According to the 2022 Work and Well-being survey, 18% of employees think their workplace is “somewhat or very toxic”, while 30% experienced harassment or abuse.
A toxic workplace can make workers less productive and motivated and even lead to serious health issues. So, it’s essential that you understand what an unhealthy work environment is, and how to deal with it.
For that purpose, in this article we’re discussing:
- What a toxic work environment is, and how to recognize it,
- How workplace toxicity affects mental health, and
- How to deal with a toxic workplace.
What is a toxic work environment and how to recognize it?
A toxic work environment presents a negative environment caused by unhealthy dynamics in the workplace. It can be associated with co-workers, supervisors, or the company culture itself.
If you suspect your workplace is toxic, here are some of the signs to look for.
Sign #1: Unclear company goals and values
A company without clear goals and values is a breeding ground for toxicity.
In a toxic environment, employees don’t understand the values or objectives of their place of work nor their role in achieving those objectives. As a result, they may become less motivated or less likely to take initiative towards bettering their company.
Sign #2: No respect from the management
Workers need to feel valued and respected at their workplace.
In a healthy work environment, decisions are made collaboratively, and communication is respectful.
On the other hand, toxic workplaces tend to be less transparent and collaborative, and there’s usually a power imbalance between the management and employees. This often results in a loss of creativity in workers as they’ll be less motivated to take initiative.
Sign #3: Employee satisfaction is irrelevant
A healthy work environment fosters appreciation and a good work-life balance.
Sign #4: Unclear and undefined roles
When workers know their roles within the company, they can easily plan their workdays and be focused on improving their careers.
An unhealthy place of work usually lacks clear roles or doesn’t communicate responsibilities effectively, which creates frustration among employees.
Sign #5: No room for growth
In a healthy environment, personal growth is valued through frequent feedback and more decision-making autonomy.
On the contrary, a toxic workplace tends to have an exclusive way of operating with almost no room for autonomy and experimentation.
Sign #6: Poor relationships between employees
Even if your workplace is healthy, you could still be dealing with a toxic environment created by your co-workers. Here are some of the behaviors to watch out for:
- A sense of entitlement,
- Forming cliques and excluding others,
- Gossiping and spreading rumors,
- Oversharing personal problems, and
- Taking credit for others’ work.
Sign #7: Conflicts are not handled properly
A healthy workplace doesn’t avoid conflicts, since they are viewed as an opportunity for everyone to share their opinions and come to a mutual agreement.
Contrarily, a toxic work environment tends to ignore conflicts and doesn’t see any value in them. Instead, it urges “bottling up” feelings and frustrations.
How a toxic work environment can impact your health
A 2022 survey on workforce mental health showed that 37% of workers blame work-related problems for their deteriorated mental health. Furthermore, a recent Forbes article highlights that hostile, toxic, and disrespectful working conditions could lead to chronic stress.
Here are just some of the possible consequences of a toxic workplace:
- Trouble sleeping,
- Loss of appetite,
- Physical pain and discomfort,
- A sense of dread,
- Feeling drained and exhausted, and
Watch out for the changes in your behavior, and take action as soon as you suspect that your unhealthy workplace is harming you.
Is a toxic work environment legal?
It’s hard to build a case against a toxic work environment.
A complaint is valid in the US court if the employee proves:
- That the employer acted intentionally or recklessly,
- That the employer’s behavior was extreme and outrageous,
- That the behavior was the cause of distress, and
- The distress was severe.
The thing is, it’s difficult for a case to fulfill all 4 requirements. It’s even harder to prove that severe stress experienced is a direct consequence of a toxic workplace.
How to deal with a toxic work environment
To avoid more serious consequences of an unhealthy workplace, such as career burnout and long-term mental health issues, it’s essential that you do everything you can to relieve yourself of some of the pressure. These tips will help you!
Tip #1: Focus on aspects you can change
The Founder & Clinical Director at the Centered Space Psychology Group, Heidi Cox, believes shifting focus on the positive can improve your state of mind:
“When working in a toxic environment, remind yourself of the things you can change and the things you cannot change. It might make sense to focus on things you can do like set work boundaries, put up out-of-office reminders while on vacation, don’t answer emails outside of work hours, and even talk to your boss about issues that are upsetting you.”
Focusing on things you can change makes you feel better at work. Here are other things you can do to improve the quality of work life:
Tip #2: Examine your role in toxicity
A Talent Acquisition Specialist at CAKE.com, Simo Jokic, thinks we should take a deep look at ourselves to see whether we’re at least partly responsible for the toxic dynamics:
“An individual should try to analyze their actions and assess whether they contribute to a toxic atmosphere. They should try to focus on the positive aspects of their work, find people with whom they have good communication and cooperate with them, try to communicate openly, etc.”
Tip #3: Talk to your co-workers
Your toxic co-workers may not even be aware of their behavior. So, discussing your issue with them calmly and with understanding could help.
Setting work boundaries helps you avoid using too much of your energy on irrelevant tasks and toxic people. Here are some tips that can help you set boundaries at your workplace:
Tip #4: Rely on your loved ones
Leaning on loved ones in your times of need can make things much better.
Don’t hesitate to seek help from your friends, since maybe they’ve dealt with similar situations in the past and could have advice on surviving an unhealthy workplace.
Tip #5: Document everything
It’s useful to start gathering proof of your toxic work environment since you never know when you may need it.
For instance, if you have any concerns or complaints, you should always send them via email as it presents written proof of the conversation.
Tip #6: Find support in the office
Discussing toxicity at your office with your workmates can help in various ways.
Supporting each other through difficult times makes dealing with an unhealthy workplace much easier. Furthermore, you can even team up to document the toxicity at your office, to gather even more proof.
Tip #7: Discuss the situation with HR
Talking to a neutral party such as the HR department can help, especially if you’re dealing with a toxic co-worker.
In case your company doesn’t have one, you can bring the issue to your supervisor or the management.
Tip #8: Try to lead a better life
While you may not be able to improve your toxic workplace, you can still have a quality life.
So, try to make your after-hours activities fulfilling and relaxing to make sure you’re fully recharged before your next workday.
Tip #9: Quit your job
If you think you can’t do anything to improve your toxic workplace situation, it may be time to leave.
Before you do that, you should read your employment contract to see whether there are any conditions you should meet before quitting.
This is just a summary of an article previously published on the Clockify blog.
To learn more about a toxic work environment, we recommend reading the full article: