Workplace Toxicity: The Silent Pandemic to Employee Productivity, Well-being and Morale

“Do you feel disrespected at work?  

Have you been subjected to hearing demeaning words directed at you and asked to hold it tight because that is how it is here?  

Do you feel fearful, scared, and anxious when you want to resume work?” 

These could be some potential qualifiers to indicate you may be working in a toxic workplace. Haven’t you heard that lately and wondered what workplace toxicity is all about? Let’s decode Workplace Toxicity, its impact, and what we can do to make workplaces better for employees in this blog. 

Workplace toxicity, in general, refers to a hostile and unpleasant work atmosphere, making employees always on edge, anxious, and tired at the end of the day, impairing work performance and morale. 

Have you heard the famous quote that says, ‘Employees don’t quit jobs; they quit organizations’? This can be true… Let’s understand and evaluate some numbers to grasp the seriousness of workplace toxicity and its impact.  

The Numbers Don’t Lie: 

A 2022 MIT Sloan Management Review mentioned that toxic workplace culture is one of the biggest reasons for workplace attrition, and the 2022 Forbes Article mentioned that employees are 10.4 times more likely to quit the workplace because of toxicity!  

We spend more than 1/3rd of our day at work, and 73% of members mention that their work environment affects their mental health

So, remember, workplace toxicity is not just about an unfriendly boss or cold colleagues; it runs much deeper and has its roots in organizational culture. Understanding the simple psychology from Social Learning Theory, we are more likely to recreate behaviors that we are exposed to, which can be a basic premise for understanding how workplace toxicity can go deep into the organizational culture. This can cause a ripple effect.  

Now, let’s get to the question of the hour, “Is your workplace toxic?” Answer these set of questions, and this will help us gain some clarity: 

  • Are you hurled with abuses and demeaning words at work? 

  • Do you feel that your work or you are being belittled? 

  • Have you been personally attacked rather than providing feedback on work? 

  • Do you work or strive to impress your boss rather than work for your organization? 

  • Do others take credit for your work? 

  • Do you see your team members pulling each other down at work? 

  • Do you notice constant fights and differences of opinion with colleagues at work with no solution? 

  • Is overworking or working on weekends/holidays glorified? 

  • Are you confused or second-guessing your boss’s mood and reaction? 

  • Do you see undeserving people promoted up the ladder? 

  • Do you notice in-house cliques, favoritism, and biases? 

  • Is there a constant blame game and pointing fingers? 

  • Feeling anxious and jittery on Sunday evening or early Monday morning before resuming work? 

  • Do you feel tired all day as if your energy is being sucked out of you? 

  • Have you been developing a more pessimistic outlook towards life? 

  • Falling ill or keeping unwell because of work-related pressure? 

  • Are you constantly replaying incidents or worrying about work? 

  • Unable to quiet your mind from work-related thoughts even during other times? 

  • You feel unhopeful about your career trajectory and growth? 

  • Are you tired of trying to meet the unrealistic standards at work? 

  • Is stress glorified at work? 

  • Do you hear your colleagues or boss saying, “This is how it is here.” 

If your answer to more than half of the above questions is yes, it is time for serious reflection, as your workplace qualifies for displaying toxicity. If your answer is no to most of the questions, then congratulations! Your workplace culture is not toxic, and you have the relevant conditions to learn and grow as a professional. 

The Psychology Behind Workplace Toxicity and Its Impact 

We are all social creatures and love to be seen, heard, and respected as individual beings and workplace toxicity tries to shatter this. It can hit us hard in the nerve, making us feel disconnected and unworthy, which affects our work performance and morale. Creating a favorable workplace environment is not just a policy element; it is the basis for making an employee feel that there is equity in what they give and receive from the organization, and the dynamic is fair. When an employee feels that the organization is treating them fairly, they will go a step further and do their best connected to work performance and output. 

Now that we have understood the importance and impact of workplace toxicity, let’s focus on buckling up to learn some practical strategies on what we can do better to improve the workplace culture and manage workplace toxicity: 

  • Pay Attention and Listen! Pay attention to the behavior and attitude of the employees of the organization. If you notice a “laid-back or don’t care attitude” or a high level of attrition, these are signs indicating issues reflecting from a deep root cause. Paying keen attention and listening to your employee's signs can be a good starting point. 

  • Conduct a Thorough and 360-degree Evaluation: Acceptance is the first step towards change. Conduct a thorough 360-degree evaluation to get a clear picture of the organizational culture. Understand areas of strengths, developmental areas, and scope for improvement. This can be done via an anonymous survey or by circulating feedback forms, etc. 

  • Conduct Wellness Audits: This will help you understand your employees' needs better and create policies and practices to promote workplace well-being. This can also help you understand pointers on what you can do better to help: 

                        Employees feel heard, acknowledged, and valued. 

                        Employees feel better supported and cared for. 

  • Psychological Safety for Diverse Perspective: Create an organizational culture that promotes psychological safety for employees where they can express their viewpoints and perspectives, however dissimilar they are, without any fear of evaluation or judgment. 

  • Promote Sustainable Practices: Evaluate and review your current organizational practices and redefine policies and practices that are limited or unidimensional to encompass a holistic and long-term focus. For example, if your organization has a culture of asking employees to burn the midnight oil or pull the wagon over the weekend to deliver a project frequently, though this will enable a successful closure of tasks, it will lead to employee burnout and work-life imbalance. 

  • Negativity Flows from the Top, So Keep an Eye: Most research studies indicate that workplace toxicity flows from the top, and because the top leaders display it, employees feel this behavior is okay and they demonstrate the same (manifestation of the ripple effect from social learning theory). So, constantly keep an eye on what your top leaders are saying and doing. If there is a need, engage in corrective action to set an example for others. 

  • Organizational Culture that Values Fairness: That being said, it is not just about including fairness as one of the company values but ensuring that each employee in the organization can truly and authentically feel that the organization is treating them fairly and they can voice or take a stand without any fear. 

  • People over Projects: Easier said than done, this is one of the mindsets that organizations can adopt to reduce workplace toxicity. Agreed that profits and productivity are the core of any organization, however, no company will exist without its people. People are who make the organization what it is. So, every day and each time - just ask if what you are 

About the Writer: 

Revathi is a Counseling Psychologist and International Career Coach (NCDA, USA certified Certified Career Service Provider) with over four years of experience in mental health and wellness counseling, training, and education. Having conducted over 500+ hours of adult individual counseling sessions, she specializes in intrapersonal, career, and relationship domains. Revathi has delivered 20+ training sessions in Mental Health and Wellness and is a fervent believer in preventive mental health. Her mission is to make mental health accessible and affordable, overcoming stigma and unawareness. 

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