With how in-depth recruiting and interview processes are these days, you’d think that new hires would be fully aware of what they’re getting themselves into when they accept a job. Unfortunately, since everyone is on their best behavior during interviews, there’s always the potential that what you see isn’t what you’ll get, especially in toxic work environments.
No one wants to find themselves in a toxic job, and it can be terrifying when signs of this kind of culture start to appear. It’s a rough situation no matter how long you’ve been in a role. Still, when it’s a new job, there’s an added layer to it because it can feel like you have an impossible choice to make: either stay in a toxic job for the sake of your resume or leave and have to uncomfortably explain the short-lived position to recruiters and hiring managers as you look for a new role.
What’s the correct answer, then? Well, like most things in life, it depends on your unique circumstances and what your goals are. One thing is for sure, though, you don’t deserve to work somewhere that's toxic.
How Does This Happen?
This situation can happen to anyone, even if they did all of their due diligence before accepting their offer. Sometimes, what you are exposed to or told during the interview process changes when your start date rolls around, or recruiters and hiring managers paint a much brighter picture of the job than what is real.
Some things that can contribute to a toxic culture that you wouldn’t discover during the interview process include:
A personnel change between the time you accept and start the job results in you reporting to a manager you didn’t interview with
Low employee morale, which usually isn’t broadcasted by the people who are trying to fill a vacant job
A hiring manager promising you something that they can’t deliver on, like a flexible schedule or a raise after six months of employment
A significant company change, like a merger or acquisition, that wasn’t widely known about until after you accepted the job
A toxic counterpart on another team who you didn’t meet during the interview process but still have to collaborate with regularly
There are reasons why someone might end up in an incredibly toxic job, but the blame for the unfortunate situation rarely falls on the new hire.
What are the Signs of a Toxic Workplace?
It would be great if there were literal red flags posted up in an office that would signal to potential employees that the environment they’re considering joining is toxic. Unfortunately, that’s not the case, so it’s something you will likely have to learn once you’ve settled in your role.
When you find yourself in this kind of work culture, you can sense that it’s toxic before pinpointing the problem. You may notice you’re more stressed out or anxious than you should be (beyond the everyday stress and anxiety of starting a new job) or that you feel unsettled when you’re at work.
If you start feeling these internal warnings, it’s essential not to ignore them. Start observing to see if there are any of the classic signs of a toxic workplace present, such as:
Poor communication; whether it’s from the top-down or among team members, this disconnect can create a hostile vibe
Turnover is high; this isn’t always obvious when you first start a job, but if they have a lot of openings and the company isn’t in high growth mode, then it’s something to be conscious of
Low employee morale, high rates of burnout, general disinterest
Unchecked employee harassment (remember, it doesn’t have to be overtly obvious to be considered harassment or to make someone feel unsafe)
Lack of leadership
A general feeling of distrust (whether it's among coworkers or employees distrusting the company as a whole)
Little to no work-life balance (even worse if you were promised this during the interview process)
Next Steps to Take
Once you’ve determined that your new job is toxic, you’ll need to decide what to do with this information. Do you address the situation? Or, do you put in your resignation and never look back?
What you do next will depend on your unique situation. For example, if you’re in a position where you feel unsafe at work, it’s best to resign and look for something new (you should never stay with a harmful employer, no matter the circumstances). On the other hand, if the problem isn’t the job itself or the employer but a coworker you don’t get along with, there could be ways to get around this so that you don’t have to leave the job.
Assuming you’re not feeling unsafe on the job. It’s best to come up with an action plan for yourself that offers you enough time to honestly evaluate the position (and look for any possible workarounds) and steps to take if you decide leaving is your best option.
Here’s an example:
Step 1. Give the job a 90-day trial period. Use the time to pinpoint what it is that’s making the job so toxic and explore whether or not there are ways to work around or eliminate the issue. If there is a way, pursue it and give the job another 90 days to see if things get better. (Note: it’s a good idea to update your resume still, refresh your social media pages, and start looking at possible job opportunities during this time, just in case you decide to leave the job)
Step 2. Develop your exit strategy. Are you in a position where you can leave the job without having another one lined up, or do you need to wait until you’ve accepted an offer before resigning? If you aren’t able to leave, do as much as you can to make the situation as manageable as possible until you can quit.
Step 3. Reach out to your network. Tap into your friends, family, and professional network for support, guidance, and help as you search for a new role.
Step 4. Share your value with recruiters. Practice what you’re going to say to recruiters and or hiring managers who ask you about this position during the interview process. It’s essential to remain professional in your response and not bash the organization.
Step 5. When you are ready to resign, do so professionally by submitting a formal letter and giving the employer at least two-weeks notice. If HR asks you to fill out an exit survey, be honest about your experience with the organization (in a respectful way) to have the information they need to make necessary changes/improvements.
Step 6. Start your new job with a fresh mindset. Try not to hold your past work trauma against your new employer. (Note: depending on how toxic this job was, it might be a good idea to give yourself a week or two off between ending your current job and starting your new position so that you can take care of yourself mentally and emotionally).
It can be incredibly discouraging to take on a new job only to discover it’s toxic, but it’s important to remember that there is nothing you did wrong to land yourself in this position. It’s unfortunate, but it is not your fault. As you search for a new role, keep an open mind and try your best to remember that no two employers are alike. You shouldn’t let this experience stop you from trusting recruiters and hiring managers in the future.
If you’re ready to leave your toxic job, sign up for The Mom Project and check out the many excellent opportunities available to you now.
Join a community that cares
Join our talented community of moms and mom allies. Whether you’re searching for your next opportunity, looking to give or get career guidance or just getting started—you’re in the right place.