What Makes for a Toxic Workplace?

John Krautzel
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Nearly half of full-time employees spend more than 50 hours at work per week, according to Career Metis. Overworked employees, combined with the effects of a stressed-out environment, can lead to arguments, unpleasant feelings and even a toxic workplace. Take a look at six facets of the contemporary American workplace that could lead to an uncomfortable environment for everyone at the office.

1. Bullies

Bullies can cause a toxic workplace by creating a trail of harassment through digital communications and behavior at the office. For example, someone who gets mad at his co-workers can create fake social media accounts and fake email addresses to send disparaging messages to colleagues. Bullies can single out and isolate people at the workplace, making it nearly impossible for the targeted person to feel safe and comfortable.

2. Bosses

It's not uncommon for bosses to abuse their authority, go on power trips or treat specific workers unfairly. When an authority figure fails to foster a positive work environment, everyone suffers. Examples of abuse from supervisors may include belittling employees, name-calling, singling out workers for purely negative reasons and sexual harassment. Poor supervisors could also take credit for someone else's efforts or deflect blame to a co-worker when things go badly.

3. Communication

Good communication among workers and managers generally creates a happier work environment, but a lack of communication may lead to a toxic workplace. A complete lack of effective communication can lead to arguments, upset feelings and reduced production. Managers with poor communication skills might delay their responses to an employee's concerns, speak in an argumentative tone or simply not communicate at all.

4. Cliques

Cliques are common in an office environment. People in cliques favor themselves and their work buddies but spurn others who are not part of their social groups. This can create a toxic workplace that fosters gossiping and rumor spreading and also causes an uncomfortable environment for those who aren't part of a clique. High turnover rates are typically the end result.

5. Policies

Policies at work exist for a reason. They help put everyone on the same page and lay out the ground rules for the office environment. Policies and rules also help people stick to their daily duties for optimal productivity. When managers fail to enforce company policies, or simply don't care for them, subordinates are likely to end up resenting the supervisor's attitude, leading to a toxic workplace. Suddenly, the whole team doesn't care and no one focuses on their core job duties.

6. Domestic Violence

Both the perpetrators and victims of domestic violence may bring this type of issue to work simply because enduring mental, physical and emotional abuse at home changes a person’s overall attitude. Victims of domestic violence might react belligerently towards another worker for no reason, may show physical bruises and scars, or could withdraw from normal workplace activities.

A toxic workplace is different from simple conflicts. Employees can expect to have occasional arguments at the office because that's human nature. However, a constant state of misery and upset is not normal, and that's when job seekers should start looking for better opportunities.

Photo courtesy of Sira Anamwong at FreeDigitalPhotos.net


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  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    @David M thanks for your first hand account of being in a toxic environment. It's terrible, isn't it? You dread even walking in the door every morning. Sadly, it will remain toxic until those individuals causing this environment either get fired, retire or move somewhere else. Did your company have an HR Department? Were you able to report the issues? You are right. You will see that position open over and over again until something changes. So glad that you got out of there and got another position - even if it does mean climbing the ladder once again. All the best and thanks for telling us your story. Anyone else experience the same thing as David?

  • David M.
    David M.

    I understand this "Topic" as I have experienced it first hand. In fact, things got so bad that (as the author suggested) I ended up leaving what could have been a really great and profitable experience plus a win/win for both the other staff and residents. I had suspected there was a high turn over rate and once I left I saw this exact position open time and time again. The workload was crazy hard in the first place but working in a "toxic" environment made what could have become eventually manageable a complete nightmare. No matter what I did, did not do, tried to do, stop doing, etc... it just became so intolerable I ended up leaving. It was a real shame as if certain individuals just ruined it for the rest of us. I don't believe I was the only one. If you are stuck in a "toxic" work environment I strongly suggest following the author's advice and start looking for a new position somewhere else where your efforts will be appreciated. I understand starting all over again is like climbing a mountain but only you can decide is the grief you endure each and every day is truly worth it?

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