Toxic Work Culture and Ways to Deal with It
Most of us remember that one job we had where everyone around us was absolutely awful and made us feel worthless. For some, that may even be the current job.
The good news is that there are some effective ways to deal with toxic work culture, overcome the obstacles it poses and come out stronger on the other side. Read this article to find out what they are and explore the major signs of every toxic work environment.
Why Is Toxic Work Culture a Bad Thing?
Being in a toxic workspace has consequences that go far beyond reduced productivity or end-of-day stress. The American Psychological Association and Sweden’s Lund University have research showing negative work environments can contribute to:
- Substance abuse,
- And a myriad of health issues.
Three Ways to Identify a Toxic Workplace
#1 Fear of failure
There’s nothing out of the ordinary about being afraid to fail in a workplace setting. We’ve never seen someone who was excited whenever they failed or even hoping to do so. However, it’s important to differentiate between normal fear and paralyzing dread.
If your reason for fearing failure is the risk of getting yelled at, publicly humiliated, and gossiped about behind your back, then these are all telltale signs that you’re in a toxic workplace. We’re not saying that performance management shouldn’t exist — after all, it’s a crucial part of running a business. However, employees should have the freedom to make a few mistakes along the way since the best way to learn is by doing.
#2 Lack of appreciation
Another red flag of toxic work culture would be a lack of appreciation. Bosses and colleagues who never seem satisfied with your work can really take a toll on your motivation to keep trying your best. Furthermore, some bosses intentionally underappreciate those they identify as hard workers because they know it’s in these people’s nature to work even harder if they feel like their initial triumphs haven’t been recognized.
This predatory mindset is especially effective towards those in entry-level positions or people with low job security. If a manager is constantly downplaying the amount of effort an employee invests in work, their desire to excel diminishes.
#3 Confused responsibilities
If no one in your office is clear on their roles and responsibilities, it can actually be an indicator of toxic work culture. Some employers leave the scope of work vague on purpose to get employees to do things that simply aren’t a part of their job.
This lack of clarity can cause dysfunction, confusion, and power struggles since nobody has a definitive answer on who’s supposed to be doing what. It’s worth noting that some employers also stumble into this situation by accident, but the results tend to be the same.
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How Can Managers Make Their Work Culture Less Toxic?
#1 Team building
Organizing team building exercises can be one method of proactively dealing with the toxic work culture. Here’s why:
In many cases, toxicity develops out of a workplace consisting of cliques. Thus, by putting employees in a situation where everyone gets to interact with one another, you’ll increase the level of understanding and mutual respect across the team.
Besides, some team building activities are specifically designed to target particular problems. For instance, employees that struggle to collaborate on important client projects may find improvement while working together in an escape room. Solving puzzles to get out in time will require communication and teamwork.
It’s essential for a manager to take care of toxic employees through appropriate means. You don’t want to yell at them in the middle of the office since such behavior only sets a bad example for how to deal with disagreement.
Instead, the best way to de-escalate would be to talk to the person causing the problem in a private setting. Try to understand what’s causing their behavior so you know what the root issue is. Is it their workload, personal life, another employee?
Lastly, be sure you give specific recommendations to let employees know what’s being asked of them. General statements like “avoid future incidents” or “work on your behavior” are far less effective at changing workplace attitudes than a detailed plan of action.
#3 Avoid micromanagement
If you try to control every step your team members take, you show distrust in their skills and degrade their sense of worth. Instead of micromanaging employees, set clear performance expectations, allocate tasks to the right talents and invest in staff development.
Besides, use progress tracking systems that don’t invade your team members’ personal space and don’t spy on them during their working hours.
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Tips for Employees on How to Deal with a Toxic Work Culture
#1 Don’t stoop down
If one of your colleagues is being petty, the last thing you want to do is stoop down to their level. For coworkers who seek to aggravate, confrontation is exactly what they wish. So, you would essentially be rewarding their bad behavior by engaging in an open conflict with them.
In the same way, don’t join in when these toxic colleagues are bad-mouthing others. This will reinforce their belief that speaking ill about teammates will help make them the center of attention.
Refusing to take part in their inappropriate conduct will at best make them realize that they’re not being nice or at the very least lead them to find a more receptive audience — meaning you can finally get back to work.
#2 Find positive coworkers
Adding onto the previous tip, you should find coworkers with a positive attitude and spend most of your break time with them. This will cancel out the negativity that your toxic colleagues try to inject into your day and overall improve your work experience.
It can be easy to feel like the entire office is a cesspool of villains, but there is a chance that at least a few people in your workplace are decent human beings. If you hear gossip about a coworker going through a tough time then, instead of joining in, why not see how they’re doing.
Being there for people in their time of need can mean a great deal to them and it will also increase the odds that they’ll be there for you when you’re facing a rough period. It’s all about mutual respect and support.
#3 Leave your job
Let’s not forget that you always have the option to leave your job. Unlike a prison where you’re stuck with the people around you, jobs give you the option of resigning and finding a better place to work at.
We know it might be hard to make such a drastic change, especially for those who rely on their job as their sole source of income. That said, you’re more likely to succeed and achieve financial independence if you’re working for a company that makes you feel fulfilled.
Another approach would be to save up an emergency fund while you’re working at the toxic workplace so you have a monetary cushion that will sustain you after you resign. Investing in secondary income streams will also make the transition less difficult.
Toxic work culture is detrimental to employee well-being and team productivity. Thus, anyone who wants to be successful and meet their goals without a hitch should strive to avoid it at all costs.
Both employees and employers need to remember that a toxic workplace isn’t some unbeatable final boss that will chase a person around for life. If you treat your staff poorly and don’t pay attention to the conflicts they have, you are bound to face a high staff turnover rate and bear all the inherent costs.
So, identify the problems that ruin your work environment and create a plan to overcome the challenges it sends. And of course, be sure to use the tips from this post to make that happen!