We have all been there, toiling away in an office, uncomfortably trying to blend in. You don’t want to stand out. And you certainly don’t want to have a creative idea. The very idea is an insult to the imagined authority of management. The fear grips you and anxiety is your constant companion. This is what it’s like to work in toxic work environments.
Listening to the CBC this morning on my way in, they were describing the impacts of these types of work environments. They mentioned depression, anxiety, and exodus. The guest spoke at length about the end of collaboration and innovation, as survival becomes the key.
I was struck by the insidious nature of the environment. Once your workplace devolves into toxicity, it easily spreads across departments and personnel, shrouding them in negativity and paranoia. Politics become the cornerstone as you end up hiding from or sidling up to management. Or you quit and find a new job.
As hellish as these toxic work environments are, I have to wonder why they are so commonplace in every industry. From private to public, schools to Bay Street, we have all lived this experience. Are they initiated by poor leadership or can they be pinpointed on a single employee? Is is a result of bad decision making? I am sure it is a mixture of them all.
But even worse then the immediate affects are the trauma that they leave behind. Employees are left with the memory, even if you manage to expunge the toxicity. They have now experienced how easily their daily lives can be plunged into misery. And the constant companionship of that fear only leads to breakouts of further toxicity or apathy.
I don’t have an easy answer for rectifying these situations. I believe that we need to have safeguards and leadership that are trained in dealing with toxic workplaces and how to clean up the mess. But more to the point, employees need to have the means of calling out and naming toxic work environments without fear of reprisal.
No one benefits from the toxicity and the dip in productivity and innovation. It’s time we had a more active approach.