Is Your Workplace a Toxic Environment?

Not everyone is fortunate enough to say that they absolutely love their jobs or the company they work for.  More often than not—barring outright hatred— it’s just a relative indifference toward their work that usually manifests itself in the shrug of the shoulders and a statement to the effect that it pays the bills.  Unfortunately many people find themselves in what can be considered a toxic work environment which can affect your health, both physical and mental, and most definitely your job performance.

One could define a toxic workplace as an environment where there is ‘total focus on the bottom line and its leadership has forgotten that though the bottom line is important, far more important is our humanity, our humanness, our spirit as individuals and as a collective.  It is a workplace that has not learned to balance the need for profits with concern about the heart and soul of its people.’

This definition hits all the broad points that are characteristic of a toxic workplace, and neatly summarizes the concept.  Here are some specific things to look out for if you suspect your workplace is heading down this road:

  • Low morale among the workforce.
  • Management disconnected from lower, and front-line workers.  Many times visible in a harsh, uncaring attitude about workers’ thoughts, concerns and well-being.
  • Little or poor communication at all levels of the organization.  The blame for this usually falls upon the employees with accusations of failing to do the job and/or misunderstanding instructions, which in reality, were not properly given in the first place.
  • Constantly running in crisis mode.  Something is obviously wrong if there is an ever present crisis, but no steps are taken to find out why that may be.
  • Uncaring attitude in workers for the quality of the work and no attempts by management to improve this situation or engage the employees in helping to do so.
  • Little or no recognition for employees work regardless of level of commitment.
  • Management unaware and/or unwilling to accept responsibility for their part in creating and maintaining the problem.

A toxic work environment can arise anywhere really, and these tough economic times probably make it easier.  But how do you deal with it should you find yourself in the midst of one?

Depending on who is contributing to the problem, a first step might be to talk to that individual directly and resolve the situation together.  This suggestion is given by author Linnda Durré in her new book Surviving in the Toxic Workplace which was published in January.  The book is filled with ideas on how to deal with a toxic workplace and its denizens.  Durré also advises not simply accepting the situation, but to be proactive and take action.

Of course, if the direct approach doesn’t work, you might have to have a serious discussion with your boss about the problem.  And if your boss is part of the problem then HR might be your next bet.  The point is to at least try something before resorting to the final solution of leaving the job for greener and more pleasant pastures.

It may be however, that leaving is in the end your only option.  A toxic work environment can be tough on the mind, body and soul.  If you have any horror stories to share about an experience in a toxic workplace, or ideas on how to deal with one, let us know!


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