You started your job motivated and ready for opportunities to use your knowledge and skills in a collegial environment.
So, how did you end up so disillusioned, stressed out, cynical and depressed?
Perhaps you are wondering, “Why am I and so many co-workers in a bad mood so often?”
It probably feels like fear and distrust seem to permeate the organisation!
The answer is that your workplace is toxic, and on a day-to-day basis, it’s putting your mental and physical health at risk.
How a Toxic Workplace Develops
Common reasons for a toxic workplace developing include: poor management practices; increased economic stress; poorly utilised funding; widespread personal agendas; ongoing conflicts; and the inevitability of people bringing their unresolved emotional issues to work.
Further, workplaces are not immune from the larger society – where healthy values such as community, cooperation, loyalty, introspection, humanism, and spirituality have been replaced by intolerant and soulless materialism, status seeking, egocentrism, exploitation, and aggression.
Many workplaces are embracing unhealthy values, that is, values that disregard human welfare in the pursuit of organisational goals. Like dysfunctional families, such workplaces are defined by three primary characteristics: 1.) Chaos that results from poor decision-making; 2.) High levels of stress (disease) and dissatisfaction; and 3.) Lack of support.
In short, they are “toxic” (harmful, destructive, or even deadly) to employees and their families, society … and especially to themselves.
Characteristics of a Toxic Workplace
If you are an employee in a toxic workplace, you will recognise some – if not all – of the following characteristics (NB all signs need not be present for it to be a toxic environment).
- Chronic High Stress – The work is intense on a fairly ongoing basis with few periods of “downtime” to recover. Or, there is a culture of fear or bullying that contributes to chronic high stress.
- Low Morale – You and many other employees are in a bad mood frequently. There’s little enthusiasm or joy.
- Lack of Work-Life Balance – The organisation wants to own you. You regularly work more than 40 hours per week and work cuts into your other commitments. You’re forced to choose between having a life and having your job. Your employer really doesn’t view you as a human being but as a factor of productivity.
- Increased Physical and Emotional Illness – You and your coworkers develop stress-related physical and/or emotional illnesses. These illnesses can run the gamut from musculoskeletal problems, gastrointestinal upsets, anxiety and depression, to autoimmune diseases, cardiovascular disease, and even cancer.
- Unrealistic Expectations – You’re put in a situation that sets you up to fail and burn out. The workload and expectations are unreasonable for one human being, but nobody seems to care.
- Lack of Loyalty – On your first day at work, you sign an at-will employment contract that gives the organisation the right to fire you at any time for any reason. You’ve effectively just been told that you don’t have a permanent relationship with your employer, which sets the stage for a relationship built on lack of loyalty and trust.
- Immature Leadership – Toxic workplaces are fuelled by immature, dysfunctional leaders. Such leaders share some of the following characteristics:
- Coldness and emotional distance or, excessive emotionality and reactivity;
- Unreasonable expectations for productivity and goals;
- Conflict avoidance;
- Unwillingness to listen to others;
- Lack of empathy and support (ie expects employees to come to work even when ill);
- Poor communication;
- High aggression, intimidation or bullying – instilling fear in others;
- Lack of morality – the leader’s or organisation’s goals are sought at the expense of human welfare and decency;
- Hypocritical – doesn’t walk the talk. For example, says s/he embraces “teamwork,” “good communication,” “trust,” etc, but displays behaviour that contradicts this.
- Pervasive Poor Communication – You don’t get much feedback on your performance, you get only negative feedback, or you’re left out of the loop and don’t know what’s going on.
- Scape-goating – Mistakes are explained by blaming others. Employees are belittled; high performers are criticised for incompetence, and employees that leave are blamed for poor performance. Bullying leaders are tolerated and even admired. The Human Resource Department may even be intimidated by the bully or lacks expertise on how to deal with the situation.
- Dysfunctional Relationships – There are widespread dysfunctional dynamics such as:
- Cliquishness, “insiders and outsiders” rather than unification and teamwork;
- Insincere communication;
- Long-term grudge-holding;
- Back-biting and pitting coworkers against each other;
- Criticism before curiosity.
The Impact of a Toxic Workplace
There are three critical results of toxic workplaces:
- Poor work performance – toxic workplaces decrease individual and group morale, leading to decreased achievement.
- Employee health issues (for those who stay) – toxic workplaces increase the risk of depression, stress, anxiety and other mental health issues.
- The loss of the most talented employees – those who have talent and recognise the impact of a toxic environment soon leave for other, more positive, opportunities.
In today’s uncertain job market, not many people in such an extreme toxic work environment are willing to quit their job before having secured a new one. Most of us will have the occasion to deal with some level of toxicity in the workplace, and could benefit from a few tips on how to cope with it when it occurs.
For help in moving forward – whether to manage yourself in the environment, or transition out of the workplace – make an appointment with a psychologist. With the help of counselling from a psychologist, personal understanding and growth will enable assertive workplace behaviours, and help you to make positive career decisions.
Author: Trudy Sheffield, B Beh Sc (1st Class Hons).
Trudy Sheffield is a passionate and motivated psychologist, who works to develop people to find solutions to life disturbances and live to their potential. Trudy has worked in both the public and private sectors, and understands the impact of toxic workplaces and workplace relationships.
To make an appointment with Brisbane Psychologist Trudy Sheffield, freecall 1800 877 924 or book online today!