What to do in a Toxic or Hostile Work Environment

Toxic Work EnvironmentA toxic work environment can be described as any place of employment that is not a positive working environment. Having a toxic work environment will not only lead to a higher level of workplace stress, but it can also increase the chances of an employee being unhappy and less productive. Because of this, it’s clear to see why it is important to consider where you work.

The average person spends about ¼ of their entire life at their work place. That means, that between the hours of 9 and 5, you are in a work environment for the majority of your waking hours. So if your workplace is hostile or toxic, this can have serious effects on your physical and mental health. This can also lead to lower productivity and higher levels of stress. By creating guidelines and recommendations for your team to follow when it comes to dealing with toxic behaviors in the workplace, you can save yourself from stress and also improve team morale.

What is a Toxic Workplace?

A toxic workplace is one that is psychologically harmful to employees.  It’s a workplace that feels hostile and unwelcoming, a place that negatively affects your mental, physical, and emotional health.  A toxic workplace culture goes against the grain of a healthy, emotionally balanced work environment. In a hostile workplace, people treat each other badly and without respect or consideration. A toxic office environment makes for unhappy workers, which inevitably affects productivity and the quality of the product or service of that business.

Toxic behavior can vary from individual to individual, ranging from indirect to direct, and it is the act of a single individual or a group of individuals. An example of indirect bullying/harassment would be when your boss talks negatively about their staff in front of you. In comparison, direct abuse could be your manager yelling at you in front of your peers, friends or other employees.

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Signs of a Toxic Work Culture

  • Fear of Mistakes or Failure: A toxic work culture is a culture in which people are not just afraid of being wrong, but also of taking on new challenges, of taking risks, and if those things come with mistakes and failures they might face criticism and reprimands. A great example would be the hostile work environment where mistakes or failures are met with punishment, instead of concrete solutions to improve the situation. Workplaces like these can make employees less likely to try innovative approaches to problems, because each such attempt might have a cost attached to it. Instead of trying something new, they may fall back to simple, well-known approaches that carry a smaller risk of failure.
  • No enthusiasm:  Have you ever been in the middle of a project only to realize that your team has started to lose interested? That’s because what they’re doing is no longer meaningful and/or challenging. If you’ve been working in an environment like this for awhile, it might be time to move on. It’s not just about the work. Toxic work culture will impact your health, relationships, and even your personal beliefs.
  • Confusion and dysfunction: In fact, most employees in a toxic workplace are equipped with the education, skills, and experience to do their jobs well. But instead of operating at their best, they fall into bad habits—whether that means giving into peer pressure or throwing good time after bad.
  • Never ending gossip and drama: In a toxic work environment, it’s easy to forget what you’re there for. You came to do work, so you don’t want to be sidetracked by the drama and gossip of your coworkers. But then again, we’re all human just like everyone else. We like to socialize and sometimes share our ideas with others in order to make sure we are on the same page. It goes without saying that when these nuggets can be very helpful when they help employees improve their overall performance in the office. But when they involve degrading other coworkers, it is no longer productive. Sometimes people need to vent about their jobs,toxic culture or how their coworkers treated them, but it’s best done behind closed doors.
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What Can I do about a Toxic Work Environment?

While most workers enjoy their job and workplace, there are certain situations when individuals are not treated fairly or if even subjected to abuse at their place of work. Some may feel as if the cycle of mistreatment is never-ending and that they have no other option but to grin and bear it. Others want to speak up but do not know how or where to begin. Having said this, there are steps that should be taken in order to address an issue with the workplace environment or culture.

What can you do? The short answer is ‘Take action’. When confronted with problems of toxic culture at work, teams often play the waiting game – hoping that it will just go away on its own. That might sound like the easy option, but unfortunately, it only makes things worse. The longer a negative workplace culture exists, the more entrenched these behaviors become and they can become hardwired – making them very challenging to fix.

  1. Having a toxic environment at work produces a lot of stress. If you feel it’s changed your outlook, remember that not everyone in the business is to blame. You may need to find people who feel the same way about their work as you do.  It’s easy to get disconnected from others when there is a toxic atmosphere at work. The thing is, those same people have gone through the exact same things that you’ve gone through… and only you can truly understand what it feels like. They know how it feels to be constantly embarrassed by other team members, to wish that they would stop or just leave you alone.
  2. Address the person/persons you have a grievance with and work towards changing your working relationship for the better.
  3. Make sure you’ve covered all your bases by keeping a detailed record of everything that happens at work, whether this be abusive behavior, harassment, simply incivility or workplace bullying..  You will benefit from having what you need to back up any future claims or complaints; your patience will be rewarded at the end of it all. It can make all the difference when confronting someone who made you uncomfortable or being able to defend yourself in a court of law and secure a just outcome for what has happened to you.
  4. Speak to your boss, manager or supervisor about the situation and how you are feeling right now. If things don’t improve, you should consider doing something else or seeking legal advice.
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A toxic workplace is a pain for everyone involved, from the CEO down to the office assistant. Toxic environments waste time, money, and energy.  As frustrating as those conditions can be, toxic work cultures rarely develop overnight. The majority of poor cultures start with isolated and seemingly innocuous episodes. Over time, however, these issues grow and build until they are beyond repair. These negative work environments can appear at every level of an organization – even within departments of a company – but in most cases, workplace toxicity starts with one individual.

A toxic work culture can be insidious. It sneaks up on people who aren’t paying attention, and begins to make life at work unpleasant. The longer a toxic culture is allowed to persist, the more difficult it becomes to reverse. That’s why you must be on the lookout for signs of a toxic workplace as soon as possible.

Lora Turner

Lora Turner is an Experienced HR professional worked with the large organizations and holding 15 years of experience dealing with employee benefits. She holds expertise in simplifying the leave for the employee benefits. Contact us at: [email protected]