’re on by how you feel. Being criticized isn’t constructive, and it may point out things about you or your work that don’t actually matter. For example, if you’re criticized for your preferred workflow, even if that’s how you work best and what delivers excellent work, the criticism isn’t helpful.
10. There always seems to be some kind of toxic relationship drama
With any luck, your workplace will be a far cry from middle school dances, where nobody could say anything right and someone always ended up crying in the bathroom. Some drama is bound to happen no matter what age you are, though. But if every single thing gets blown out of proportion and there’s always something people are complaining or gossiping about, that’s a big red flag.
What’s especially concerning about a workplace or colleague that’s always at peak drama is that you can’t bring anything to their attention. You know that they won’t meet your concerns with a level head.
11. The atmosphere is hostile
The random bad day at work is bound to strike – some days, it’ll feel like nobody is getting along. But if that’s happening most days or every day, there’s something deeply wrong with the workplace. You shouldn’t have to be in a hostile work environment, feel scared to walk into work or worry that someone’s anger is going to lash out any minute. And you should never feel unsafe at work.
Hostility can range from low key negativity to thinly-veiled disrespect to obvious, noticeable threats. All of it is toxic. Maybe the hostility is directed just at you or maybe everyone is hostile to one another – either way, it stinks, and it’s not an environment that promotes success.
12. Avoidance has become commonplace
Maybe you and your boss or coworkers are avoiding each other, or maybe you’re avoiding work by calling out sick all the time. Turning a blind eye to the problem doesn’t work. Animosity builds and it becomes harder to solve the problem. Face the music. Have the uncomfortable talk with your coworker, tell your boss how you feel or get real with yourself about what’s wrong with your choice of career.
Pretending to be happy and okay with everything is a type of avoidance, too. If someone is making you miserable at work or your job is getting the best of you, but you keep smiling through it and saying everything is okay, you’re not helping solve the problem.
13. The toxic relationship has prevented you from growing at work
This seems like the least nasty of all the toxic warning signs, but it’s seriously detrimental to your career. You should be encouraged to grow in your career, even if it means eventually leaving your team or department. If you’ve made it clear that you want to grow, and if you’ve put in the time and work that should position you for growth, but you’re still not getting opportunities, accept that it may never change.
14. Your job is regularly threatened
Employers need a good reason to fire you, and even freelance clients should approach this in a professional way. You shouldn’t feel like your job is always up in the air. Employers shouldn’t hold your job hostage – doing so is emotional blackmail. If you’re worried that everything you do or don’t do puts your job in jeopardy, you won’t want to show up at all.
Final Thoughts on Being in a Toxic Relationship with Your Job
Remember, there isn’t a relationship in the world that’s 100% perfect 100% of the time. But imperfect and toxic are different. You can tolerate the first, but you have to fix (or leave) the latter.
Toxic relationships worm their way into your head and convince you that you deserve this. You don’t, though. You’re worthy of a job that you don’t dread going to every day. Maybe that’s your current job with a few tweaks, or it may have to be another job or even a different career. Whatever the answer is, you’re not trapped.
Toxic workplaces are the worst, but being uncomfortable can have its perks. Check out my article about How Sitting in Discomfort Can Push You to Do Your Best Work.
Featured Image via blocberry / shutterstock.com