Ever thought to yourself, "My workplace is downright toxic." Not sure if that's an accurate statement? I'll get to a description of toxic traits below, so you can fairly evaluate your workplace and decide if it's time to make a move.

As you consider your options, protecting yourself against such an environment is not strictly an HR obligation -- it's every employee's responsibility. Everyone needs to be looking out for one another to ensure safety for all.

In all my years of studying toxic workplaces, I have found these behaviors manifesting in the worst possible ways:

1. Management focuses on what employees are doing wrong

Controlling managers only think about blaming people for what's going wrong; they rarely give positive feedback for what is going right to reinforce good performance.

2. Bureaucracy is stifling

Toxic workplaces are notorious for having too many barriers to move an action item forward and too many levels of management approval to get things done.  

3. Profit has more value than people

Senior leaders are so fixated -- almost obsessively -- on driving profit and crushing the competition, they drive their people into the ground and crush their spirits in the process.

4. Goals are unrealistic

Management sets goals or standards so high, they are often unrealistic. When workers can't achieve their very best and lack proper resources and support, they may give up. 

5. People are treated like objects

There is little concern for people's well-being. They are seen as objects or expenses rather than assets. As a result, you'll encounter high levels of stress, absenteeism and, ultimately, turnover.

6. Managers steal the spotlight.

The manager takes all the credit for the work. No praise for the team, no recognition of team members for their contributions. As a result, team morale plummets. 

7. Employees are pitted against one another

Employees are expected to fiercely compete against each other, which is enforced by unrealistic performance measures that put the focus on individual performance, rather than team performance.

8. Personal or family lives must be sacrificed for the job

Toxic workplaces have little to no regard for work-life balance. Fifty-hour-plus workweeks, little or no vacation time, and 24/7 availability for work communication is the norm.  

9. Gossip is killing morale

Disgruntled workers are quick to gossip, and even quicker to hammer leadership for "dumb decisions." They spread their tumor by enlisting others into their negative spin campaign to vilify someone or something.

How to rid your workplace of toxicity

As I mentioned earlier, all employees must be vigilant and make sure people are being cared for to do their best work. When toxic behaviors as described above persist, a few helpful strategies should curb the perpetrators:

  • Conduct a leadership assessment through a third-party that will gauge organizational health and management performance. 
  • Implement the practice of stay interviews to ensure that your best performers are being retained. Their (confidential) feedback should not be treated lightly.
  • Revise or develop everyday workplace values that foster trust, respect, and teamwork to weed out the "bad apples" in the company.
  • Set team agreements to ax drama and cut down on conflict. For example: "We all agree to participate fully and respectfully." It works because it's based on team accountability. If a toxic member of the team isn't pulling his or her weight, the others will notice and should call that member on it.
  • Teach employees the value of setting boundaries as a cultural norm to curb toxic behaviors. Help employees to define what is acceptable behavior and what isn't--then encourage assertive communication with appropriate boundaries.
  • For managers, document everything to establish a pattern of toxic behavior, the steps you took to address it, the information, warnings or resources provided to the employee, and the failure of the employee to change.
Published on: Jun 19, 2018
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