Toxicity in the Workplace / Workplace Environments

Toxicity in the Workplace / Workplace Environments

The Office….

Yeah it was a classic movie and spin off television show, but the antics they portray on there are nothing shy of the truth.

In fact, much of the portrayal in my eyes is under-played. Predominately captured in a satirical manner, these episodes try to make light of what is a daily struggle for many people. Not just Americans, but globally. MANY feel the day to day pain of the workplace environment that is largely toxic in nature and in practice.

Now this toxicity is not just about a rebellion to “not work for someone,” as many people are okay with not having the responsibility of running a business, but the problem stems from the way those who are “in charge” execute the culture of the company. The toxicity also derives from the healthy, but oftentimes not so healthy, competition among co-workers. Where people are always scared of someone out-shining them, one-upping them, or flat out blackballing them out of a job.

It’s sad.

The “survival of the fittest” game in the world of employment mirrors a combination of all the reality TV shows and popular Hunger Games series. Falsities, pretense, alliances, secret meetings, covert and overt verbal condescension. I could go on and on. The list of downright terrible things that go on in the workplace is endless. I wish I could say otherwise, but I have rarely been in a company or organization where I felt like it was a “healthy” place to work.

Healthy meaning:

  • The people genuinely cared
  • The people were authentically sincere
  • The people were not there to compete with me but to genuinely get to know me, collaborate and create an environment that also facilitated this for it’s patrons.

Literally, I can count on one hand and maybe even one finger for the workplace(s) I felt closely accomplished this.

Entrepreneurship isn’t the sure fire alternative

Many of you out there reading this are like, well start your own business if you feel that way! For those have taken the path of entrepreneurship, you may even be saying to yourself this is exactly why I’ve started my own business, because I just can’t deal with the very thing you are describing.

I too took the path of business ownership having founded and operated a media production business for five and a half years. I hired several contractors to work on projects and I was also hired as a subcontractor to work on projects during this time. The main challenges I faced when working with hired subcontractors was trusting the quality and execution of their work. It was nerve wracking to say the least, and many times they let me down and I had to play “clean up” with the client. So for many who don’t want to deal with things like this, resigning to the old fashioned resume hunting and traditional workplace environment is par for the course.

Back to the realities of the office….

Oftentimes these corporate office environments leave one forced to deal with societal issues with repeat offenders, a.k.a co-workers, for an extended period of time. Yes, the ultimate test of a ninja warrior. Who can outlast the constant micro and macro aggressions of ageism, sexism, racism, faithisms, payisms, etc? All wrapped up in a: sign here, sign there, show up, clock in, clock out, don’t complain, don’t speak up gift size box topped with a bow of low pay and low opportunity (and a cherry on top).

But you’d be a fool to reject this right?

Because what are the alternatives? It’s either unemployment or starting a business. And we all know, it takes money to make money, and even then it still takes time and a bit of divine fortune for you to make a profit. Of course, many people are not forced to make this decision between the two because they either choose a life of being in the military (which I’m sure has it’s own set of issues) or they inherited/were passed down a position of income earning opportunity that makes life “comfortable” enough for them. So they do not have to endure the toxicity that is often found in these workplace environments (not to say they don’t have toxic issues in their life, but that they are not forced to have to work a job they don’t want to or stay in an organization they don’t enjoy).

Photo by JESHOOTS.COM on Unsplash

Real vs. Fake Changes

Many people are wanting the “work from home” option due to this very reason. The less people they have to see and deal with the better. Companies are trying to renovate their spaces to make the office a “fun/great place to work.” Yet oftentimes, they are just putting a band-aid on cancer; changing the outer appearance without addressing or changing the inner culture and personality of the organization. Adding a ping pong table does nothing to change the benefits package if one still cannot afford the overall employee healthcare benefits. Putting fancy new furniture in, does little to change unequal practices in managerial promotions and leadership development.

The toxicity out there is real and it is often under-talked about because people are scared. People are scared they will lose their job if they speak up at all about anything toxic going on in the workplace. I am not immune to this backlash as my current (or future) employer could either deny me employment for “thinking this way” or posting an article like this.

So whose responsibility is it?

While I do believe all employees have an individual responsibility to create a less toxic office environment, I would be remiss if I didn’t address the role Human Resources has played in perpetuating toxicity in the workplace. Sadly, Human Resources (HR), which is supposed to be just that (a resource for humans) has done a poor job doing what their name says. Instead, they’ve become paper pushers, documentation specialist, and a distrustful collective that resemble wolves in sheep’s clothing. Meaning, they want you to come to them when you have a workplace issue, yet there is little protection of your job when you start rocking the boat.

Oftentimes, going to HR for an issue only complicates it and a person is better off either handling it themselves or leaving the organization altogether. Do I believe all HR departments in all companies operate this way, no. Do I believe 95–98% of them do- yes. Until HR changes the landscape of how they operate, individuals will continue to be subjugated to massive toxic workplace environments with no resources to back them.

Sadly, HR has become the taboo boogeyman that resembles going to the “principal’s office” in elementary school. Many people say “oooo I don’t want to cause an ‘HR issue’” or “I don’t want to get in trouble with ‘HR.’” This is sad and needs to change. I challenge all HR people who may be reading this, who quite possibly maybe getting upset with me for talking about their job, to do something different for the global workplace culture and change the landscape of this sentiment.

A Challenge for All

Additionally, I challenge all others who are tired of the toxic workplace environments to be the change you wish to see. If you want different, do different. Speak up and support office cultures you see headed in the right direction and object to the ones that aren’t. If you get pushback, good. That means you are doing your part to help change the world….for the better.

While, I realize everyone can’t work for an amazing company (and amazing is subjective to what is important to you), what we all can do is intentionally participate in doing our part, wherever we work to create a less toxic and healthier work environment. If you have personal issues going on, leave them at the door of the entrance if you are not mature enough to handle them while working.

For example: giving your co-workers a professional and courteous heads-up about why you may be agitated or down about something without telling all of your unsolicited business that some people may not even want to know about instead of displacing anger on your co-workers who don’t deserve it or aren’t the cause of the issue you are facing. 

You can also do your part by working on being a person of healthy conflict resolution. Which is one of the biggest areas of workplace toxicity. If someone or something in the office bothers you, go to that person and clarify/resolve the issue respectfully. Refrain from passive aggressive behaviors and circumventive shenanigans that only escalate the level of toxicity.

All in all, I realize this is a heavy topic that has not changed and may not ever change dramatically in the next few generations. I would be foolish to think human beings, aren’t going to continue to be human beings. But what I will say for those who are needing a bit of encouragement out there in their current work situation is “I see you” and “you’re not alone.” Do the best you can and try not to let the job define your personal worth and overall life enjoyment.

6 thoughts on “Toxicity in the Workplace / Workplace Environments

  1. AD

    Good post… Also, I was taught that if possible, you always want to have your new job ready to start when you leave your old job…. just in case it takes longer than plan to find a new job that you feel is a good fit for you.


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