How to deal with a toxic work environment.

Labor laws have evolved drastically since the Industrial Revolution. Back then there were little to no regulations guaranteeing safe workplace conditions or reasonable working hours for employees. We know better now, and, in fact, as mentioned in a previous post, many organizations are going to great lengths to ensure their employees can maintain healthy lifestyles on the job. Though much progress has been made from a physical health and safety standpoint,  mental health remains a forgotten subject for many HR teams and managers. In other words, while most workplaces are no longer physically toxic, many are emotionally toxic instead.

Identifying the symptoms

How can you tell if you work in a toxic environment? Here are some behavioral patterns you might observe among your co-workers:

  • Rudeness or inconsideration (ex: purposefully leaving stakeholders out of the loop)
  • Gossip or bullying (ex: sabotaging a colleague’s presentation)
  • Cliques (ex: social interactions among certain colleagues that exclude specific people)
  • Apathy or pessimism (ex: lack of enthusiasm for job-related tasks or company mission)
  • Selfishness or disinterest in others’ well-being (ex: refusal to assist or collaborate)
  • Eagerness to assign blame (ex: focusing on guilt instead of finding a solution)
  • Discomfort or fear (ex: intimidation, especially by superiors)
  • Acts of dishonesty or crime (ex: stealing confidential information)
  • Any form of harassment (ex: physical, emotional)
  • Bigotry or discrimination (ex: racism, sexism, ageism, ableism, homophobia)

Recognizing the root causes

Of course some of these behaviors are more harmful than others, but it’s alarming if any of them are happening regularly in your workplace. In a minute we’ll explore what you can do to address these behaviors, but first let’s explore the underlying causes. For the most part the above issues tend to happen because people feel…

  • Underappreciated
  • Excluded or unimportant
  • Overqualified
  • Micromanaged
  • Threatened
  • Ill-equipped
  • Directionless
  • Victimized
  • Unaccountable

Preventing long-term harm

Left unchecked, these toxic feelings and behaviors can lead to serious long-term problems. Numerous studies have proven that emotionally unhealthy workplaces can have a detrimental impact on the mental and physical well-being of staff, heightening their risk of stress, depression, anxiety, heart attack, high blood pressure, sleep disorders, and overeating, among other things. All these conditions in turn lead to increased sick days and turnover.

Finding effective solutions

If you think you’re working in an emotionally toxic environment, your first step is to discuss it with human resources or your manager. Be specific about what you’ve observed and how it has affected you and your colleagues. The following are further measures you can take if you want to be more proactive, or if you’re an HR professional or manager:

  • Model the behavior you want to see.
  • Foster a continuing open dialogue about respect in the workplace.
  • Concentrate on building a workplace culture that celebrates inclusion, diversity, and collaboration.
  • Create human resources policies that specifically address these problems and how transgressions are to be handled.

Building an emotionally thriving workplace

It’s not enough for your staff to be merely satisfied. We believe everyone has the right to work in an environment that is respectful, inspiring, and supportive. If you agree and would like to learn how we can help you create a more positive workplace, click ‘Book a Demo’ below.


Also published on Medium.