Toxic work situations and how to deal with them


Toxic workplaces are like slow poison being drip-fed into employees’ self-esteem, confidence & identity daily. A toxic workplace atmosphere is continuously filled with negativity and politics. A workplace is made toxic by individuals at any level of the organization. Business owners, managers, employees, and support staff can participate in turning the atmosphere negative.

The unpleasant experience in most cases leads to stressed, anxious, and gloomy employees. Other dangers of a toxic workplace are that it wears out an organization by crippling the workforce, reducing productivity, and kills creativity. In the long run, the toxicity becomes costly to both the organization and the employee.  For the organization, there is the loss of revenue, increased cost of hiring and training new staff, and settlement costs for former disgruntled employees all of which eat into the company’s revenue and profits. For employees, the cost of seeing a therapist robs them of money that could otherwise be used elsewhere and time taken to recover and the process of getting a new job leaves them emotionally drained. How then do you know you are in a toxic workspace? below are some solid indicators that you are in a toxic workplace and ways you can handle the different situations and get through them relatively unscathed.   

  1. Bad Leadership

Bad leaders tend to be arrogant, they don’t value employees’  ideas or input, are demeaning, controlling, and are notorious for setting unrealistic and unfair targets. They feel untouchable due to the influence and power they hold within the organization. Toxic leaders have been known to destroy people as well as organizations. Here are the five common types of toxic leaders found in many organizations today;

  • The glory seeker: Prioritizes personal glory and public visibility over anything else.
  • The snake: Manipulates people and situations to satisfy their personal needs such as status and power. They view the world and everything in it and objects meant to serve them.
  • The puppet master: Love to be in control of everything and everyone at any given point in time.
  • The monarch: Govern as if they are ruling their mini kingdom. Every person and the organizational assets have to always available for their personal use. 
  • The GoldFish: Focuses only on the end result. Their daily mantra is the end justifies the means.

To deal with such leaders, let your emotional Intelligence be the antidote to the boss’s toxicity.  Tap on the relationship management strength on EI and there you will have the support of others taking the brunt of the toxicity and find ways to improve daily realities at the workplace. The self-management aspect of EI will also help you learn not to get triggered by the leader’s action. It also helps one not to take everything the leader says or does personally.  Documenting every communication is highly recommended while dealing with a toxic boss, Remember they are always right and you never know when you might leverage the data to support future decisions. In the long run, if the toxicity increases, it might be time to address the leader’s toxicity with the relevant people or start preparing to exit.

2. A narcissist in the Workplace

Co-workers can also make a workplace toxic. They can make every day at the workplace such a challenge. Narcissism at work can be spotted in colleagues who; make team decisions without consulting anyone, enjoy being the center of attention, lie to get what they want, are jealous, and do not take responsibility for their actions among many other traits.

To deal with such character, you first need to understand that you cannot change such individuals. Intense therapy is needed to change the perception that fellow employees exist to dance to their tune. Accept the fact that you will never get an apology from such individuals. If you want something from such colleagues, be ready to appeal to their desire to look good and powerful before others. Just like in toxic bosses, with narcissistic colleagues, let any communication with them be in writing and always be professional with them to avoid getting into their trap. Overall, Set boundaries and be clear about your values and rights ensuring you do not give in to their behavior.

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3. Lack of a work-life balance

If your professional life encroaches upon your private life to a point where personal relationships are being diminished or putting your health at risk, You are in a toxic situation.  Having a professional life does not mean answering emails at night or missing doctor’s appointments. I have heard of employees afraid to take earned leave days because it shows they are not committed to their work or are just afraid to fall behind on their work. Worse even others fear losing their jobs. Such toxicity should not exist in a modern workplace. Boundaries need to be set early on. If a job requires you to be answering phone calls at ten in the evening or report to work on Saturdays, address the issue as early as during the contract signing period.  If already in this toxic situation,  visit the HR office to find out the number of leave owed and do not be afraid to ask for some time off.  A single day off might just be what your body needs to refuel.

However, It is important to note that there is no perfect work-life balance in the modern day where many individuals have two or three jobs to improve their financial situations. Prioritizing and constantly assessing one’s goals is highly recommended. Do not look to attaining a perfect schedule for the many activities on your to-do list. Strive for a realistic one.

4. Stifled growth

Workplaces that fail to support their employee’s personal growth and instead narrow their career path might be toxic. It is every employee’s desire that they grow in their career in terms of their responsibilities, salary, and portfolio budget. However, there are cases where an individual has been doing the same thing for the last five years. Their work-life can be described and unchallenging, unrewarding, and boring. This can be because due to a lack of growth and mentorship opportunities in the workplace, lack of feedback, or the employee having an attitude of complacency.

To deal with this toxicity, employees should understand that they are in charge of their own career development. If feedback about your performance is not being offered, consult a career counselor. Actively look out for growth opportunities and mentorship programs if they are not offered within the organization. Every once in a while pop in the HR office and inquire about open opportunities. Be proactive and take charge of your career journey and if after that you still feel stifled, it might be time to move on to something else.

Anything that costs you your peace is too expensive. – Anonymous

5. Poor Communication

Bad communication in the workplace breeds toxicity. Bad communication can be in the form of little or no feedback given, intimidation, constant harsh, negative, and non-constructive criticism on employees’ work and ideas. In return, it leaves employees frustrated, demotivated, and confused as they feel unheard.

Some of the ways bad communication can be fixed include; taking action and actively seeking feedback where needed. If your immediate supervisor or teammate is not willing to, get another person to do it. On a personal level, thinking about what you want to say before saying and reviewing email, texts and other written material goes a long way in improving the communication culture. Ensure you leave no room for misunderstanding or confusion. To crown your communication effort, be a good listener, it is the golden rule in communication.

6. Different rules for different people

I have worked in an office where we had different rules for different employees. There were colleagues who were supposed to report to work strictly at nine while the ones who had a close and personal relationship with the boss were free to report at any time. When a company treats people at the same level with different standards, it is recipe for disaster. It creates room for negativity, lowers morale, and might have legal implications in the long run. The preferential treatment given to a group of employees and not to others amounts to a form of discrimination.

This can be best managed by having policies in place that are against any form of discrimination. All employees should also strive to behave in a professional manner at all times. Favoritism stems from unprofessionalism thus a need to nurture a professional workplace culture. Reporting favoritism confidentially can also help stop it. Many employees fear reporting as it is mostly done by those that hold some sort of power. It can be done anonymously because if it goes unchecked, it will continue to make the workplace toxic.

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7. Rampant office politics and gossip

When politics and gossip are the standard forms of workplace currency, you definitely are in a toxic zone. The sad fact is no office is immune to these two vices. Office politics comes in the form of backstabbing, unhealthy competition, spreading malicious rumors, and sucking up to the bosses. Gossip is simply talking about your colleagues behind their back. 

To rise above these common office vices, practice kindness. Treating all coworkers in a respectful manner leaves no room for petty politics and any form of unprofessionalism. Creating boundaries also goes a long way in dealing with these toxicities. Do not be scared to stop a rumor when it gets to you. Remember gossip doesn’t just put the other person in a bad light, it also reflects negatively on your personality. Do not be afraid to stand up for yourself especially when tables have been turned against you. Get to the bottom of things, establish facts and stand up for yourself.

8. Presence of Unethical behavior 

There are workplaces where coworkers or even bosses may ask you to cover a lie for them. Others might even go to the extent of asking you to do illegal things such as falsifying data, reports, or documents. When dealing with such unethical behavior in the workplace, do not take any action without evidence. Get to know all the facts on the particular issue and where possible get to have witnesses to it. With all the evidence gathered, report the issue to a person in authority.

Be sure to follow company procedures as stipulated in the employee handbook. There is always a clause on how to handle or to report unethical behavior. Also, consider your personal values and if an action goes against your belief and value system, consider switching departments or find another job. If the unethical behavior breaks the law of the land, consider getting a lawyer to guide you on how to blow the whistle and be protected from those you are going against.

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