Safety and health regulations in Australia stipulate that every workplace must take steps to ensure the physical and mental wellbeing of their employees.

Most of us spend at least 40 hours a week at work and a toxic work environment can leave us feeling tired, depressed, anxious and even angry. Ideally, every workplace should be a healthy space to be but sadly, this is not always the case.

How and Why Workplaces Become Toxic

Work environments can be toxic for many reasons including unresolved staff conflicts, dysfunctional leadership and discrimination and bullying based on race, gender or sexual orientation, for example.

There can be nefarious contributors such as blackmail, manipulation, gossip and coercion but these also seriously contribute to a toxic environment. Most of these workplace malpractices are considered unacceptable and many are actually illegal and attract legal consequences.

Individuals can be toxic in a variety of ways. An unreasonable boss, an employee with a hostile attitude or a gaslighting colleague – all can force valuable team members to leave. Toxic employees can exist at every level of a company and they can be difficult to dismiss as they may not be necessarily acting against company policy. Whichever brand of work-toxicity is the issue, the problem costs companies billions of dollars globally every year.

A toxic employee can be of several descriptions. For example, they could be wasting a lot of time complaining about work rather than actually doing it, watch inappropriate content on their computer or make sexual innuendoes to their colleagues. They could also be someone who is unable to manage their anger issues or are prone to spreading malicious gossip. Unchecked such behaviour can become self-perpetuating and encourage other employees to indulge in similar behaviour.

As a manager, you may want to consider looking out for certain obvious signs that could indicate that you’re dealing with a toxic workplace. For instance, poor communication such as misleading or lack of reporting or withholding information could indicate a hostile problem. There is zero or minimal teamwork or trust and workers seem to ‘back-stab’ each other often in a bid to shift blame. Other signs could include poor performance, high rates of psychological and physical sickness and high staff turnover. You may also observe an unusually high number of arguments with people actually losing their tempers with each other.

Is Workplace Toxicity Threatening Employee Wellbeing?

There is a significant difference between a difficult employee and a toxic one. A toxic employee affects team morale and invariably makes work a frustrating experience for others. While every workplace may have its own set of negatives, a toxic space will often witness high rates of absenteeism and turnover of valuable employees. Research shows that 85% of employees prefer to shift to a job that pays less compared to staying on in a negative environment.

The emotional weight of this influence often spills over into private lives and results in overall stress, anxiety and depression.

Preventive or Early Intervention Can Help

Managers may want to ensure that employees are aware of company core values and that these are actually implemented on a day-to-day basis. Core values should not just serve as merely copy on a company website.

Dig deeper into issues and try to discover why an individual is behaving this way. The reasons could be personal or professional. If you have the employee’s permission to access their social media pages try taking a look at those. Observe how the rest of the team interacts around him or her. If appropriate you can try coaching them or suggest external sources of assistance. You may also find it useful to document everything including the instances of toxicity and the consequences of those. It always pays to have all the details on record.

Consider speaking privately with them to discuss their behaviour and define clear boundaries and consequences. Should the employee continue to display toxic behaviours, you may have to consider starting formal performance management processes for the overall health of the work environment. Either way, it’s crucial to put a stop to the problem before the organisation loses valuable people.

ESN provides specialised and effective coaching and management support, team interventions and psychosocial audits. Our team of psychologists and human resource professionals are experienced with identifying causes of underlying toxic work environments and providing unbiased solutions for your needs. Please feel free to contact us with your queries and challenges and we will be more than happy to assist you.