8 Examples of Toxicity in the Workplace

Many of us want to believe that the workplace is safe for everyone. Unfortunately, that isn’t always the case. Over the years we have seen toxicity everywhere from the local grocery store all the way up to Hollywood and even farther. It is important to understand that a toxic work environment equates to an abusive work environment. With this list from Psych2Go we hope to point out ways to spot toxicity in the workplace and how to counteract its affects on employees.

1. Incompetent leadership

Rather than giving advice or taking the lead, and incompetent boss or manager may delegate all of their jobs to those below them. This not only shows the employees the lacking leadership but it also places undo stress on those same employees. If the bosses aren’t getting their job done, then it can be hard for those underneath them to accomplish anything as well. But who often gets the wrath for an unfinished job? The lowest man on the ladder, the employees.

Taking the brunt of a disorganized workplace can lead to low production and higher instances of mistakes overall. One way to counteract this is to establish a system of work that needs to be accomplished. Take the focus away from what the boss needs to be doing and instead redirect it to the things the employee knows they can do at that time. Restoring confidence in their work is important if the employees are to continue being productive.

2. Dislike going to work 

There are some jobs, and some days, where you just don’t want to be there for some reason or another. If those days are turning into weeks or months, then chances are something in the work environment is toxic. Perhaps there is another employee who makes it their mission to degrade and disregard work that isn’t theirs. A shift in management can cause the workplace to go off kilter. A higher work quota can cause the stress level of the entire office is through the roof. There could be any number of reasons why someone might dislike going to work and what constitutes as a toxic environment. One thing that can be done is to establish a list of red flags that are now noticed. Knowing where those issues are can push employees to seek out ways to rectify them and restore balance to the workplace.

3. Gossip that goes beyond Netflix or People Magazine

Interpersonal communications are important to keep a business running like a well oiled machine. Employees are going to talk amongst themselves about various things and even have new variations of the “water cooler chats.” It’s when those chats turn into rants or venting about other colleagues or the boos that things can get ugly. Gossiping about other employees or the management can increase the negativity in an office.

Bringing to light obvious indiscretions such as sexual abuse should be done in the HR office, those are not what we are talking about here. This is more akin to playground chatter that borderlines on bullying. This type of behavior does not create a cohesive work environment nor does it foster close working relationships among employees. Avoiding the gossip at all costs is a fantastic way to counteract the negativity that comes from it. For the most part, keeping conversations work oriented and on task might prove helpful here as well.

4. A non-supportive boss

This doesn’t mean the bosses are supposed to support their employees dreams of being the next big juggler on TV. No, this means that bosses are supposed to be supportive of employee’s work. If there is a misunderstanding or a correction needs to be made, then the boss is the one that should be doing this. There should be constructive criticisms and critiques to work that is sub par. If the boss isn’t acting in this manner, then employee output will suffer.

Having a boss that belittles their employees or accosts them instead of walking them through a complicated procedure can create nothing but a toxic environment. If this isn’t a systematic thing and is in fact quarantined to one specific manager or boss it might be time to talk to HR. If there is a known policy against that kind of behavior, those in higher positions within the company need to know about it. Bringing it out in the open may be the only way to get it addressed at all.

5. Constant illness among employees 

Stress sickness is on the rise amongst those who work in corporate environments. Many ER and doctor’s visits can be attributed to illness caused by a stress weakened immune system. If there has been a rash of sickness or there have been constant illnesses in some employees, a toxic work environment might be to blame. This is a harder one to counteract as finding a new job isn’t always an option. Speaking with HR about issues within the office is the first stepping stone to finding the source of the issue. If HR or those in positions of power aren’t receptive then there isn’t much else that can be done from within. Unfortunately, these things can run deep within companies so it is hard to find someone willing to make changes.

6. Lack of consistency with rules and policies  

Some employees are at their desks and working while others are off in the back room for what seems like hours on end. Some employees are reprimanded for taking a longer break than what is allowed while others are left alone entirely. Playing fast and loose with company rules and policies can foster animosity within the employee pool. It can also cause there to be a “teachers pet” image connected with employees who appear to be favored. Unless there is a manger that can be talked to about this, there isn’t much that can be done. Using time wisely and making sure that they are not on the receiving end of backlash over time is an employees best defense. It isn’t fair by any means but it will make things easier on the employee if they can find a way to fly under the radar.

7. No respect 

Having the respect of managers and other employees can boost mood and overall productivity within the workplace. Without those things, employees are essentially left to wander a veritable deserted island within the office. With no respect comes zero support as well. To have a well running company or business, it is imperative that there be a certain level of respect given to all those working there. There is no way to demand respect that will actually get it. Most demands are brushed aside or targets are placed on employees who are seen as troublesome. Taking the issue to upper management might be the only recourse available for this one.

8. Sexual abuse or misconduct 

This is the no brainer on the list. It is easy to see how being sexually harassed on the job would put an employee in a terrible place both mentally and with the company. Sexual harassment and misconduct is often used as a ploy to assert power of dominance over someone else. In many instances it is a power play by a boss because they know the employee would be afraid to risk their job to expose it.

The only option with this scenario is to go directly to HR and make a formal complaint against the manager or employee that did it. This is more than likely not the first time that the person has done this. It will be scary to talk about, especially if the complaint is against the boss, but standing up for their rights is the only way an employee can have a voice in this situation.

As mentioned, a toxic work environment can reek havoc on the mind and body. Stress can cause physical ailments as well as psychological ones. Employees may find themselves getting sicker more often. They can also find themselves becoming anxious and neurotic when they weren’t before. A toxic work environment can leach into every aspect of a person’s life, causing confusion and chaos in its wake. There are ways to counteract these issues so all hope is not lost. Just because it is toxic now doesn’t mean you can’t fix it. Or that the next job will be that way too.


Have you had an issue with a toxic work environment and would like to share it with us? Post it in the comments below!


Other reading from Psych2Go:

10 Ways to Deal with Toxic People 

10 Ways to Spot a Toxic Person in Your Life

12 Potential Toxic Behaviors That Push People Away



Aries, Emilie. “5 Signs You’re In A Toxic Workplace.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 9 Mar. 2017, www.forbes.com/sites/emiliearies/2017/03/07/5-signs-youre-in-a-toxic-workplace/#1f480b351347. Retrieved November 12, 2017

Ishak, Raven. “19 Signs Your Work Environment Is Toxic & Affecting You Negatively.” Bustle, Bustle, 14 July 2016, www.bustle.com/articles/170826-19-signs-your-work-environment-is-toxic-affecting-you-negatively. Retrieved November 12, 2017

Williams, Ray. “The Rise of Toxic Leadership and Toxic Workplaces.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 27 Jan. 2016, www.psychologytoday.com/blog/wired-success/201601/the-rise-toxic-leadership-and-toxic-workplaces. Retrieved November 12, 2017

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