If you’ve experienced a toxic workplace, then you’re probably familiar with the feelings of negativity, stress, and conflict that can come with it. Your boss is micromanaging and demanding and you’re constantly feeling stressed and anxious. You’re starting to dread going to work, and you’re wondering if this is really the job for you.
Whatever form it takes, the impact of a toxic workplace on employees can be devastating, and it’s not always easy to recognise when you’re in one.
I used to think unkind, demeaning, and demoralising treatment at work was normal – simply a fact of life. While I was in the thick of it, I didn’t recognise I was in a toxic workplace. All I knew was I was unhappy. And sure, I would complain to my family and friends, but I didn’t do anything about it.
Unfortunately, in a toxic workplace, it’s easy to feel powerless. We might think that speaking up will only make things worse, or that we’ll be seen as difficult or whiny. Perhaps we just don’t believe in ourselves or that we can make a difference.
We often have more power than we realise
The hard truth is, oftentimes the very people who are suffering the most are the ones who could make a difference: Us.
In fact, we may inadvertently be contributing to the toxic workplace culture without even realising it. This can happen in a number of ways, such as through our silence, inaction, mimicking unacceptable behavior, gossiping and spreading rumours, or being negative and complaining.
How could you be contributing to a toxic workplace culture?
1. Through silence and inaction
I’ve learned, from personal experience, that silence can be complicity. By not speaking up, we’re condoning the toxic behaviour and allowing it to continue. That’s not fair to ourselves or our coworkers.
In fact, we might see a coworker being mistreated and remain silent, and then be surprised when that mistreatment is directed at us. It’s often not until we are personally affected that we wish we had spoken up.
But I urge you to stand up for yourself and your coworkers. It’s the only way to make things better. Silence and inaction can be just as damaging as active participation in toxic behavior.
2. Mimicking unacceptable behaviour
Another way we might inadvertently contribute to a toxic workplace is by mimicking the same unacceptable behavior we’ve seen or experienced ourselves.
If we’ve been micromanaged in the past, we might be more likely to micromanage our own team when we become managers. Or if we’ve been belittled by a supervisor, we might respond by belittling our own subordinates.
It’s a consequence of learned behaviour and it’s something I’ve been guilty of too.
3. Gossiping and spreading rumors
Gossiping and spreading rumors is also a destructive behavior that can have a negative impact on the workplace. This can damage a person’s reputation and make it difficult for them to trust others. It can also create a hostile work environment where people are afraid to speak up or share ideas, which can make it difficult to get work done.
4. Being negative and complaining
When we are constantly negative, we are bringing down the morale of our coworkers and making it difficult to stay motivated and focus on our work. It has the potential to lead to conflict and tension between coworkers.
Hopefully, if this hits a chord with you, it will help you to be better, to be kinder and to be part of the solution rather than being complicit in a vicious cycle of abuse that fosters a toxic workplace culture.
So, what can we do to be part of the solution rather than the problem?
If we want to create a more positive and productive work environment, we need to start by taking a look at ourselves and our own behavior.
If you’re reading this, you may already have an idea that something is not right. Recognising that you are in a toxic workplace and acknowledging your role in standing up against it is the first step.
Once you’ve recognised that you’re in a toxic workplace, you need to decide what you want to do about it. If the toxicity is too much and you’re able to, you may want to consider leaving your job. A toxic workplace is not worth your health or your happiness.
However, if you’re not ready to leave, or this is not an option, here are 7 things you can do to improve the situation:
- Speak up when you see something wrong
- Set boundaries and stick to them
- Don’t entertain gossip or spread rumors
- Take care of yourself
- Find a support system
- Be positive and supportive
- Identify and confront your own negative behaviours and make a conscious effort to change
1. Speak up when you see something wrong
Don’t be afraid to stand up for yourself or for your co-workers. It’s not easy, and it might not be well-received. But, by respectfully calling out toxic behaviour, we can help to create a culture where that behaviour is no longer acceptable.
This might mean speaking up to a co-worker, a supervisor, your boss, HR or even a customer.
2. Set boundaries and stick to them
Don’t let the toxic people walk all over you. Don’t let your boss bully you. If anyone makes unreasonable demands, stand up for yourself. And don’t be afraid to speak up if you are mistreated or you see someone being mistreated.
3. Don’t entertain gossip or spread rumors
Gossiping and spreading rumors only creates a more toxic environment. Don’t let your co-workers drag you into their drama. If they start gossiping or complaining, politely excuse yourself.
If you have something to say, say it to the person directly. Don’t talk about them behind their back. If it’s not something you’re prepared to say to them directly, then perhaps you shouldn’t be saying it at all.
4. Take care of yourself
A toxic workplace can be draining and take a toll on your mental, physical and emotional health. You should not be sacrificing your own self-care for the sake of your work. Make sure to take care of yourself by getting enough sleep, exercising regularly, and eating healthy foods.
And find healthy ways to cope with stress, such as yoga, meditation, practicing mindfulness and self-reflection, tapping (Emotional Freedom Technique), or spending time with loved ones.
Whatever it is, we need to make sure that we are taking care of ourselves so that we can continue to advocate for positive change.
5. Find a support system
This might mean talking to your friends or family about what you’re going through. Or it may require intentional self-reflection and perhaps speaking with a therapist or counsellor to help you cope with any lingering trauma from past experiences.
Having a support system can help you cope with the stress of a toxic workplace.
6. Be positive and supportive
Try to focus on the positive aspects of your job and your co-workers. Be supportive of your co-workers and help them when they need it. If you see a co-worker being mistreated, speak up on their behalf.
You can support your coworkers in a number of ways, from privately checking in with them to offering to accompany them to speak with a supervisor.
By standing up for each other, we can build a culture of respect and support. A cheerful outlook can go a long way in creating a more positive work environment.
7. Identify and confront your own negative behaviours and make a conscious effort to change
To avoid contributing to the toxic environment, we need to be more mindful and aware of our actions and behaviors and how it might be contributing to a toxic workplace. It’s also important to hold ourselves accountable for our actions and own up to any toxic behaviors we might be engaging in. Only then can we begin to make positive changes for ourselves and for the people we work with.
We must make a conscious effort to break the cycle and learn new, better ways to communicate with our co-workers.
Pay attention to how you communicate with your co-workers:
If you’re constantly gossiping and complaining, you’re creating a negative atmosphere that can make it difficult for others to do their jobs. If you’re micromanaging or demanding, you’re creating stress and anxiety for your team members.
Where you’re guilty of any of these behaviors, it’s important to take steps to change them. When you find yourself gossiping, complaining or micromanaging others, take a step back and ask yourself if it is really necessary? Why are you doing it? Are you feeling insecure? Are you unhappy with your job? Are you trying to fit in with a group of people who are also negative and complaining? Are you being critical or demanding?
Understanding the reason behind your behaviour enables you to start to make changes:
If you’re feeling insecure, try to focus on your strengths and accomplishments. If you’re unhappy with your job, start looking for a new one. If you’re trying to fit in with a group of people who are negative and complaining, try to find a different group of people to hang out with. And if you’re being critical or demanding, try to find more constructive ways to express yourself.
Once you’re aware of your negative behaviour, you can work to identify what triggers it:
Are you more likely to gossip or complain when you’re stressed, tired, or feeling overwhelmed? And once you know your triggers, you can start to develop strategies for dealing with them in a more effective way.
We all have a role to play in creating a positive work environment. By being conscious of our own behavior and making an effort to be more positive and supportive, we can all help to create a more productive and enjoyable workspace for everyone.
Where we begin to recognise that it’s us that are treating others unfairly or unkindly, it’s important to acknowledge that this behavior is not excusable, even if it stems from our own experiences of mistreatment. We may have internalised the idea that this is how people in power should behave, but the reality is that there is no excuse for disrespecting others. By mimicking this behavior, we not only perpetuate the cycle of toxicity, but also create an unhealthy work environment where people might be too intimidated to speak up.
Toxic workplaces are a problem that affects us all.
But by understanding how our own actions can contribute to a toxic workplace, we can take steps to break the cycle and create a better work environment for ourselves and those around us.
By making an effort to be more positive and supportive, holding ourselves accountable, learning new ways to communicate, being mindful of our past experiences or by speaking up, supporting each other, and practicing self-care, we can contribute to the solution in dismantling toxic work culture rather than being part of the problem.
I’d like to encourage you to commit to creating a culture of respect, kindness, and accountability in your workplace. Speak up if you see something you disagree with to help create a more productive and enjoyable work environment for everyone. You have the power to change the situation.