Signs of a Toxic Work Environment: A Nurses Guide to Planning Your Exit

Signs of a Toxic Work Environment: A Nurses Guide to Planning Your Exit

“I feel scared” and “I feel like I am not good enough” are the words of a new graduate nurse whose nurse manager told her to resign. “I sat in my car and cried for 40 minutes,” she says.

Wow. This is not an isolated story of a new graduate nurse. There are many more stories out there like this. Our nursing leaders must ensure that nurses, particularly new nurses, are supported and given the mentorship they need to thrive. It is unfair not to train and support our novice nurses and nurses transitioning to different roles. 

I got in trouble for asking a concerning question.”

According to Psychology Today, gaslighting is a tactic that a person uses to gain more power and makes a victim question their reality. Gaslighting is the abuse of power and a form of bullying in the workplace.

“They didn’t give me enough orientation and expected me to know everything right off the bat, which is unrealistic.” Unfortunately, this is the harsh reality many new graduate nurses face today because many organizations make financial cuts in the education department. 

This happened to me personally as I experienced a layoff as the director of education due to what they call “restructuring.” Most hospitals function with the minimum number of educators to cover various units, if not only one educator covering the whole hospital. As we know, assigned online learning is not the same quality as practicing hands-on skills and demonstrating competency through validation. 

Creating psychological safety in a work environment is extremely important. New graduate nurses should feel comfortable asking questions and raising safety concerns. Nurses have the right to advocate for themselves and their patients without fearing retaliation. 

Nurses should be aware of their rights and articulate them. The American Nurses Association has listed the Nurses Bill of Rights here.

Although it is easy to say you should advocate for yourself, it can be challenging because you are considering your job security and how to support yourself and your loved ones. Therefore, please know your rights and options to make an informed decision about the next steps. 

Signs of a Toxic Work Environment 

1. Lack of trust among colleagues and or leadership

2. Micromanaging

3. Unprofessional behavior

4. No room for mistakes

5. Blaming type culture/Unrealistic workload

6. No structure or processes in place

7. People feel gaslighted

8. People are disengaged, have low morale, and have high turnover 

9. No support from leadership and no shared decision making

10. Physical symptoms of stress

If you are experiencing any of these, please document what is happening with dates and times. I recommend having a conversation with the person to discuss concerns. However, if you are uncomfortable and fear retaliation and losing your job, I recommend seeking expert advice. No one deserves to feel uncomfortable at work or psychologically, emotionally, or physically distressed by these toxic behaviors. Toxic work environments are simply unacceptable! 

How to Plan Your Exit Strategy

Start looking for a new position ASAP

  • Getting a new position can take 2-6 months, so do not delay it.
  • Use Linkedin and job boards such as Indeed.
  • Network both in person and online for potential opportunities.

Do not apply for every job you see, be strategic 

  • Look at positions that will bring you closer to your career goals.

Select organizations that are in alignment with your values/purpose

  • Read about the mission vision values and visit the place in person to understand the environment.
  • Do your research/Speak to people who are currently working there

Tailor your resume/cover letter to the job description

  •  Use specific keywords in the job description to infuse in your resume.

Ask about the retention rate for employees 

  • High turnover is a red flag that people do not stay.

Pay close attention to your “interview experience”

  • The experience from the application process, planning, and communication during the interview is very telling. Pay attention to body language and the overall vibe of the interview.

Wait until the official offer 

  • Get the offer in writing before you hand in your resignation letter.
  • A standard resignation timeframe is about 2-4 weeks.
  • Get Out! RUN!

Regardless of experience, every nurse must be treated with respect and dignity.

Check out the Minority Nurse Career Center to connect with employers seeking diverse nursing candidates.