3 SIGNS OF A TOXIC WORK ENVIRONMENT
1. TOXIC SYSTEM (CPP = Communication, Policies and Procedures)
One of the most common symptoms and signs of a toxic workplace is a lack of clear policies and procedures. This creates a culture of “winging it” which can lead to inconsistencies in ways of working and the quality of work that is produced.
Another common scenario problem is lack of communication. If a toxic workplace has policies and procedures in place, but aren’t communicated + implement effectively and reviewed periodically, the result is a failed system where everyone loses.
For organisational structures to create effective systems that work, a solid foundation must be built from at the top (leadership), communicated down (managers), and implemented + improved throughout (doers).
There is also the danger of too much structure - where people are so overwhelmed and exacerbated by the policies and procedures that they only exist in documents but fail to produce the intended results and outcomes they were created for.
2. TOXIC LEADERS
Leadership is about leading people. Consider what it takes to do this well…
Listening. It takes the ability to listen to people at different levels of management, take their concerns seriously, and offer feedback / inputs to address them. It’s important that you are able to voice your concerns / recommendations and that they are heard - even if they aren’t always taken on board or implemented.
Enablers. Good leaders look to enable their employees by lifting them up, giving them feedback and recognising their efforts and good work.
Accessibility. Inspiring leaders don’t just sit in the corner office and close themselves from their teams. They make themselves accessible at team gatherings / events, have open door policies or open office hours, and ensure channels for communication are in place.
Directive. Leadership is also about providing guidance and clear goals. As bastions of the company’s vision, mission and values, leaders must demonstrate this in how they treat their people, how they make decisions, and how they prioritise work.
Empowering. The best leaders understand that developing high achieving teams is about empowering employees to advance themselves and make meaningful contributions to the overall performance of the company. But it’s a two-way street. It’s as much the responsibility of employees to demonstrate their competence and trustworthiness as it is for leaders to know who their high-potentials and high-achievers are.
Responsive. Great leaders are responsive to their teams by expressing appreciation, rewarding performance, and providing constructive feedback to their employees - whether it’s to praise good work or offer suggestions for improvement. Responsiveness goes a long way in engaging and retaining the best talent.
Supportive. It is also the job of leaders to ensure managers are providing support to its team members and implementing positive workplace practices that emphasise values like fairness, appreciation, empathy and inclusion. They should also ensure employees are rewarded for competence + accountability + supported in their professional development + growth trajectories.
3. TOXIC TEAMS / CO WORKERS
The most common trait of dysfunctional teams / co workers are: unhealthy competition, social cliqueness, and a lack of collaboration or cooperation. This can create conflicts within and across teams which can have a negative impact on employee wellbeing, team cultures, and organisational performance.
Common behaviours of toxic teams include:
- Gossip that spreads rumours / fear / uncertainty and breeds a toxic culture
- Ganging up to exclude / belittle others / coerce them into their own agenda
- Playing the blame-game and throwing others under the bus
- Grabbing all the glory instead of sharing it acknowledging and sharing amongst contributors
Here are some helpful strategies + tips for staying sane in a toxic workplace…
10 SANITY TIPS
1. Leave work at work.
Don’t bring the poison home with you. If you’ve already established that your work environment is toxic, then it is literally insane to allow that poison to infiltrate your home environment. If you’re a business owner, fortunately you can take immediate actions to reduce / eliminate toxicity levels at work. But if you’re working for an organisation, then you need to protect your home environment from that negative energy by leaving work at work. That means, no checking emails after work hours or making it a rule not to talk about work at home.
2. Find an outlet outside of your workplace.
It’s easy to get consumed by all the drama / negativity in a toxic workplace - and not always easy to let it all go or compartmentalise it at the end of your work day. If you know that venting your frustrations to someone you can trust will help you to live a toxic-free life outside of your workplace, then find that person or outlet and create your own watercooler space to do so.
3. Find a positive distraction.
If toxicity levels at work have reached a point that is causing you to lose motivation / mojo, make it a priority to attach yourself to positive people / activities outside of work that can help to keep your attitude and spirits uplifted. Take advantage of any company perks / external events / professional development opportunities that can help you to focus on the positive aspects of your career and your future prospects.
4. Set healthy boundaries.
This can be a really challenging one for most people. Learning to say “no” - particularly in an Asian context - might seem counter-intuitive or even feel “wrong” but it will help to prevent you from burning out in a toxic environment. Simple things like taking your lunch break, not going into work early or staying late, not working weekends or from home on your off day, and not responding to your boss or clients at all times of the day is not only healthy for you but also sets expectations for people working with you.
5. Create a positive workspace for yourself.
While we don’t always have control of our surroundings, you can create your own workspace to fill you with positive energy throughout your work day by pinning up positive affirmations, inspirational quotes, or pictures around your cubicle / office / workstation. Finding motivational desktop backgrounds, utilising apps and browser add-ons, or listening to music are just some examples of how you can de-tatch yourself from a toxic environment and create your own positive oasis at work.
6. Stay true to you.
Don’t let your external environment change who you are or cause you to sacrifice what matters to you. Being authentic is about finding your voice and speaking up, standing for what you believe in, and fighting the good fight even when others ‘play dirty’. Just remember, you are not defined by your job title / work tasks. You are defined by your thoughts and your actions and the virtues you exude even in the most difficult or dire times.
7. Don’t add fuel to fire.
It’s easy to lose yourself in a toxic environment, and fall into negative behaviours when you’re surrounded by it. Sometimes, it may even feel like the easier thing to do - If you can’t beat em, join em … right? Wrong. Instead, set the intention to lead by example - opt out of the blame-game, steer clear of drama, bow out of gossip circles, and stick to the facts (not stories).
8. Start plotting your exit strategy.
Sometimes you need to know when it’s time to pull the plug. Whether you need to stick your job out for another year or another month, it’s never too early to start planning your exit strategy and doing this can actually help you to sustain a more positive + constructive attitude at work. It will also help to remind you that a brighter future awaits, so you can focus on what you’re working towards instead of dwelling on what’s happening right now.
9. Focus on your career development.
Instead of focusing on external factors that may be hindering your progress, turn your focus inwards on your personal and professional development. Think about the projects you’re working on and your recent achievements and how you can update your CV with your latest accomplishments. Look for networking events / professional development opportunities outside of your organisation to actively build on creating a more fulfilling career and expanding your professional horizons.
10. Take care of yourself.
We don’t always realise the negative impact a toxic environment can have on our physical and mental
wellbeing. Find ways to practice stress relief with a morning ritual or end of day unloading ritual. Use
your weekends to practice better self-care. Find a friend to do this with or invest in a detox program /
mini retreat / short holiday to give recharge and refuel yourself. If you’re unengaged or unhappy at work,
everyone loses. So make yourself a priority and commit to bringing your best self to work each and
5 WAYS TO GET PROACTIVE + BE PART OF THE SOLUTION
Communication is key in any relationship. Don’t let problems or misunderstandings fester. If you’re facing issues with a colleague or situation at work, be proactive and professional about addressing it immediately. Speak to the person directly but be constructive. In a recent interview with Tim Ferris, Ariana Huffington shares a policy she has with all new / existing employees: never bad mouth your colleagues / boss - talk to them directly. She’s even said to past employees that they can walk into her office and complain - even yell - if they are in disagreement about something she’s said or done, but she will not tolerate bad mouthing others.
2. Seek help from your boss / HR person / direct manager.
Something my mother has always said to me is that wisdom is knowing when to do what, and how. Approaching the appropriate person at work to help strategize ways to address problems you’re facing at work is not about tattling on others but taking ownership of the part you play in the bigger picture. It always takes two to tango. So if you’re feeling overworked, underappreciated, or at a loss of coping mechanisms, then frame the problem that way and ask for the support you need.
I did that during the time I was working at an agency and nearing the end of my rope. Rather than complaining to my boss about my discontent with my line manager, or negative thoughts about how the organisation was structured / distributing work, I sought his guidance and support to make my workload more manageable. He gave me a priority matrix and methodology for deciding which tasks to focus on each day. There will always be work, he said, but you need to know how to tackle it effectively without burning out. I was grateful to have him to turn to, and this goes back to the importance of having good leaders in your organisation. So focus on the solution and try to find the support you need before concluding that it doesn’t exist.
3. Take initiative.
In a similar vein, you can also try to take initiatives that may help to address toxicity at your workplace. Chances are, your co workers are feeling the pain too, and suffering in silence. Organise a team lunch or propose a regular meetup with your colleagues to build friendships, discuss challenges, share best practices, or create a buddy system that can also help to build more supportive teams and workplace cultures. Depending on your organisation, you can try to do this during the work week or propose it to happen outside of work hours.
4. Propose a team building day / activity / workshop.
Again, you have to determine the best approach or initiatives for your organisation. Consider sending an email to your colleagues or speaking to them in person to gauge their interest in a team building day / activity / workshop and float the idea up to your leadership team or key decision makers. If your company is committed to the wellbeing of its employees, they’ll value your inputs and support your ideas. Show that you’ve taken their decision making factors into consideration by doing the preliminary research - identify potential service providers / activities, get quotes, and draft up a simple proposal / plan to make it a no-brainer decision for your boss.
5. Lead by example.
BE the change you want to see at work - don’t just think or talk about it. Exemplify the values and virtues
you believe are essential for a positive and inclusive work environment. Whether that’s speaking to your
co workers kindly, expressing appreciation, giving constructive feedback, or doing more than the bare
minimum that’s required in your job, the most effective way to create change is to demonstrate it through
your own actions. The golden rule as we all know is to do unto others as you would have them do unto