A decade ago, toxic workplaces were often the norm. Bosses expected employees to work overtime, the work-life balance was seen as a weakness, and coworkers competed instead of collaborated. While workplace culture is shifting, high-stress and competitive organizations can often blur the lines of toxicity. Here are four common factors that can make workplaces toxic.
Constructive criticism is necessary in any field, but when a coworker, supervisor, or CEO consistently attacks your work or makes things personal, they’ve crossed the line into toxic behavior. Forbes has a great list of recommendations to consider when giving or receiving criticism. Start by considering the recipient’s perception of the criticism, whether or not the criticism offers a solution, and if the criticism is directed at the right person. Even if you’re the recipient of criticism, think back to this list and consider whether the criticism is intended to help you or simply put you down. If it’s the latter, especially if it’s constant, you’re dealing with a toxic personality.
While criticism can often be a blurred line in terms of toxic behavior, passive-aggressiveness is a clear form of toxic behavior in the workplace. Passive-aggressive behavior can appear as snide comments, the “silent treatment,” excessive sarcasm, or negative remarks about someone, all without mentioning the person by name. There’s no benefit to being passive-aggressive; it limits communication, demeans coworkers, and it often encourages more passive-aggressiveness from others. Glassdoor recommends attempting to understand where the passive-aggressive behavior is coming from– is the coworker especially stressed, or did you do something to upset them? Do your best to effectively seek clarity, but if the passive-aggressive behavior continues, it’s officially toxic behavior.
According to SHRM, the most important factor in determining the success or failure of a team is the quality of relationships on the team. So, when one person on the team sabotages the team’s efforts, the whole team can go down with them. In general, sabotage can refer to any method of hindering progress on any sort of team project or goal. Examples of workplace sabotage include gossiping, excluding, distracting, and taking credit for your work. It can also include outright sabotage, including things like purposely delaying your progress on a task. Single incidents of these behaviors might not feel like a huge deal, but if they regularly occur, you’ll need to alert a supervisor and confront the saboteur as soon as possible.
Harassment in a Toxic Workplace
Harassment is a rather obvious form of toxic behavior, but it’s important to note because toxic behavior, such as harassment, often becomes illegal. According to EEOC guidelines, harassment generally becomes illegal when a coworker or supervisor is attacking you or treating you differently based on some aspect of your identity, and it impacts your ability to work. While it might be tempting to ignore other forms of toxic behavior, it’s especially important to pay attention and document any form of harassment you might encounter. If harassment progresses, documentation will make your case with HR much clearer.
Once you recognize toxic behavior in the workplace, it’s important to take proper action. To learn more about toxic behavior, its repercussions, and how to address it, watch our webinar, “Strategies for Addressing Toxic Workforce Behavior,” with Dr. Shirley Davis, Global Workforce Expert.