For nearly 25 years, I've been in a wide variety of work environments, some excellent and some less than stellar.
Many of the people and companies that I've worked for have been amazing. But there were other experiences that left me contemplating the merits of starting my own business and never working for a "supervisor" ever again- which is actually something I'm still considering, to be honest.
In any case, because of those experiences, I thought it might be healthy to highlight five symptoms of a work environment that is unhealthy and should be left in the dust as quickly as possible.
So, five of those symptoms are listed below. If there are others that I've failed to include, please feel free to leave them in the comments section!
A BOSS WHO VERBALLY ABUSES & DOWNGRADES EMPLOYEES
When you see your supervisor shout at, name-call, or snidely hurl disparaging remarks at co-workers, this is called verbal abuse.
Verbal abuse is never appropriate. Not at home, not at school, and most definitely not in the workplace.
I once worked in a place where our supervisor frequently singled out Black women like myself, openly referring to us and our work as, "lazy" and "stupid." He never did that to our male colleagues or to people of other races. Just the Black women, who were honestly incredibly hard-working despite the fact that we often had to also work two or three additional part-time jobs just to get by because we were often paid less than our colleagues of other races/genders.
In situations like that, where you or your co-workers are singled out and screamed at/targeted with obscene language and harassing remarks it can deal a huge blow to your self-esteem. It can make you question your value and worth.
That's what happened to me and to my other Black colleagues who I frequently found crying in the bathroom after they'd been belittled.
So, you have to protect yourself. That means, even if the job has a nice title or the pay is okay, it isn't worth the damage to your self-esteem. You can find "okay" pay at a place where you're valued. And you can start your own company and voila, your title becomes "CEO."
Some experts also suggest that if the verbal abuse or harassment persists, even after complaining to the HR department, it's best to contact a lawyer and discuss the possibility of suing your employer for failure to take reasonable measures to stop the abuse in the workplace.
But my suggestion, which may be less expensive/time-consuming, is to look for another job and get out of dodge.
The point is, if your supervisor screams at you, insults your intelligence, your looks, your race/gender, or work ethic, then it is time to GET OUT. The place is reeking of toxins.
Great communication means you know what your company's goal is and what you must do, step-by-step, to contribute to achieving this goal. It also means you feel free to contribute ideas to help facilitate such growth and the feedback you receive in relation to your suggestions is clear and understandable.
Working in a place like that leaves you with a good feeling! You usually know what your next step is, and when you don't it's no problem to simply ask because you know you'll receive reliable information that will point you in the right direction.
On the other hand, poor communication often involves leadership that does not define clear goals for the company. So, you're not quite sure what the company's long-term and short-term goals are.
In addition to this, your role and daily responsibilities are not clearly defined. You may have a title, but you soon realize that "Executive Assistant" at this particular job doesn't mean the same thing as "Executive Assistant" at most of the other companies where you've worked. So, every day, you find yourself wondering what you're supposed to be doing.
Poor communication can also be the result of leadership that initially provides a wealth of information about the company's goals and your role, but soon after changes its goals and the meaning of your role and then fails to inform you of the changes.
In such situations, you'll often find yourself working on projects that you were once advised to complete, but upon presenting the material, you're embarrassed to hear your supervisor ask, "Why did you work on this? This isn't what we asked for." When you, red-faced and ashamed, tell her that five days ago, you were asked to do exactly this, she says, "Well, that's not what we need because we actually need yada yada..." And "yada yada" is a brand new goal that is very different from the one you were initially given.
Usually, in such a work environment, where final decisions are never really "final" and tweaks/changes to goals are not communicated effectively to every member of the team- a situation like the one above will happen frequently.
And, sadly, it's likely that the employee who wasn't communicated to will get the brunt of the blame, even though the fault actually rests on the shoulders of those in leadership positions who didn't properly communicate their wishes.
When this frequently happens, it's a sign that the organization you're working for is disorganized. Unfortunately, this may indicate that the company's future is in jeopardy and to save yourself, you may need to jump ship.
Once you leave, you'll probably be amazed to find that the knot in your stomach that formed every time you presented the "wrong" material or wondered what on earth you were supposed to be doing is finally gone.
So, for the sake of your stomach- find a new job!
A SUPERVISOR WHO MICROMANAGES
Some of the most famous supervisors are known for having a vision of their own and being very hands-on leaders, but when it comes to hiring people, they only hire people who they respect and believe will be much better at their particular job than they themselves could ever be.
This trust that these great leaders have in their colleagues (because great leaders view employees, not as inferiors to be "managed," but as colleagues with whom they work alongside) fosters a mutual respect between the two individuals.
The person who's been hired to fulfill a role is eager to please their supervisor by doing what's asked of them and just as eager to share ideas that might contribute to their supervisor's vision.
Meanwhile, the person in the leadership role is just as happy to take these suggestions into serious consideration, and because they trust the person they've hired, more often than not, they give this individual the go-ahead when it comes to implementing new ideas.
Now, the opposite of this is a micromanaging boss. This person may struggle with anxiety and deep-seated feelings of insecurity which lead them to try to control everything around them, because control engenders a feeling of security that soothes their anxiety.
These feelings also cause them to worry about maintaining their position as "The Leader," which becomes increasingly important to them and often causes them to treat employees as inferiors, which is a way of boosting their own waning ego. Basically, they become workplace bullies.
Does the micromanager realize that their behavior has become similar to that of a bully? Usually, they don't, and usually it's all subconscious.
But their employees see it all. They often feel like there's no point in bringing new ideas to their supervisor, because their ideas will not really be considered.
On a good day, they might get an, "Oh, how interesting. Thank you," followed by radio silence, meaning the idea will never be brought up again.
Or, they'll get a long email/message indicating that they've overstepped by presenting an idea and that they should, "Stick to the plan" and "Stay in their place."
In addition to this, daily updates on simple tasks will be demanded and their work will be criticized with the diligence of an English teacher who hates children and has demanded that said children turn in a 20-paged essay on all of Charlotte Brontë's works. He's only assigned the paper so he can gleefully fill it with red marks, and similarly, the supervisor takes pleasure in highlighting every error in their employee's hard work.
Working for someone like this is soul-crushing. It makes you feel like no matter what you do or say, you'll never measure up.
This is the sort of job to immediately leave. No one should have to work for someone like this.
A LOT OF TIME IS WASTED
In a healthy workplace, meetings are frequent but typically brief, motivating, and straight-to-the-point. There may be the occasional meeting that runs long, but most of the time meetings are no more than thirty minutes to an hour and they end with the group feeling ready to take on their next task.
One sign that a workplace may be unhealthy is when meetings are frequently two hours or longer and they're full of arguments and off-topic conversations.
I was once in a meeting with a supervisor who had, on many occasions, slammed my ideas and told me to simply, "Do as I was told."
So, I shut down and during the meeting, I simply nodded and took some notes here and there, and just stayed quiet. I didn't want to cause any problems. And honestly, I was scared.
This same supervisor had also recently screamed at me and insulted my intelligence. I didn't have the energy to deal with round two, so I just wanted to shut up and get out of the meeting unscathed.
Well, that didn't happen.
During the meeting the supervisor began arguing with another employee. I just sat there while the argument went on and on. At one point, the supervisor turned to me and pointedly said something like, "I want EVERYONE to contribute. If you have something to say, please contribute."
Afraid and feeling very low, I just nodded.
But he kept pressing. So, finally I did contribute an idea.
After I said my piece, there was a solid eight seconds of silence and then he changed the subject as if I'd said nothing at all.
I felt like an idiot.
That meeting went on for at least two hours and it left me drained, with deflated self-esteem, and in need of chocolate and a nap. It was one of many similar meetings at that particular job.
A workplace that frequently holds long meetings that are full of arguments and off-subject topics is probably not the kind of place that truly fosters growth. It's likely an unhealthy environment that should be avoided at all costs.
FREQUENT LOW MORALE
If your workplace is the kind of environment where everyone seriously and deeply hates their job, then it may be time to get out of dodge.
A healthy workplace engenders enthusiasm and gratefulness.
I briefly experienced these positive vibes when I took a temporary job at an amazing company called CAA. One thing I'll always remember about that place is how happy we all were to be there!
The company took great care of all of us (even peons like me!) and made us feel appreciated. So, the feeling was mutual and nearly every week I'd hear someone say how lucky they felt to work at CAA.
That was years ago, and to this day I still miss that place.
That's the way a healthy company operates, and there are plenty of great organizations like that out there!
So, if you work in an office where there is no enthusiasm and high turn-over due to people hating the job and leaving it, maybe it's time for you to take the leap too!
Find something better, a place that'll make you say, "I'm so glad I work here!"
So, after being in the workforce for over 20 years those are five of the signs I've learned to look for that tell me I'm in a bad place and it's time to sneak out.
What about you? What kind of work experiences have you had, both good and bad?