Is Your Workplace Becoming More Toxic?

February 1, 2021 9:00 am Published by
Do you need help with your toxic workplace?

During the challenging times of COVID-19, and working from home (WFH), it has been difficult to keep connected with your colleagues. In addition to not seeing one another regularly, numerous adjustments have had to be made regarding how to conduct meetings, effective ways of communicating, and decision-making processes – all of which have contributed to the complexity of working together.

When you add the stressors we have to cope with from outside of work – health concerns for ourselves and our family, childcare issues, the ever changing landscape of schooling, restrictions on travel, inability to visit family members in senior care settings – the combined amount of emotional demands we are facing is daunting.

The result? Circumstances are ripe for toxic interactions and conditions to develop and grow in our work communities. Consider these factors: unpredictability, ongoing changes in daily life activities and schedules, the absence of rejuvenating leisure activities, diminished social support, increased stress at home, financial stressors (both for the organization and individually), fewer in-person interactions with colleagues, an overall sense of disconnectedness, and a pervasive sense of threat to our well-being. I could hardly design a more compatible environment for unhealthy interactions and reactions to develop.

Why? Increased demands + fewer coping resources + constant change + anxiety = high risk of unhealthy actions and responses. If you and your organization aren’t paying attention to these factors and working on maintaining (or building) positive, supportive relationships among your team members, you are at risk for sliding into a harmful workplace culture. The practical results of an unhealthy (and potentially, toxic) workplace are significant:

  • team members become discouraged (and eventually, burn out)
  • reduced productivity
  • an upsurge in errors and costly mistakes due to ineffective communication and poor implementation
  • increased grumbling, complaining and overall negativity
  • an escalation in tension and conflicts (typically, over “little things”)
  • employees turning to unhealthy coping responses to deal with the stress they are experiencing (drug and alcohol use, calling in sick more often, showing up late, not following through on commitments made, engaging in more off-task online activities).

What are the Early Warning Signs & Symptoms of Increased Toxicity?

Many of the symptoms of an unhealthy workplace are subtle in nature and grow gradually (almost imperceptibly) until you or someone else “wakes up” and notices: “Hey, we aren’t functioning in the healthy ways like we used to.” It would be wise to take a moment to reflect and get input from other team members on the following list of behaviors. Are you seeing these more often than you did a year ago? (NOTE: you won’t see them unless you take some time to observe, reflect and scrutinize – especially since much of the interaction between team members is not in plain sight.)

  • Irritability (less patience with one another)
  • Blaming, making excuses when errors occur
  • Lack of energy and/or apathy (not caring as much)
  • Complaining, passive aggressiveness, gossiping
  • Overall negativity and pessimism
  • Poorer follow through on commitments

Concern for the Future           

As a professional who specializes in workplace culture and work-based relationships, I’m highly concerned for many organizations who have moved primarily to using remote, off-site employees – and especially for those who intend to do so permanently. It is not that having remote employees is inherently unhealthy. Rather, my anxiety stems from the lack of attention and focus to the interpersonal nature of working together while physically apart and the overall emotional stressors employees are experiencing. Continuing to try to function as we did prior to COVID-19, without making necessary adjustments, will result in unnecessary damage to our organizations and the individuals who comprise them.

What to Do?

  1. Do an assessment of your workplace culture and employee behaviors. To what degree are you seeing warning signs of toxicity?
  2. Take proactive steps to build connectivity at a personal level between your team members. They need one another to survive the challenges they are facing.
  3. Explore resources we’ve developed to understand and combat toxicity in your workplace.
  4. Don’t ignore the issues and challenges facing our workplaces and our employees. If you do, you are likely to experience even greater challenges in the near future.
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February 1, 2021 9:00 am

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