If you've ever worked in a toxic workplace or for a toxic boss, you've probably experienced unprecedented levels of stress and maybe even health issues you never had prior to being exposed to the horrific elements.
Unfortunately, toxic workplaces are on the rise. In one significant study published in Harvard Business Review, researchers collected data from interviews and surveys with more than 14,000 people to track the prevalence of incivility at work.
Perhaps you can relate to this? They found that nearly half of employees in toxic workplaces "decreased work effort" and intentionally spent less time at work, while 38 percent "intentionally decreased" the quality of their work.
The worst part? Twenty-five percent of employees in such toxic environments admitted to taking their frustrations out on customers. And another 12 percent flat out quit their jobs.
Seven sure signs of a toxic workplace
To paint a picture of reality that will make the hair stand up on the back of your neck, in their book Toxic Workplace!, Mitchell Kusy, PhD, and Elizabeth Holloway, PhD--both professors at the Graduate School of Leadership and Change at Antioch University--identified in their research three humiliating toxic behaviors prevalent in the workplace:
1. Shaming behavior.
They found several behaviors that fall under this heading including humiliation, sarcasm, potshots, and mistake pointing. These toxic behaviors have been found to prevent companies from creating a respectful environment that leads to positive business outcomes.
2. Passive aggressiveness.
Kusy and Holloway discovered that most toxic personalities are passive aggressive, meaning that they often distrust others and are very territorial and seek to remain in control. They also reject negative feedback, because they don't see themselves as the problem.
3. Team sabotage.
Behaviors that will sabotage a team and totally undermine their work include monitoring other team members, interfering with their work, or abusing any authority that has been given to team members, the authors found.
Another expert who caught my attention on the matter is executive coach Ray Williams. In his book, Eye of the Storm: How Mindful Leaders Can Transform Chaotic Workplaces, Williams found several characteristics of a toxic workplace, including four pertaining to management that most of us can identify with.
1. A focus on the bad and the ugly, but never the good.
Management stifles morale and sucks the life out of workers by focusing solely on what they are doing wrong or correcting problems; rarely, if ever, do they give positive feedback and reinforcement for the things that are going right.
2. A slow and dragging bureaucracy.
Williams says toxicity is found in organizations with too many layers of management approval to move things forward and get things done, and a singular focus on control and micromanagement.
3. Loss of the human touch
People are considered to be objects or expenses rather than assets, and there is little concern for their happiness or well-being. As a result, says Williams, you'll encounter high levels of stress, turnover, absenteeism, and burnout.
4. Little or no concern for work-life balance
People are faced with sacrificing their personal lives for the job, which is commonly evidenced by 50-hour-plus workweeks, little or no vacation time, and 24/7 availability for work communication.
Toxic behaviors gone unchecked, over time, strip people of their dignity and create a sense of powerlessness in co-workers. That's never good for business.
So what's the solution? This may read like an utopian vision for the perfect work society, but according to a recent study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, it may boil down to finding the virtues of moral integrity and goodness in people.
Recruiting and hiring employees who value morality would be particularly beneficial to an organization. It is known that these employees engage in behaviors 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.
What do you think? Is it that simple? Is establishing a culture of morality the key to defeating toxic workplace behaviors? Leave me your comment on Twitter.