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Caution: Toxic Work Environment

Caution: Toxic Work Environment

Caution: Toxic Work Environment

Nothing is more toxic and contagious than workplace drama. Whether it stems from a tyrannical manager, vindictive co-workers, or overall organizational disarray; workplace drama can be extremely damaging to employee morale and productivity. According to a study published by Harvard Business Review, out of 14,000 participants who have been exposed to a toxic work environment, 25% of employees admitted to taking their frustrations out on customers and 12% quit their jobs. If ignored, a toxic workplace plagued by drama and disorganization can manifest into a serious problem for both the employee and the employer. Therefore, it is crucial to recognize the warning signs of toxicity before your company culture is permanently infected.

Warning Signs:

There are plenty of warning signs for toxicity in the workplace. Some of these include:

  • Frequent shaming behavior – Toxic workplaces may seem like a battlefield where every employee is out for themselves. Employees lack accountability for their actions, and rely on passive aggressiveness, bullying, humiliation, and blaming tactics to survive. The presence of shaming behaviours and “clique mentality” discourages teamwork and prevents the establishment of a respectful and inclusive work environment.
  • Decreased employee engagement – According to Gallup’s article on the “State of the American Workforce”, 51% of employees aren’t engaged in their current position. Since half of your workplace might be disengaged, it’s important to watch out for these characteristics. Disengaged employees might lack initiative, miss deadlines, use more sick days, and produce low quality work.
  • Low employee morale – Unhappy employees are not hard to see. Red flags for low employee morale include increased negativity, absenteeism, poor performance, and decreased collaboration. One key indicator of low employee morale within a toxic workplace is an outbreak of the classic “It’s good enough” or “that’s not my job” attitude.
  • Poor communication and no transparency with decision-making – In a toxic workplace direct communication is scarce, but rumors, gossip, and misinformation are rampant. Due to a lack of communication, decisions appear to be made out-of-the-blue, and “secret meetings” are the norm. A lack of communication also means employees aren’t receiving the feedback and recognition they deserve.
  • Persistent office drama – If every day at work feels like you are starring in a cringe-inducing office sit-com, you might very well be working in a toxic work environment. While no office is drama free; persistent hearsay, complaints, and employee feuds should not be the norm and/or tolerated.
  • Increased employee turnover – If your company experiences a high degree of voluntary turnover, especially within the first 30 – 90 days, your company may have an unhealthy culture. The average employee within the millennial generation has been in their current position for 2.8 years, which means that employees aren’t afraid to leave a job. With decreased company commitment being the norm, plus a toxic environment, employee turnover rates become even more alarming.
  • Rules are enforced arbitrarily – Toxic work environments manifest when policies and procedures are non-existent or poorly implemented. Drama may result when certain employees are held “above the law” and are never reprimanded. Think about that employee that strolls into work an hour late without any consequence.

If you recognize any of these warning signs, and feel your company is experiencing the early symptoms of a toxic work environment, MaxPeople recommends the following 10 Tips for Treating a Toxic Work Environment.

10 Tips for Treating a Toxic Work Environment:

  1. Focus on solutions, not complaints
  2. Ensure changes are implemented on all levels of the organization
  3. Develop policies and enforce rules
  4. Encourage responsibility
  5. Elicit and provide feedback (e.g. performance reviews, exit interviews, etc.)
  6. Focus on increasing inclusion and collaboration
  7. Increase employee engagement (e.g. celebrating cultural events, volunteering, etc.)
  8. Foster positive relationships among peers
  9. Increase formal communication across the organization
  10. Define your culture – and live by it


Gallup. (2017). The state of the American economy [PDF File]. Retrieved from https://cloc.umd.edu/library/research/State%20of%20the%20American%20Workplace%202017

Gassam, J. (2019). How to prevent your millennial employees from leaving your company to travel the world. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com

 Harvard Business Review. (2013). The Price of Incivility. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2013/01/the-price-of-incivility