We talk often of good management, of ensuring a safe and pleasant workplace for our people. Of finding better ways to enthuse and engage the workforce. We talk about supporting our people, investing in them and in their development. Rewards and incentives, mindfulness and wellbeing. A workplace culture of growth and development through achievement. We aim to have a positive, healthy work environment for all, free of intimidation, bullying and harassment.
The fact is though, sometimes we find ourselves in a working environment which bears no similarity to this ideal. An environment based on negativity, deceit and disappointment. There can be nothing worse, nothing more deflating and depressing in our working lives, than when we find ourselves working in a such a toxic environment.
I once worked in such an environment. It was deep-rooted, long standing, widespread and pretty much 100% because of one person. And toxic is exactly the right word. This one person’s negative and destructive influence was so pervasive that many of my colleagues had effectively given up trying to confront it or even negotiate a solution. They’d tried everything over the years, and the situation just seemed to get worse. New colleagues would join us, and within a few months had seen things for what they where. The muted conversations in the corridor. The eye signals. They just kept their heads down and kept turning up to work. One by one, their engagement in the work dipped. Many stopped coming out to our occasional social events. And of course, the revolving door of retention kept on turning. In they would come, and pretty soon, out they would go. Productivity, like the mood in the office, was low. working in that office was a pretty miserable experience.
There are many reasons the work environment can descend into the destructive and demoralising chaos of toxicity. One person’s misplaced ambition, office gossip, politics and of course, poor leadership can all play a part. The effect it has on employees is undeniable. On an individual, personal level, It’s tough to find yourself having to work in such an environment. It’s easy to take it personally, and to somehow place yourself at the centre of the blame. It’s important to remember though, that this environment is usually down to a combination of factors, and the buck always stops with leadership. It is down to managers to control the office culture and to build a safe and happy place to work. If a negative culture exists, it’s because nobody has done anything to prevent it or close it down.
When we’re faced with challenges like this, we start to develop coping mechanisms. Ways to find a way through, of rising above the mood so that we can continue our work. We know it’s good to talk, we hear it all the time. But when we’re faced with the stifling negativity of a toxic workplace, we need to break out of the bubble. Talk to someone unconnected with work, someone who has distance, but knows you. You’ll know someone. We all do. Someone who’’l give you the support of a listening ear, some time and a chance for you to let off steam.
If you are caught in a similar trap, it’s crucial to remain true to yourself, keep your integrity, hold your place and don’t let yourself slip into the all too easy position of joining in. One thing we all need to consider when we’re working is our health, both physical and mental.
Working in a toxic environment has a lasting negative influence on our health. We find ourselves becoming disengaged, we’re more tired, we don’t sleep well. Our mood is low, we don’t feel hungry and we feel run down. It gradually becomes more of an effort to do the job. Our health, your health is more important. Don't let the toxic workplace make you ill.