Is Your Work Environment REALLY Toxic? How to Know and What to Do
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Through various groups I belong to and sites I visit regularly, there is a lot of talk about being in a “toxic work environment.” Today, I want to drill down on what actually constitutes a toxic work environment and what to do if you are in one. I also want to talk about what isn’t a toxic work environment and how to manage these situations.
Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about a toxic workplace: It is marked by significant infighting, where personal battles often harm productivity. Here’s a quote: “It is reasonable to conclude that an organization can be considered toxic if it is ineffective as well as destructive to its employees.”
Here’s what monster.com has to say about a toxic work environment:
A toxic work environment is one wherein dysfunction and drama reign, whether it’s the result of a narcissistic boss, vindictive co-workers, absence of order, et cetera.
In addition to harming your morale, this kind of climate can also be damaging to your health, says Paul White, co-author of Rising Above a Toxic Workplace. “Stress takes a toll on your body,” White says. Health problems stemming from a hostile workplace include hypertension, cardiovascular disease, and decreased mental health, and can lead to fatal conditions, research from Stanford and Harvard Universities found.
“A toxic environment keeps people in a fight or flight mindset—the constant pump of cortisol, testosterone, and norepinephrine generates physical, emotional, and mental stress,” says Cheri Torres, an Asheville, North Carolina-based business leadership coach and author of Conversations Worth Having: Using Appreciative Inquiry to Fuel Productive and Meaningful Engagement. She says you can’t do your best work when you work in a toxic workplace, and your health and well-being is at risk.
As I was researching for this episode, I saw a lot of things credited as contributing to workplace toxicity that simply aren’t. No boss, coworker, or CEO is perfect – and a boss who isn’t organized or a coworker who is chronically late doesn’t make a workplace toxic.
Here are the signs Monster gives for a toxic workplace:
You are chronically stressed out. Take this quiz to find out how stressed you are: https://www.stress.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/Workplace-Stress-Survey.pdf
You’re being overworked.
You’re being bullied.
The Workplace Bullying Institute defines bullying as “repeated mistreatment of an employee by one or more employees; abusive conduct that is threatening, humiliating, or intimidating; work sabotage; or verbal abuse.”
While 61% of bullies are bosses, 33% of bullies are peers with the same rank as their targets, and a surprising 6% of bullies are subordinates, a survey by the Workplace Bullying Institute found.
You’re a contributor to – or recipient of – office gossip.
Your boss is a hothead.
Communication is poor/nonexistent, and it is affecting your ability to do your job.
Here are additional signs from Bustle.com:
An absence of work/life balance (or, as I like to call it, work/life blend)
You are constantly getting sick.
Family and friends are noticing a difference in your character.
Your employer culture is “competitive conflict.”
Your time boundaries are not being respected. (Think “Two Weeks’ Notice”)
Your boss encourages bad/unprofessional/unethical behavior
Your gut-check tells you that your ethics and morals are eroding the longer you work there – you are losing yourself.
Here are clear-cut situations of workplace toxicity:
Illegal behaviors (stealing, cheating, misrepresenting results)
Being asked to participate in or look the other way with illegal/unethical behaviors
Workplace safety or environmental issues that aren’t addressed
Lies/undermining that are affecting your ability to do your job or get the results you are expected to achieve
So what are your options when you find yourself in a toxic work environment? There are at least three:
- Approach the perpetrator directly.
A quote from Monster: “You should be able to resolve many interpersonal problems without intervention. “Generally, your best first step is to have a gentle backstage conversation with the person who’s causing you harm,” says Sutton. But, rather than focusing on how someone’s behavior makes you feel, focus on the negative consequences of the person’s actions.”
- Confront with a team and go up the chain of command.
According to Monster: “If the direct approach is futile, you may have to get help from your superiors (assuming they’re not the problem) to resolve serious issues with co-workers. But before you request a meeting, there are a couple measures you should take.
“First, figure out if any of your peers are having similar problems. “The more fellow victims you have, the more power you have,” Sutton says. Obviously, you don’t want to bombard your co-worker; one or two representatives in addition to yourself should suffice.
“Second, gather hard evidence to prove your case. For example, if your colleague is frequently trying to sabotage your work by turning their assignments in late, compile emails that show times when this has happened and present what you have in the meeting.”
- Plan your exit strategy.
"Some companies simply have a culture of dysfunction. If the toxicity is coming from the top down, you may be better off coming up with an exit strategy,” according to Monster.
Finally, let’s talk about what doesn’t constitute workplace toxicity. These are all contextual, because if one of these non-toxic things is happening and, as a result, your health is suffering or your friends and family are noticing a negative change in you, then there is evidence that that thin is toxic FOR YOU.
What I want to make clear with these four things is that you have within your power the ability to shift your mindset around these things so that your experience at work is more positive.
This DOES NOT mean you have to stay in that job…it simply means that, while you’re still there, you can have a better experience.
You don’t want to go to work.
You aren’t as happy as work as you used to be.
You don’t feel respected.
Your point of view and ideas aren’t being heard.
What can you do in these situations? Here are my suggestions:
Do a pros/cons exercise – what reasons do you have for not wanting to go to work? Why don’t you feel as happy about work as you once did? In what ways DO you feel respected at work? When have your POV and ideas been heard at work?
Take a careful look at your cons – what shifts can you make to move some of these items out of this column? Maybe they won’t end up in the pros column, but at least you can neutralize them.
For example, if one of the reasons you don’t want to go to work is a particular co-worker’s attitude towards you, what can YOU do about that? You could schedule a time to speak one-on-one with this co-worker. If one of the reasons you aren’t as happy at work as you used to be is because you’ve been passed over for a promotion, perhaps you could meet with your boss about why you weren’t chosen and what you could do to increase your chances of success next time around.
Engage in a gratitude practice – Every morning, I write down three things I am truly grateful for, and I really FEEL that gratitude.
Mindfulness – Become more aware of when the negative thoughts are creeping in and choose to think something more positive instead. For example, if you find yourself sitting in your car in the parking lot every morning not wanting to enter the building, this is likely because you are thinking something like “I hate my job.” Once you realize this thought, you can shift your thinking to something like “I like _____ about my job.” A slight shift that can make all the difference.
Focus on what you CAN control – nothing exacerbates a feeling of powerlessness more than putting yourself in the role of victim. If you don’t feel your POV is being heard at work, how can YOU show up to meetings differently to increase your chances of being heard?
Engage in a bit of perspective-adjusting. We tend to think the grass is always greener over there…but it often isn’t. If you choose to go elsewhere, keep in mind that there may be similar problems there…or even worse ones. Is what you have REALLY that bad?
Are you in the wrong job that chips away at you every day? The CareerSpring coaching program will help you find a job that uses your zone of genius, recognizes your value, and pays you what you’re worth.
Schedule a complimentary consult to learn more: https://calendly.com/lesaedwards/zoom-meetings2
178: Sorry Not Sorry! How to stop apologizing at work and adopt a leadership communication style (with Jen Ngozi)
168: Three Clues From Your Past That Can Help You Uncover Your Dream Career (with Laura Berman Fortgang)
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