Updated: February 12, 2024

Workplace Toxicity: The Ultimate Guide

You found our guide to workplace toxicity.

Workplace toxicity describes an unhealthy professional environment where conflicts are common. While issues are bound to arise from time to time in any workspace, toxicity typically refers to an ongoing condition in an office.

Toxic workplaces are the opposite of positive work environments, can have negative effects on employee wellbeing and can contribute to staff turnover. Many of the signs of toxic workplaces overlap with the signs of bad managers and social loafing, and contribute to quiet firing.

This article covers:

  • What is workplace toxicity?
  • What are the effects of workplace toxicity?
  • What are the signs of a toxic work environment?
  • What are the characteristics of toxic work environments?
  • What are the causes of toxic work environments?
  • How do you survive toxic workplace conditions?
  • When should you leave a toxic job?
  • What can leaders do to fix office toxicity?
  • How do you change a toxic work culture?

Here is everything you need to know.

What is workplace toxicity?

Workplace toxicity is a term used to describe a hostile and unpleasant work atmosphere. The office environment takes a toll on team members’ mental and physical health and causes workers significant stress. In these conditions, conflict is common and interpersonal issues are rarely solved in productive, proactive, and effective manners, if solved at all. Morale is low, and employees often feel uncomfortable and unsafe. There is often a lack of trust and camaraderie between coworkers. Or, teammates may bond and connect over the harsh conditions, yet feel a disconnect with leadership, or a “managers vs workers” mentality. Workplace toxicity is the opposite of job satisfaction.

Toxic jobs can be tricky to spot. Not all unhealthy workplaces are overtly malicious. Many employers have good intentions, yet imperfect execution. Often, leaders are unaware of discontent or unpleasant employee experience within the organization until the conflict grows. Sometimes, toxicity grows out of a weak company culture, radiates from a single bad employee, or is a side effect of inexperienced and ineffective management. Some toxic elements may even be rooted in accepted ideals such as hard work and positive attitude, and yet become harmful when taken to extremes.

It is important to remember that it is the impact on the employees and not necessarily the intention of the employer. Regardless of the roots of the situation, every organization has an obligation to address harmful conditions in the workplace. Workplace toxicity tends to result from an organizational flaw rather than a single employee or action. Nevertheless, while the bulk of the responsibility to prevent and resolve toxicity falls on leadership, it is the duty of every employee to make the company a nice place to be.

Learn more about job satisfaction stats and data.

What are the effects of workplace toxicity?

Toxic workplaces can have many detrimental effects on both the organization and individual workers. These include:

1. Disengagement and disconnection

Disengagement and disconnection are the one of the most common and most harmful effects of workplace toxicity. Employees need to feel a sense of belonging and a sense of purpose in required tasks to do their best work. Repeated conflict and a poor work culture wear workers down, drain their energy, shake their confidence, and make them feel hopeless and helpless. Many employees start looking for a new job, while others simply put their head down and try to avoid workplace dysfunction as best they can. These workers complete tasks, yet do not go above and beyond the job description.

Teamwork tends to be rare to non-existent in these kinds of environments. Employees do not feel connected to coworkers or to the big-picture company mission. Team members work in the same space at the same time, yet do not truly work together. As a result, loyalty to both the organization, management, and coworkers is often low.

Put simply, staff check out until they can clock out. Rarely are workers in these kinds of companies present in, invested in, or committed to their work.

2. Low Morale

When disengagement and disconnection happens en masse, poor morale is often a result. Employees show little enthusiasm or optimism and have almost no faith in leadership or the company. Motivation is minimal to non-existent, and team members find little to no joy in their jobs. Workers simply go through the motions. Energy is low, and moods tend to be bleak. Team members feel helpless and hopeless and often express these emotions. Broken spirits are contagious, and new hires soon become just as cynical as long-time team members. When misery is the majority, even the most cheerful and ambitious employees struggle and suffer. Fixing low morale and maintaining higher morale is a challenge that can take time and effort.

Here are some ideas on how to raise employee morale.

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3. Damage to mental and physical health

According to a study published in the BMJ (British Medical Journal), working at a company that does not care about staff’s psychological wellbeing triples employees’ chances of suffering depression. Being part of a toxic workplace can cause employees significant anxiety and stress. If left unchecked and untreated, these states can develop into longer-term conditions that require time and professional help to mentally recover from. In extreme cases, unresolved hostile working environments can even cause PTSD.

Excessive stress can cause physical symptoms as well, for instance, muscle and chest pain, fatigue, sleep problems, and upset stomach, the Mayo Clinic explains. According to WebMd, chronic stress can contribute to conditions like heart disease and diabetes.

While these symptoms are not exclusive to bad jobs, there is no denying that workplace toxicity is a major ongoing stress and can cause great damage to employee wellbeing. Any potential threat to employee health is a serious issue and deserves consideration.

4. Decreased productivity

Harmful work environments breed inefficiency. Toxic workplaces tend to have higher rates of absenteeism, both because workers suffer legitimate health concerns and because staff call out sick simply to avoid jobs they hate.

Even when employees are present, they are not necessarily in the mood or correct mental state to work. Recent scientific research has confirmed a link between toxic work environments and lower worker productivity, with special attention paid to factors such as bullying, ostracism, incivility, and harassment.

Employees often lose the will to work completely or suffer slowdowns due to the effects of adversity. Self-doubt can be a major time suck, and workers who are afraid of getting punished or humiliated may spend extra time worrying, second guessing, or triple checking work.

Toxic workplaces also commonly involve ineffective systems that hamper productivity, such as micromanagers who cause bottlenecks by demanding to review every piece of work, or uncooperative teammates who refuse to respond in a timely manner. Not to mention, the behaviors often found in toxic work atmospheres, such as gossip or arguments, tend to waste time and derail progress.

5. Higher turnover rates

Nobody wants to work in a toxic environment, and it should come as no surprise that bad workplaces have trouble getting employees to stick around. These companies tend to experience much higher turnover rates than industry average. In fact, turnover is so high that several of these companies recruit continuously. Applicants often take note of the constant hiring and see it as a red flag. Over time, companies have a harder time attracting quality candidates. Not to mention the damage high turnover does to a business’s bottom line: SHRM calculates the average cost-per-hire to be $4,129.

6. Wasted resources and human potential

One of the most tragic effects of toxic workplaces is the waste of human potential. These jobs can turn eager and talented employees into shells of their former selves. At worst, these workplaces influence professionals to give up their dreams and switch fields, permanently shake workers’ confidence, and cause health problems. At  best, these jobs waste talent’s time, which is still not ideal. The time spent cleaning up avoidable crises or mediating conflicts could be put to better use creating value for the wider world and allowing employees to learn and develop professionally. Bad jobs can stunt professional growth and delay career goals. Organizations with poor work cultures do not fully utilize their talent and often spend a significant amount of material resources cleaning up the aftermath of poor work practices instead of growing the company.

7. Legal trouble

Many toxic work behaviors are not only unpleasant and unproductive, but also illegal. Failing to notice or correct unhealthy work atmospheres can leave companies vulnerable to harassment and discrimination lawsuits. More indirectly, poor work culture can contribute towards workplace accidents, and arguments can escalate into assault. A laxness towards rules and professionalism can embolden employees to engage in dangerous or unethical behavior, and managers and team members put under too much pressure may cut corners and take risks that invite investigations and consequences.

Avoiding lawsuits should not be a company’s only concern when it comes to creating a healthy working environment, and leaders should still correct harmful behaviors that may not be outright illegal. However, it is important to also understand that issues that start in meeting rooms can end up in courtrooms.

8. Damage to brand reputation

Workplace toxicity can have lasting repercussions on an organization’s reputation and standing. As demands for corporate responsibility rise, more consumers refuse to support companies that are known to mistreat employees and call for boycotts of such brands, which can literally affect the bottom line. Rumored “nightmare workplaces” have a hard time attracting talent. Social media and open source review sites have made it easier than ever to spread word about corporate injustice and bad behavior. The internet is often unforgiving and slow to forget. Scandals can be hard to shake and it can be hard to earn back the trust of potential employees and consumers after accusations of violating workers’ dignity.

Image should not be the only factor when it comes to creating healthy workplaces, however it is important for brands to be conscious of optics.

What are the signs of a toxic work environment?

Here are some red flags for toxic workplaces.

1. Employees are afraid to speak up

Toxic workplaces are often marked by tense silences. Meetings are more like lectures than discussions. Team members do not disagree with bosses, or at least, do not express those differences in opinions out loud. Friendly work banter is essentially non-existent, and teammates speak only when necessary. In these offices, one gets the sense that employees are quiet not only because they are concentrating, but because they are desperately avoiding conflict.

The silence may be situational. Workers may get along and be cheerful yet immediately quiet down or clam up when a supervisor or particularly problematic colleague approaches.

2. Teammates never spend time together

Throughout the day, teammates interact with each other as infrequently as possible. There is no chatter in the breakroom or common spaces, and workers keep professional conversations as clipped and short as possible. Teammates may send each other emails or instant messages or leave notes even when in the same physical location to avoid real time conversations. There are few hellos in the hallways, and few to no workday celebrations. At clock out time, employees race home and barely acknowledge each other on the way out. The company does not host employee events like team outings, or if they do, few folks attend.

This behavior sends the message that coworkers do not want to spend more time together than need be. This avoidance can be a symptom of a pain or crack in the workplace that needs addressing, such as a lack of conflict resolution skills, poor management, or mismatched work styles. Isolation does not breed good teamwork, and an absence of camaraderie makes the workplace less enjoyable.

3. Teammates always spend time together

While jobs are so toxic that teammates never want to spend time together, workers spending too much time together can be another red flag. There is a difference between socializing outside of work with coworkers and socializing exclusively with colleagues. While regular outings build camaraderie, too much togetherness can breed cliques and blur boundaries.

New hires can feel intimidated when encountering a hyper close-knit group. Workers may feel pressured to spend excessive time with coworkers at the expense of other obligations, and colleagues who have friends and commitments outside of the core group may get intentionally or unintentionally left out. Friend conflicts and work conflicts intermingle, and it can be hard to separate personal issues from professional issues. Also, workers may show favor to friends instead of behaving equally towards all coworkers. These situations create fertile ground for gossiping, bullying, and exclusion, and can make an office feel like high school.

These situations often develop because employees spend a significant amount of time at work, and it can be tough as an adult to maintain friendships with folks who have different schedules or everyday experiences. However, while it is important to be friendly with coworkers, having no friends outside of work spells out trouble. Not only can this kind of codependency complicate working dynamics, it can also make a work fight or the loss of a job or a work fight more devastating or the idea of switching jobs unthinkable, since work life and social life become one in the same.

4. Unprofessional behavior in the open

Blatant disrespect and unprofessionalism are the surest warning signs of a toxic workplace. There is a lack of accountability in these kinds of environments, and the bad behavior of certain employees goes unpunished. Examples include making sexual remarks or offensive jokes, namecalling, throwing temper tantrums, and indulging in alcohol during a regular workday. When these kinds of acts happen in the open, chances are, there are worse things going on behind the scenes. Employees do not fear repercussions for this kind of conduct either because leadership fails to stop it or outright encourages it. Whatever the reason, normalizing abuse prevents the workplace from being a safe space for employees.

5. Frequent arguments

Conflict is a hallmark of toxic workplaces. These environments foster infighting and bickering and feature aggression, both passive and active. Instead of solving disagreements in rational and respectful ways, teammates accuse and yell at each other. Discussions often erupt into arguments, and professional differences in opinion turn into personal attacks. Coworkers spend more time fighting each other than working together, and teammates come to view each other as enemies or obstacles instead of collaborators. It is hard for employees to make any headway when there is no agreement on goals, approach, or direction. Employees lack the skills or willingness to resolve disagreements in productive ways, and let emotions rule their interactions.

This atmosphere can cause issues like anxiety and high blood pressure and make staff dread interactions. The dynamic can also cause distress for customers or business partners.

Here is a list of conflict resolution activities.

6. Lack of leadership

There are many ways in which lack of leadership, or lack of strong leadership, can be both a sign and a cause of toxic work environments.

Sometimes, leaders are leaders in title alone and do not set a positive example for employees to follow or offer clear direction to guide staff. Maybe leaders are unorganized and do not give employees the resources and support needed to do the job well.

Absent leaders can enable bad behavior to flourish, or can cause employees to have to step up and take on the responsibilities of leadership without the perks or recognition. Maybe managers take credit for the team’s work and ideas and fail to give staff proper recognition.

Perhaps supervisors are too scared to stand up for their employees and allow themselves and their teams to be taken advantage of– for instance, constantly picking up slack for other departments regardless of current workload, or overturning a company policy for an abusive customer without acknowledging employees for following the rules.

There is often little interaction between the majority of workers and the highest level of management, and communication tends to flow one way– from the top down. Workers believe that leaders do not care about them or know that they exist.

7. Unbalanced workloads

In the worst workplaces, some employees hustle while others hangout. Certain team members can do next to nothing with no consequences while others run around trying to pick up the slack. Worse still, the workhorse employees get reprimanded when they finally do slip, while lazy staff keep coasting. This discrepancy may be due to factors like nepotism or absentee management, yet whatever the reason, the result is often the same– bad blood, and burnout or turnover of employees with good work ethic. While it is natural for workloads to vary by department or season, when members of the same team have unequal assignments, or when overwork or underwork is chronic, then the workplace atmosphere is often to blame.

8. Micromanagement

The lack of trust flows both ways at bad jobs, and in toxic jobs bosses often do not trust employees to work without constant supervision and interference. This behavior results in frustration and low morale in staff. Brilliant employees are stripped of autonomy and made to check in with managers or ask permission constantly. Often, the employee does nothing to invite this kind of scrutiny, and the overinvolved style of management is a tactic the boss uses to flex their power and maintain control. In these situations, there is no end to the observation and no way for the team members to prove their competence. Workers must push on with management watching every move indefinitely. It becomes hard for employees to find purpose or fulfillment in the work when every move is watched and questioned.

While micromanagers are not exclusive to toxic workplaces, this type of leader thrives in these environments because the overbearing behavior never gets corrected.

Here are ways to deal with micromanaging bosses.

9. Gossip

Gossip is one of the most common signs of a toxic workplace. Team members talk about each other behind their backs and rumors thrive. Worse still, sometimes bosses join in on the act and spread confidential employee information or speculate about teammates. Gossiping can be a form of bullying and can have serious repercussions. Teammates may treat each other differently based on office talk and rumors can seriously damage professional reputations. This kind of unwanted attention can cause significant stress and upset for employees. Not to mention, the practice destroys trust between teammates. It is hard to trust that coworkers have your best interests at heart when there is a possibility that peers talk about you when you are not around.

10. Complaining

Most jobs involve some aggravations and annoyances, and employees need to vent from time to time. However, when the negative talk becomes excessive and constant, the workplace becomes even more toxic. Constant complaining is a warning sign of a bad work environment. These conversations tend not to be more cathartic than constructive. Staff list out the things that are wrong with the company without offering possible solutions. While outside observers may be quick to name the complainers as the cause of the toxic workplace, often the airing of grievances is prompted by feelings of helplessness that point to institutional issues.

What are the characteristics of toxic work environments?

Here are some common characteristics of unhealthy workplace environments.

1. Lack of trust between management and workers

In healthy workplaces, managers and workers cooperate and act like teammates. In unhealthy workplaces, these forces clash. Employees may fear their supervisors and tiptoe around to avoid punishment. Or, staff may view bosses as two-faced, and may be cautious sharing sensitive information. Often, workers adopt an us vs. them mentality towards management and see bosses more as opponents than allies. As a result of the distrust, employees may hide problems or lash out and be insubordinate. Workers do not get the support they need from leadership. Most folks want to feel like the boss has their back, and these kinds of disconnects can cause significant workplace stress.

Here is a list of trust building activities.

2. Poor communication

Poor communication is both a cause and a result of toxic workplaces. Many misunderstandings and bad feelings result from miscommunications and misinterpretations, or from complete radio silence. Messages come last minute, and teammates ignore each other and fail to respond right away. Sometimes, these breakdowns in communications come from a desire to avoid conflict, and sometimes management merely fails to prioritize communication and teach employees good communication skills. Employees do not know how to talk to each other, which makes the workplace more stressful, lonelier, and less productive.

In the best-run organizations, leaders model good communication for the staff to follow. In toxic work situations, leaders give confusing instructions, take a long time to respond to questions or ignore employees completely, give misinformation, withhold important details, or are combative and aggressive during discussions.

Many of the issues in toxic workplaces are solvable or avoidable by communicating more calmly, more clearly, and more often, yet these problems persist because stakeholders are unwilling or unable to have productive discussions.

Here are games to improve communication.

3. Unreasonable expectations

Demanding greatness is not necessarily a sign of a toxic workplace. The difference between a challenging environment and a toxic environment is how closely those goals align with reality. Coworkers and bosses in difficult workplaces expect teammates to do the impossible and offer very little help or guidance to help others achieve these aims. Bad bosses give employees goals that are impossible to meet and refuse to hear employee’s concerns. Valid considerations are shrugged off as excuses. Employees get pushed to do more with no thought as to how increasingly difficult demands affect staff’s health and wellbeing, which is a recipe for burnout and accidents. In these situations, it is hard for employees to take pride in their work because there is no way to live up to the impossible standards. Instead of celebrating wins and feeling a sense of accomplishment, employees get lectured or punished. Neither employees nor managers are satisfied, and bosses often blame employees for poor performance instead of re-evaluating expectations and setting more achievable goals.

Or, there may be no clear expectations. Bosses may fail to communicate guidelines and goals to employees yet demand compliance from staff, or may enforce rules arbitrarily.  Employees have no idea what standards to strive for and no sense of whether or not management considers them a good employee. This kind of uncertainty can cause team members to be uneasy and afraid of losing their jobs.

4. Hyper competition

Friendly competition exists in many workplaces, however competition in toxic workplaces is anything but friendly. Coworkers see each other more as opponents than as teammates. There is no team mentality, and every worker is out for themselves. Colleagues actively sabotage each other, try to outdo each other, belittle each other’s achievements, or withhold help. Bosses play team members against each other and may intentionally stir up drama.

While rivalry can drive short-term gains, this kind of conflict does more damage than good in the long term. Members of organizations should be working together towards a common goal, not working against and undermining each other. As the saying goes, “a house divided against itself cannot stand.” Companies that are constantly at each other’s throats have less energy and resources to take on competitors.

Hyper competition can cause anxiety and can encourage unethical behavior, and makes it impossible to foster the kind of trust necessary for effective teamwork.

What are the causes of toxic work environments?

Poor management is one of the biggest contributors to toxic workplaces. Bosses either perpetuate bad behavior or fail to stop it. Sometimes, leaders have good intentions but lack the leadership skills necessary to create and maintain healthy workplaces. Or, managers may be more obsessed with power and control or with raw output than with creating positive and effective working environments.

A lack of positive company core values or the failure to follow those ideals may be another culprit. These principles should function as ideals for employees to strive for. Organizations should celebrate employees who embody these ideals and call out team members who violate them. Otherwise, these ideas are just words.

Employees themselves may be the root of the toxicity. Negativity tends to spread, and even a single aggressive, manipulative, or overly-pessimistic employee can make the rest of the staff miserable. It is important to correct or remove harmful employees early on or to use recruitment processes that identify and filter out these kinds of personalities before these bad seeds have a chance to influence the rest of the workforce and office environment.

It is important to note that toxic environments are not necessarily the result of ill-will. Many employers or employees refuse to acknowledge toxic work situations out of a fear of being seen as the “bad guy.” These deniers point to good intentions as proof of a positive workplace. However, just because you wish no harm to come to employees, does not mean employees are not being harmed. Employers can unknowingly allow businesses to become harmful places to work, and many toxic environments are due to blindspots or a lack of self-awareness more than evil. Identifying and fixing toxic work environments is not about casting blame or labeling bosses or workers as bad guys, it is about fixing a broken system and making the workplace more hospitable for employees.

How do you survive toxic workplace conditions?

Because individual employees are limited in their ability to change toxic workplace conditions, sometimes the only option is to endure these situations until better opportunities arise.

If you trust your manager, then you can voice your concerns and brainstorm strategies to stay away from the trouble. For instance, perhaps your boss can put a stop to a teammate’s passive aggressive comments during meetings or give you more solo projects while your department settles an internal dispute.

You can also find solidarity and support from trusted colleagues. By finding other coworkers who are upset by the workplace dynamics, you may even be able to approach the boss or other coworkers as a group and demand a change in the environment. Even if not, finding coworkers to commiserate with can make tense workplaces more tolerable, and you may feel better knowing there are at least a few folks at work you can rely on. You do not have to get along with 100% of your peers, but having some work friends can make the job much better.

It is also important to have support systems outside of work. Talking about work problems with coworkers may not feel safe in toxic workplaces, especially if gossiping and backstabbing is common. Friends and loved ones can be an outlet for these issues and can give you outside perspective and validate your feelings.

While at work, try to avoid joining in toxic behavior. For example, when coworkers gossip, find ways to leave the conversation, for instance, by faking the need to make a phone call. Realize that you cannot control your coworkers’ behavior or reactions, but you can control your own emotions, and remain calm when confronted. Remind yourself that you deserve to have a safe and stable workplace, and do not blame yourself for coworkers’ mistreatment. Be ready with ways to escape uncomfortable situations, for instance, finding a space in the office where you can be alone to bounce back from unpleasant interactions or leaving to have lunch with a positive coworker to take a break from the uneasy workplace atmosphere.

It is important to establish healthy boundaries between home and work. Take time to disengage from work, and separate work from the office as much as possible. Do things that bring you joy while at home to balance out the stress from work, and take time to practice self care and nurture your non-work relationships.

Finally, work on an exit strategy in case work becomes unbearable and the environment does not improve. For instance, start saving money and attending networking events to make it easier to leave your current employer and start a new job search.

When should you leave a toxic job?

Leaving a job is a highly personal decision and is subject to outside factors. Many professionals have responsibilities such as debts to pay or families to support that make job hopping more difficult. However, just because you have obligations, does not mean you have to stay in a job you hate or an unsafe environment. Personal factors may prevent you from making impulsive decisions or quick moves, yet you can start looking for new jobs and take steps to move.

You should consider leaving a toxic job when you are unhappy more often than you are happy, and there is no sign of change. You do not have to wait to have a breakdown or hit burnout to justify the move. If a job is making you miserable, you have done a self assessment to confirm that you are not the cause of the dysfunction, and it is unlikely that the situation will improve, then it may be time for a change.

Sometimes, it is worth talking to your boss before leaving a job. Management may have no idea that you are unhappy and may be willing to make concessions and work towards a solution, for instance, by switching you to a different department away from a cliquey team, offering more autonomy, or correcting hurtful workplace behaviors with new rules. However, in extremely toxic workplaces, it may be unsafe to have these conversations and employees may fear repercussions. Before having these conversations, it helps to determine whether a workplace is abusive overall or if there are merely toxic elements. You may want to try out lower-stakes conversations as a test as to whether higher-ups will be receptive to this kind of constructive feedback.

Toxic workplaces can feel suffocating and you may feel like you are stuck. Many folks fear the shame of job-hopping, or worry about switching to an equally toxic company. However, there is less stigma about switching jobs in the modern work world than in years past. A job that is bad at its core rarely gets better, and you might as well take the chance of finding a better environment. When you work in a string of bad jobs it can be tempting to believe that all work is terrible, and you might as well resign yourself to your misery. However, there are plenty of jobs available, and you do not have to settle for a job that lessens your quality of life.

Switching jobs is not always easy, but is often not as impossible as folks may assume. The job search might involve stealth, creativity, and finesse, and may take time. With the rise of remote work, it is easier than ever to find other options, as professionals are no longer necessarily limited to nearby companies. The process may not be instant, but it is not as impossible. You may not find the perfect job, but chances are that you can find something better than where you are now. There are steps that you can take to make the process more manageable such as reducing expenses and saving money, or switching fields. Many folks come to the incorrect conclusion that if they cannot make the change immediately, then the change is not possible. However, having limits does not mean having no options. Even if you cannot quit a bad job at the spot, you can usually position yourself for better opportunities.

What can leaders do to fix office toxicity?

The first step to overcoming office toxicity is for leaders to serve as positive role models. Dysfunction often flows from the top down, and employees take cues from leaders’ behavior. When higher ups misbehave and act in ways that harm fellow workers, it is much harder to get the general workforce on board with being more compassionate and considerate towards peers.

Leaders can make fixing the work environment a priority and provide resources towards fixing the issues. For example, offering training and education, planning team building outings to build camaraderie, and creating new policies and programs that battle toxicity such as mediation procedures.

There are also non-material ways for leaders to inspire change. Leadership should adopt a no-tolerance attitude towards harassment and discrimintion and hold offenders accountable. Managers should reward positive workplace behaviors and work with team members to correct harmful behavior. Toxicity can spread. While you should give employees a chance to correct bad behaviors, you also need to protect the wellbeing of the workforce at large. Be ready to part ways with employees who refuse to change their harmful ways.

Be sure to support your staff and take steps to ensure employee wellbeing. Building a rapport with workers and acting on feedback will send the message that you care about staff, and can discourage team members from mistreating each other.

Also, be sure to regularly check workplace health and monitor the working environment to ensure that toxicity does not resurface.

How do you change a toxic work culture?

Reversing toxic work cultures is a gradual change. In the same way the dysfunction developed over time, fixing the issues will not happen overnight.

The first step to building a healthier work culture is to find the root of the dysfunction. Once you determine the cause, make a plan to remedy the problem. Remind employees of company core values or introduce these principles into the office. Express and enforce expectations, and practice accountability. Listen to employees, and create safe spaces for staff to raise concerns. Offer conflict resolution training and aim to improve communication. Train or retrain management, and make sure your leaders set a good example for staff to follow. Practice ongoing team building and introduce employee recognition programs. Remove employees who refuse to conform to these more positive standards, and regularly assess your efforts and take a pulse of company health, even after you deem your campaign a success.

As an individual, it is very hard to change a toxic work culture, and no one worker should shoulder the burden of improving the company. Leaders tend to have more sway than subordinates when it comes to battling workplace toxicity, however changing a toxic workplace is always a team effort. Although an individual can be a catalyst for change, other workers must accept that change. Turning around a toxic workplace is a team effort and requires cooperation from every member of the organization.

Here are more tips for improving company culture and a list of ideas for remote work culture.


The average adult spends forty hours or more per week at work. When work is not a pleasant place to be, quality of life dramatically decreases. Toxic workplaces can cause health problems, both mentally and physically. These negative environments hurt businesses too, and can lower productivity, increase staff turnover, and earn organizations a bad reputation.

The solution to workplace toxicity is not as simple as “if you don’t like it, leave.” Switching jobs can cause disruption to a worker’s life and is not always an immediate option. Not to mention, another employee will take that worker’s spot, and the cycle of abuse continues. Toxicity and turnover costs companies billions of dollars per year and causes unnecessary human suffering. The time spent navigating office dysfunction and enduring difficult conditions could go to better use developing professional skills and improving the world. Workplace dysfunction is too big a problem for one worker to tackle and turnaround single-handedly, and often requires intervention and change at the organizational level. The good news is that toxic jobs do not have to stay toxic, and once nightmare workplaces turn into happy and healthy places to work.

For more tips, check out this list of employee experience books and this guide to improving team cooperation in the workplace.

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FAQ: Workplace toxicity

Here are answers to common questions about workplace toxicity.

What is workplace toxicity?

Workplace toxicity is a term that describes an unsafe and uncomfortable work environment that causes undue stress to employees. Toxicity has less to do with the demands of the job role, and more to do with company culture and the attitudes and behaviors of employers and fellow employees. Such atmospheres tend to result in low employee morale and high staff turnover, among other detrimental effects.

What are signs of a toxic work environment?

Some signs of a toxic work environment include teammates spending too much or too little time together, gossip, infighting, and fear of speaking up or disagreeing.

What is the best way to fix a toxic workplace?

The best way to fix a toxic workplace often depends on the cause of the toxicity. The solution may be to rehabilitate or remove the main offenders, foster camaraderie through team building and trust building exercises, improve conflict resolution or communication skills, and create new policies and standards that promote healthier environments. A good way to tackle toxicity is to listen to employees and be open to constructive criticism rather than try to deny or ignore current issues.

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Marketing Coordinator at teambuilding.com.
Team building content expert. Angela has a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing and worked as a community manager with Yelp to plan events for businesses.

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