Signs of a Toxic Workplace

Is Your Workplace Toxic?

Kathy Simpson

We spend so much of our lives on the job, it should be a fun and rewarding place to be. Yet toxic behaviors are on the rise in the American workplace, and they’re taking a toll on employees and the companies they work for.

What are the signs?

While some stress on the job is normal, an atmosphere of ongoing tension and negativity can be draining and ultimately unhealthy. Signs that your workplace may be erring on the side of toxicity include:

  1. Rude behavior and emotional instability among supervisors and employees
  2. Low morale, grumbling and complaining
  3. A decline in employee performance and commitment
  4. A rise in stress-related health issues among employees
  5. High rates of absenteeism and turnover
  6. Cliques and favoritism
  7. Lack of communication

Could you be the cause?

According to the Workplace Bullying Survey, bosses make up the majority of bullies in the American workplace, and they may not even realize the harm they’re causing. The first step to restoring health to your organization is to check in with yourself. Do you:

  1. Feel you need to control people and outcomes?
  2. Think you have high standards and others don’t measure up?
  3. Feel misunderstood?
  4. Put your own contributions above those of others?
  5. Act out of anger or frustration rather than discuss problems?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, you may be alienating your employees. Take some time to honestly evaluate your behavior and take responsibility with any harm you may have caused. Apologies can go a long way, but it’s easy to fall back into old habits. Professional coaching can help you understand the causes and make more permanent changes.

How to cultivate a healthy workplace

Give and get feedback. Conduct a workplace survey to get a reality check from employees. Exit interviews with departing employees can be another source of insight. Also be sure to give your employees feedback regularly – as it’s needed and warranted, and through more formal performance reviews.

Communicate. Be forthcoming and transparent. Share company goals and objectives and keep employees updated on their status. Maintain an open door policy for employees to raise questions and surface concerns.

Cultivate a community-oriented workplace. Encourage collaboration and positive interactions that support employees and bring out their best. Have team gatherings to build camaraderie.

Accentuate the positive. Recognize employees for their accomplishments. Encourage their input and creativity, and support them in achieving goals. Celebrate accomplishments and reward good behavior.

Eliminate the negative. Discourage gossip and cliques, and eliminate favoritism. Apply the same standards to everyone. Intervene on negative behavior and hold those involved accountable.

Set a good example. Treat your employees with respect. Follow through on promises, listen and express your appreciation. Take responsibility when problems arise and help get things back on track, tackling the issues, not your people.

Next Steps:  Imagine a world where your employees show up on time, work smart and deliver results for your small business day in and day out. Not there yet? Sign up for the weekly Small Biz Ahead Newsletter and we’ll send you the best science-backed strategies on managing productive, happy employees—including tips on how to get them to show up on time!

10 Responses to "Is Your Workplace Toxic?"
    • Rosie | February 27, 2020 at 2:08 pm

      I love your articles and I learn a lot from them. I am a new business owner and any positive information is always good.
      I make sure to let my employees know how much I appreciate their hard work, I red this somewhere and it is true “Take care of your employees and they will take care of your business”
      Keep up the work work!

      • Chloe Silverman | February 27, 2020 at 2:57 pm

        Hi Rosie! Congratulations on the new business! Thank you for reading SBA.

    • Maureen | August 9, 2019 at 1:03 pm

      Thank you, you have a positive attitude, I’ll pass this train of thought to my employees!

      • Chloe Silverman | August 9, 2019 at 1:57 pm

        Thank you for sharing, Maureen!

    • Jovianne Osuch | August 8, 2019 at 2:27 pm

      Your article is something we can address in all walks of life and in our culture in general. In reading the commentaries I realize that…although we cannot control others’ behaviors; we can control our own. We need to develop a “Culture of Honor”, treating one another out of respect with consideration; honoring others just because they breathe the same air. Of course we are different; coming from such a wide variety of upbringing, even from one generation to the next. Perhaps having a class in “honoring” one another could raise awareness and serve to remedy some of the toxic behavior. By the way, toxic behavior usually stems from insecurity. I have noticed that my health and well being is so much better when I don’t engage toxic behaviors…and I am sure workplace production would improve where the toxic behaviors cease. I am truly fortunate to work in an office where we support one another. Jovianne Osuch

    • Maureen Anderson | August 7, 2019 at 12:19 pm

      Our negativity is different as we share a building with 2 other retail spaces. Our employees seam to feel beaten down or stressed by the other workers in the other connected stores. We cannot control what the others are saying or how they act towards us. This is a daily tiring situation which we have not figured out how to change the actions of others. 2 good employees have quit because of this situation. Looking for advise.

    • Corinne Fields | August 7, 2019 at 9:52 am

      This was a great and very informative article. It’s very easy to lose focus and get off-track which can lead to miscommunication and causing unneeded frustration. I have learned a great deal from this article and can see how I can better effect change and become a effective employee and open communicator.

      • Chloe Silverman | August 7, 2019 at 2:56 pm

        Thank you for your feedback, Corinne. So glad you found this article helpful!

    • Martha | August 7, 2019 at 8:20 am

      One item you don’t mention – if an employee says something about another employee, don’t run to the other employee(s) and say “X said” and give the name of the commenter. That’s what happens here, instead of addressing the complaint.
      The issue is never addressed, the person is enabled to continue, the commenter is shunned, and instead of being a management issue, the commenter is to blame – for having brought it up. The workplace becomes toxic because management refuses to address employee bullying, and the bullying continues.
      Want to know why your employees don’t get along? Ask yourself who is the common denominator (stop blaming the others) – and check the mirror first.

      • Chloe Silverman | August 7, 2019 at 9:52 am

        Thank you for the feedback, Martha!

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