Watch out for these red flags at your workplace

Watch out for these red flags at your workplace

In the past months, I have been working with several clients who shared the same “pattern”. When we crafted the goals for their coaching programme, their big shiny goal was to actualise a career jump and start doing something meaningful and with purpose, which uses their strengths.

After a couple of weeks of hard work, on multiple occasions, we uncovered that they were not able to start working on discovering their new path as they were stuck in a toxic workplace that was dragging them down; emotionally, physically, and mentally, and that didn’t leave any mental space for dreaming. We had to refocus and start working on a short-term career goal: getting them out of the toxic place, asap.

Based on my 11 years of experience as a coach and helping hundreds of people to “escape” toxic environments, I have made a list of common signs which tell you to run away fast before it is too late (i.e. burnout).

Lack of communication

Poor communication can have various aspects. Starting from the fact that you are not being informed about the big decisions regarding the company’s direction, vision and changes, through to the lack of communication between departments and colleagues, to the negative chats at the coffee machine.

Communication does to the organisation, what blood does to our body. It delivers oxygen to all organs and connects them with each other. That’s what communication does with employees; it keeps them happy, healthy and motivated. What a lot of my clients also experienced - which has had a profoundly bad effect on their feelings of happiness and achievement - was the lack of proper communication on their development, a lack of feedback.

First of all, if you do not hear what you are doing well, your motivation goes down. Secondly, if you do not hear what you are doing wrong, you cannot develop yourself and grow. For one of my clients, Marie, who is a highly driven professional, the lack of any feedback backed up by an incapable boss was a sign that it was time to find a new workplace.

Within weeks, she went to interviews and paid close attention to whom she would be working with, whom she will manage and who will manage her, and grilled them with questions on their communications skills. Once she was sure, she chose a new job, not with the most known company, but with the one that had proven to her that communication and employee growth was taken seriously.


Managers who are often being promoted because they are great at their job, being a specialist, whether it is in finance, sales or IT, often lack the basic knowledge on how to lead people. Being great at your job requires a very different skill set than being great at leading people. With a lack of skills often comes a lack of confidence in the self and others, and an “I know it better” mentality, which often leads to wanting to control everything and everyone - or micromanaging. This leaves employees with very little autonomy.

In the case of my other client, Mike, whose main work value was freedom, defined as the possibility to do the work in his own way, it became unbearable. Every detail of the presentation he was working on was critiqued and had to be changed. Not because it was wrong, but because it didn’t appeal to the taste of the boss.

No growth opportunities

The lack of growth opportunities is the most commonly cited reason for my clients to want to leave. They often really like their job, but because they feel that they either reached the ceiling or because HR and their boss do not support them on their career development path, they start to get demotivated. Lack of growth often leads to boreout, the same way increased stress leads to burnout.

Sometimes, there are no other pathways, especially in small organisations, and the only way is to look outside. However, what I often observe is that in bigger organisations, managers often stop people from leaving their department as they are afraid to lose great talent and are worried that they will stay behind with whatever problems they are having. So, they prefer to deliberately stagnate someone’s growth to solve their own problems. This behaviour is obviously very short-sighted and will eventually lead to a bigger problem: great talent not only leaving a department, but the entire organisation.

Toxic boss

In organisations that lack good communication, the leaders are very often to blame. The common saying that people are not quitting their jobs, but their bosses, proves to be true for many of my clients.

A couple of weeks ago, when giving a workshop to an organisation on communication skills, I worked with two different departments of the same company.

In team A, most of the employees were satisfied with their jobs. When getting to the core of their work satisfaction, they uncovered that the key was great communication, coming from the top; their leader would keep them involved, frequently asking for their feedback and input, clearly communicating the expectations, concerns, company’s vision, goals etc. She would also be willing to admit her own mistakes, support when necessary and was ready to stick her head out for her team.

Team B on the other hand was led by a manager, who as described by her subordinates, didn’t care much, apart from securing her own position, was clearly favouring some employees over others and was not clearly communicating any of the above. As a result, employees started to care less and less, negativity was all over the place, and people were scared to speak up, demotivated and ready to leave. Proving the saying “the tone is set at the top”.

Have you noticed any of the above red flags in your organisation? What do you believe makes an organisation either healthy or toxic? Share in the comments below!

Dorota Klop-Sowinska


Dorota Klop-Sowinska

Official Member of Forbes Coaches Council. I specialize in international career and expat coaching. I am the author of the book Career Jump! How to Successfully Change Your Professional Path...

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