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Avoid A Toxic Workplace With 5 Warning Signs During Interviews

Written by: Dr. Helen Ofosu, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.


A toxic workplace takes a toll on mental health, and the consequences are real. How can you avoid unwittingly accepting a job that undermines your health – and, ultimately, your career? The clues may be in the hiring process, and here are some red flags that could tip you off and help you avoid a serious mistake.

Business man and woman whispering,

What constitutes as a toxic workplace?

A toxic workplace is one where negativity and unhealthy dynamics poison the atmosphere, harming employees' well-being and job satisfaction. Signs of toxicity include poor communication, lack of trust, and micromanagement. In such places, employees often feel undervalued, unsupported, and disconnected from their work. High turnover rates are common as disillusioned employees seek better opportunities. Bullying, harassment, and discrimination may also be present, creating a hostile environment that undermines morale and productivity.

How do you know a workplace is toxic?

Identifying a toxic workplace involves recognizing behaviors and signs that negatively impact employees. These signs include constant negativity, frequent conflicts, and a lack of transparency in decision-making. Employees may show signs of stress, anxiety, or burnout due to the toxic environment. High turnover and absenteeism also indicate underlying issues in the workplace culture. Pay attention to how management handles feedback and employee concerns, as their response reveals much about the workplace's health. Trust your instincts and seek support if you suspect your workplace is toxic, as addressing these issues is essential for a healthy work environment.

5 warning signs for a toxic workplace

1. No explanation about why the position is open

When a position becomes available because an organization is growing, the company's leaders tend to be happy to talk about it. When an organization is reluctant to explain why a position is available or they just beat around the bush, it may suggest that there’s a problem. It could be that nobody can stand working with someone who has been in a particular role for a long time. It could even point to a serious problem like workplace bullying or harassment.

2. High turnover

Have you ever noticed that certain companies and positions come up again and again? It’s a bad sign if a company is continuously recruiting for the same position. It could mean poor management, a bad workplace culture, low pay, an unrealistic workload or a culture of harassment and discrimination. If you see an organization repeatedly advertising the same job, apply with caution, as these are all signs of a toxic workplace.

3. A disorganized, unprofessional hiring process

For most organizations, a job interview is a formal affair. Be wary of a prospective employer who is casual about your time. Red flags are he or she being late for the interview, or repeatedly checking their messages and constant interruptions.

A client of mine wanted to know if she was being too sensitive after an interview that felt “off.” “The manager had no idea who I was. She started off the interview by saying, ‘So I haven’t had a chance to read your resume. You have an HR background, right? Why did you leave your last job?’ It was an awkward start because I hadn’t actually left my job, and I’d never worked in HR. I’d put a lot of effort into preparing and her obvious lack of preparation felt disrespectful. Twenty minutes in, I was heading for the door. I knew I would never want to work for this organization.”

A related red flag is interview questions or comments that are offensive, inappropriate or illegal. This indicates that the organization hasn’t adequately trained its interviewers and may tolerate bad behaviour. At the very least, you know the company has not addressed unconscious bias and other problems. The odds are good that you’ve had a brush with a potentially toxic workplace.

4. The interview is too easy

If your interview feels too easy, it could be a red flag. An experienced and skilled interviewer looking to hire a professional candidate will want to “kick the tires a little” by asking you some hard questions. If you walk away thinking the interview was too easy, it can be a sign of high turnover and that almost any warm body will do.

5. A tight deadline to accept

Another red flag is a tight deadline to make a decision. Demanding you make a decision right away is another strong indicator that an organization experiences a lot of turnovers. The truth is, a job is so much more than “just a job.” We spend most of our time at work. What do you do when your job becomes a dreaded grind? Or worse, a toxic workplace that’s more like an abusive relationship than a job? Isolation, anxiety, and paranoia are typical consequences of toxic job situations. Sunday nights shouldn’t have you full of dread for the upcoming week.

It’s especially hard to walk away from a toxic job that’s masquerading as a “good job,” yet, each day you sit at your desk with your stomach in knots, feeling like your life is passing you by. At that point, a call to your therapist, the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) or a career coach can make a huge difference in getting you back on track.

Follow me on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter, and visit my website to find more ways to become more resilient in your career.


Dr. Helen Ofosu, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Dr. Helen Ofosu has been practising Industrial / Organizational Psychology (also known as Work or Business Psychology) in the public and private sectors for almost 20 years. In addition to Career and Executive Coaching, her specialties include the assessment and development of leadership skills, and navigating the complex issues of workplace bullying, harassment, diversity and inclusion. Dr. Ofosu is one of the founding officers of the Section on Black Psychology, Canadian Psychological Association and she’s thrilled to have written a new book “How to be Resilient in Your Career: Facing Up to Barriers at Work” that will be published by Routledge in February 2023.



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