Identifying a Toxic Workplace

Toxic Workplace

Sometimes at work, you might start to feel uncomfortable around those that surround you. And if you’re feeling a lot more worried about this than normal, you might be in a toxic workplace.

Extreme levels of stress. Major bouts of fatigue. New worrying health issues. If you experience any of these signs whilst you’re sat at your office desk, you could find yourself inside a toxic workplace. In a recent study from Harvard Business Review, 14,000 participants were interviewed and surveyed in an effort to track the overall effects a toxic workplace has on workers. A summary of their results reveals that almost half of employees in toxic workplaces admit to decreasing their productivity levels. Furthermore, 38% confessed to intentionally attempting to decrease the quality of their work. Alarmingly, 25% said that they often take out their frustration on customers when once realizing they were in a toxic workplace.

How to Identify a Toxic Workplace

All is not lost however. Mitchell Kusy, PhD and Elizabeth Holloway, PhD, professors at the Graduate School of Leadership and Change at Antioch University have carried out some research on the subject. Here are some of the opening signs they identify could constitute a toxic workplace environment.

1.  Using Shaming Behaviour

Looking into their research, the professors cite humiliation, sarcasm, mistake pointing and hurtful potshots as being one of the first signs of a toxic workplace. This type of behavior prevents organizations and companies from being able to create a respect led environment for workers. It also throws a barrier in front of positive business outcomes due to this.

2.  Regular Use of Passive Aggressiveness

One of the clearer signs of a toxic co-worker or member of management is a regular use of passive aggressiveness. This could be either in written or spoken communication. A reliance on passive aggressiveness often means a person has a distrust in the others around them. It also means that they become territorial and will drive to try and always be in control. Should they receive negative comments or feedback, these will often be ignored as they don’t see themselves as being the cause for any issues.

3. Causing Sabotage

If a worker’s behavior leads them to sabotage company plans or in-house projects, then this is another leading sign of a toxic workplace. In terms of sabotage, this could range from monitoring other team members more than is warranted, interfering with other work or abusing authoritive powers to undermine colleagues.

Other Signs of a Toxic Workplace

For the remaining signs of a toxic workplace, it’s best to look to executive coach Ray Williams, who discusses further worrying signs in his book, ‘Eye of the Storm: How Mindful Leaders Can Transform Chaotic Workplaces’. Whilst the first few signs mentioned could apply to both colleagues and management, Williams advises that there are several characteristics that are more likely to identify with managers and company owners.

4.  Only Focusing on Bad Aspects and Never Highlighting Good Work

When told that the work we are producing isn’t good enough, it takes a hit on worker morale, even if required. However, if a company or manager decide to draw focus on everything going wrong rather than right continuously, then this is a clear sign that they are creating a toxic workplace environment. Management who exhibit this behavior will also rarely, if ever, praise the work of others or provide positive levels of feedback.

5.  A Staggered Approval Process

Regularly finding it tough to push through project approvals or schemes of work within a company? Then this is another sign of a toxic workplace. Often, this sign arises from a stacked management approval process used to move forward and get things done correctly. The structure may also mean an overbearing focus on micromanagement too.

6.  Lack of Human Compassion

What can be considered one of the more obvious signs of a workplace that exudes toxicity is a lack of human compassion. When workers are made to feel more like money-making objects and less like human beings, it can lead to a dramatic increase in employee turnover, stress, absenteeism and prolonged health issues.

7.  No Concerns for Work-Life Balance

Finally, if workers are being made to feel like they must sacrifice aspects of their life for their work, then this further contributes to complete company imbalance. Employees being made to work over 50-hour workweeks, being forced to be available for 24 hours a day and being offered minimal holiday time will only make workers develop contempt for their superiors.

Can Toxic Workplaces Be Resolved?

Focusing back on the original study, it’s author, KiYoung Lee, does believe that toxic workplaces can be resolved. And the resolution comes in the form of setting a moral code, as he explains:

“Recruiting and hiring employees who value morality would be particularly beneficial to an organization. It is known that these employees engage in behaviours that benefit others, promote organizations and are less likely to make unethical decisions. Our study shows that they may also contribute to curtailing workplace aggression by not translating themselves from victims to perpetrators. Managers can also consider emphasizing moral values at work. For instance, displaying posters or slogans with moral values will make moral cues salient at work.”

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Sam Rose

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