5 signs of a toxic workplace

Are you dealing with toxic co-workers, a toxic boss or a toxic organisation

Inharmonious work environments are more common than we’d like to think.

Updated 7 April 2016

Inharmonious, unhappy work environments are “frighteningly common” warns behavioural scientist and Pragmatic Thinking and executive director and founder Darren Hill.

Research by SACS Consulting has shown that 87 per cent of Australians have ignored someone they dislike in the workplace, 67 per cent admit to being intentionally rude, 56 per cent have left their job because they didn’t get along with colleagues, and 55 per cent confess to stealing workplace property.

Hill says although toxic cultures usually manifest slowly , there are signs that can sound the alarm before a situation becomes chronic and leads to lower productivity or high staff turnover.

5 signs of toxic workplaces

1. Passive-aggressive communication is the norm

People agreeing on something to each other’s face, then immediately criticising it or someone when out of earshot.

A more subtle form is when people create third-party conversations where an issue between two people suddenly grows to evolve three, four, and then five.

A good book about passive-aggression is Living with the Passive-Aggressive Man: Coping with Hidden Aggression by Scott Wetzler. Whether it's a male or female doing it deliberately or unconsciously, this book can help.

2. Lack of discretionary effort

“It’s not in my job description” is not a healthy mantra.

One typical aspect of a thriving culture is people stepping outside of caring only about themselves and their area of responsibility to help others.

3. Death by committee

Whether it’s micromanaging or archaic processes, decisions that always need committee approval are not only dysfunctional, they’re a killer of agility and innovation.

Great cultures embrace the principle of seeking forgiveness, rather than permission.

There’s always room for good governance, but that is distinctly different to distrust.

4. People become clock-watchers

Functional behaviour is when people leave work when they’re supposed to.

Constantly burning the midnight oil is ridiculous, but a sure sign of toxicity is when people can’t stand to be at work a second longer than they have to.

5. There aren’t any quality shared experiences

Workplaces are social settings and human beings are social animals. A team that has each other’s back is a functioning team.

Have lunch simply to break bread or work on a corporate social responsibility project together – but most of all, take time to celebrate success.

At the end of the day, however, it is important to understand just how toxic your workplace is. According to author of Surviving the Toxic Workplace, Linnda Durre, there are numerous types of dysfunction and a great many symptoms.

In her book, Durre tellingly quotes US rock legend Janis Joplin, who once said: “Don’t compromise yourself. It’s all you’ve got.”

Finally, this checklist can help you determine how your place of work stacks up and possible ways to resolve issues that are undermining it.

Read next: 10 workplace trends of the future


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