I'm back with another real-life portrayal of toxic workplaces. In the past, I've highlighted systemic dysfunctions that play a part in creating hell for employees.

For this round, I'm calling out actual toxic behaviors we may see play out every day, whether between co-workers or in boss-to-subordinate relations. As you read further, which of these elicits a cringe?

1. The atmosphere is drenched with gossip.

What many unsuspecting professionals don't know is that when light conversation and idle chit-chat elevates to derogatory reports about other people, you're now trudging in the toxic terrain of gossip, which, according to the HR folk, is considered a form of attack and even workplace violence.

2. Jerks are everywhere.

"Believe me, they're  everywhere," says Bob Sutton, popular Stanford professor and author of The Asshole Survival Guide. Before quitting your job over jerky co-workers, Sutton states that "moving from one organization to another is not as smart as moving to a different part of the organization you're in." If that's not feasible, Sutton cites research that shows if you're more than about 100 feet away from the resident jerk, "they might as well be in another country."

3. People toss blame grenades at each other.

People in toxic cultures systematically avoid accountability for their actions. You'll often hear, "I'm not responsible for that--go blame someone else." They'll deflect responsibility and cast blame elsewhere to protect themselves at all cost.

4. People kiss up to management.

They will go out of their way to manipulate management to win favors and negotiate preferential treatment--undue pay raises, training, time off, or special perks that nobody else knows about or gets. Keep an eye out for colleagues who spend way more face time with their managers than usual. The wheels of favoritism may be in motion.

5. Bosses only look for the wrong in people.

Employees walk on eggshells because they know their bosses are patrolling the halls and their inboxes for someone to unduly blast for a wrongdoing (which may be an honest mistake that won't be repeated). Rather than find a coaching moment for increased learning, toxic bosses wield their unforgiving batons to correct problems and reprimand people instead of giving positive feedback when things go right.

6. Managers set impossible productivity targets.

In a disturbing story that I covered last year, Amazon fulfillment center employees in England accused management of imposing impossible productivity targets and a strict break policy, which led employees to drastic measures--like having to pee in bottles to avoid penalties for extended breaks. According to reports, the nearest toilets were located several walking minutes away. Amazon spokespeople have since responded by refuting all allegations.

7. Passive-aggressive behavior stifles collaboration.

Research documented in the book Toxic Workplace! found that most toxic personalities are passive aggressive. For example, you may have a co-worker who repeatedly makes excuses to avoid a colleague as a way of expressing his or her anger toward that person. By denying one's feelings and refusing to be emotionally open, a passive-aggressive worker shuts down the path to communication and collaboration.

8. Your colleagues will cast judgment.

Toxicity is found in highly critical people who have a need to judge and reject others. If you're the victim of such co-workers or bosses, remember that it's not about you; they are highly discriminating and tend to reject in others what they can't accept in themselves. They also don't handle criticism and feedback well because of an unhealthy attachment to others' opinions. They feel that if their flaws are exposed, others will reject them.

9. They just don't give a [expletive] about you.

They're concerned only about their own selfish needs and don't care about the things that matter to their colleagues or subordinates. They will probably get defensive when confronted, so don't expect an apology. If you see a pattern, address it soon through the proper channels to see how they respond. If that person shows no respect for your position, livelihood, or dignity, consider cutting ties altogether, whatever that means for you.

Published on: Jan 24, 2019
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