Common Causes of Toxicity in the Workplace

In an ideal world, the workplace should be a haven of productivity, collaboration, and personal growth. It should be a place where employees enjoy coming to work, where they grow professionally, and have an environment for open communication and development. Unfortunately, many work environments are not such a place. Due to any number of factors, a healthy and inspiring workspace is more rare than the norm. 

Workplace toxicity refers to an environment where negativity, unhealthy behaviors, and stress are prevalent. It can have a devastating impact on employees’ well-being, morale, and overall productivity. A toxic work environment can be caused by a multitude of factors; understanding and diagnosing it is the first step to changing it. Here are the top 9 causes of toxicity in the workplace and the impact they have on employees.

1. Poor Leadership and Management

At the end of the day, the business owner is 100% responsible for setting the tone for the company and upholding its values. Leadership sets the tone for the entire organization. When leaders and managers fail to lead by example, create a positive work culture, or provide support, toxicity quickly takes hold. Poor leadership practices like micromanagement, favoritism, and a lack of clear direction all contribute to a toxic environment. 

Many business owners do not study leadership before starting a business. Understanding people and how to intentionally create a positive environment is a critical step to creating a healthy work environment. 

Impact: Employees can feel disempowered, undervalued, and unmotivated. This can lead to decreased job satisfaction and productivity.

2. Inadequate Communication and Transparency

Effective communication is the backbone of a healthy work environment. Leaders and managers must intentionally create lines of communication and encourage employees to share with them. When employees feel that they aren’t informed about company decisions or are kept in the dark about important matters, it leads to gossip, distrust, and frustration. Remember, no one is a mind reader and everyone by nature will jump to conclusions and judgements if a leader is not clear. 

Impact: Poor communication and transparency creates confusion, rumors, and decreased morale.

3. Bullying and Harassment

Workplace bullying and harassment can manifest in various forms, including verbal abuse, exclusion, or even physical intimidation. These behaviors create a hostile environment that can be emotionally and psychologically damaging. Bullying in the physical is the most obvious form of this, but it also shows up in several other ways. Exclusion, comments, inappropriate jokes, etc. are all subtle forms of bullying. 

It is always up to the management and leaders to set the tone for the environment. If a member of the leadership team allows this behavior, it will always contribute to a negative work environment and turnover in the company. Harassment is also illegal and opens the company up to potential lawsuits.

Impact: Victims suffer from stress, anxiety, depression, and reduced self-esteem.

4. Unmanageable Workload and Stress

Excessive workloads and unmanageable stress can lead to burnout, impacting not only an employee’s well-being but also their job performance. It is important to have clear job expectations and create space for employees to communicate if they need help or if they feel overloaded. Sometimes, a simple fix can save hours of work and reduce a ton of unnecessary stress, simply by having a conversation. No one in your company should show up to work and feel buried by responsibility and have no one to turn to for help. 

Impact: High levels of stress leads to absenteeism, decreased productivity, and even physical health problems.

5. Discrimination and Inequality

Discrimination, whether based on gender, race, age, or any other factor, can lead to a toxic environment where employees feel marginalized and unfairly treated. It is important as a business owner to see past all of our human differences and focus on the bottom line; the job at hand. Discrimination is also illegal.

Blatant discrimination is easy to spot, but like bullying, it often shows up in subtle forms. This is why communication is essential to a healthy work environment. When employees feel safe in speaking with leaders about any uncomfortable situation, discrimination can quickly be stopped. 

Impact: Discrimination leads to disengagement, resentment, and a high turnover rate.

6. Lack of Career Growth and Opportunities

When employees feel there’s no room for growth within an organization, they may become disillusioned and disengaged. Often, this type of workplace boredom leads to a stagnant environment where no one is energized to show up to work and productivity slows to a halt. Everyone wants to be inspired when they come to work. It is the responsibility of the management and leadership to create this type of environment. 

Impact: Employees lose motivation and job satisfaction, leading to a decrease in productivity.

7. Inadequate Conflict Resolution

A lack of effective conflict resolution mechanisms can result in long-standing issues, grudges, and a culture of resentment. Life happens and not everyone working together is going to get along by nature. We all have different personalities, skill sets, and backgrounds. It’s essential that when issues do arise, a company has a process to handle them smoothly and effectively so each employee involved feels complete. 

Impact: Poor conflict resolution leads to hostility, reduced collaboration, and increased stress.

8. Disregard for Employee Well-being

Each employee in the workplace is human, with human needs and an entire life outside of the workplace walls. Ignoring the physical and mental well-being of employees can lead to health-related problems and stress. Each employee should feel safe to go to management or leadership, should a health issue arise. Keeping these lines of communication open creates a feeling of being valued and secure in the workplace. Otherwise, employees will always feel as if they need to protect themselves from leadership. 

Impact: Reduced employee well-being results in decreased trust, morale and productivity.

9. Legal and Ethical Violations

Violations of workplace laws and ethical standards create a culture of fear and distrust. This one seems obvious but at its core, is absolutely essential to creating a healthy and effective workplace environment. Employees must know that leaders respect them and themselves to the standard of legal and ethical laws. Without that, no employee will feel safe or lend trust to management. Business owners are responsible for training management to this standard and ensuring compliance at all levels of their businesses. 

Impact: Legal and ethical violations lead to damaged reputations and legal repercussions for the organization.

In conclusion, recognizing and addressing the common causes of workplace toxicity is crucial for creating a healthier, more productive work environment. The more quickly an issue is spotted, the more effectively it can be handled. This is first and foremost the responsibility of the founders of the company. Organizations should foster a culture of respect, open communication, and ethical behavior to prevent and combat toxicity. 



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