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Toxic Workplace: How to Sniff it Out

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For my first LinkedIn article, I decided to touch a bit on this because almost all of us have suffered at the hands of great “leaders” and probably ended up in tears or endless therapy sessions due to toxic work environments. If there is anything that makes me happy, it’s sitting on Twitter Spaces learning from young people in different working environments; this is how I came up with this topic because I realised I am passionate about this.

Have you ever found yourself sitting across an interview with a top company you have always wanted to work for, but you are concerned about what it looks like under their “carpet”? This post is for you! Here are a few tips on how you can pick up the red flags that constitute a potentially problematic work environment before you sign your offer letter:


No defined work culture: My favourite part is when I get asked if there is anything I would like to know before the interview closes. I always go straight for, “what is the culture like?”. This is not because I did not do my research – it is because the responses I receive will assist in figuring out if the company has its house together or not.

“Working under pressure”: Normally under pressure means that you will be able to work under stressful conditions, be able to make decisions, adapt to new ays of working and think quick on your feet: example, when the pandemic hit and most businesses had to implement reactive actions to minimise the damage, changing the way we work. This is where you are tested, a toxic environment will have you starting work at 7am, having lunch at your desk with no time to catch up with colleagues to learn more about their roles or build a solid rapport – you will also find yourself leaving the office at 8pm exhausted with no desire for a social life.

Can’t keep staff: Employers are weary of hiring people who don’t seem to last for a significant timeframe in a company, but have you ever searched for a job and found the same vacancy being re-advertised every 6 months? That could be indicative of some internal issues within the organisation’s structures that make it hard to retain staff. You might need to conduct thorough research and probably ask people who have worked for that particular company about their experiences.

I know of a company that has been advertising a post for a year now in the travel space and have not responded to my application. I would like to not make it about race since we are in Cape Town but I am on the verge of it.

Flexibility: I remember when I was interviewed by my former employer, I had a trip planned for two weeks prior to starting the job and I was not going to change my dates even if it meant not getting the job. I explained the situation during the interview before receiving my offer letter and they were very understanding. A good working environment acknowledges that you are not a machine and that you have other interests outside of the office just like the executive. Just because you are a junior or part of the operational staff, doesn’t mean you don’t have a life.

Lastly, an open door policy is at your own risk: I was once managed by a head of department who enjoyed talking at and over people. I would like to think that she doesn’t know she is a horrible person to work with but you never know! There are ways in which constructive criticism can be given without making one feel like they have imposter syndrome. Also be mindful of how familiar you might be with people and places. Just because there is an open door policy does not mean that whatever you say cannot be used against you.

Bonus tip: A healthy working environment constitutes knowing that as a young person, you are bound to grow thus warranting promotions or seeking better opportunities, and that is encouraged! If they are unable to meet you halfway with encouraging you to grow within the first two years in the company, get packing!

Ask where they see your role or you as their employee in two years, the same way they ask you where you see yourself in five years – which for me is actually a redundant question because I will tell them whatever they want to hear; but deep down my response is probably “making lots of money and doing what serves me, even if it means leaving the company in the next two months if I am not taken seriously.” [That is on period].


When you can travel the world, you are lucky. But when you travel around your country and enjoy it, it is a right and a privilege because only a few see beauty in the places they call home.

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