"Toxic" is more than a Britney Spears song, it is a common adjective used to describe today's workplace.
"As millions can attest, the workplace today is a very difficult place to be. Because of the economic downturn, there is rampant downsizing, cutbacks, and employee misery, and people who have a job are holding on to it for dear life," says Orlando-based psychotherapist, Linda Durre'.
"People attribute the current economic situation to a variety of causes; the list is endless. Whatever the causes, the results in the workplace now are that people are crammed into regimented cubicles, there is a lack of privacy, the workload has increased, and one person can be doing the work of two, three, or four people, paid only one salary."
If all working environments are becoming more and more toxic, what can employees do to identify a toxic co-worker and deal with a toxic work environment?
Tips for keeping your workplace non-toxic
Humans by nature are influenced by so many external factors and internal emotions that it is easy to sometimes let the bad aspects of things create a negative outlook. The same is true of the workplace. As you go to work every day, there are many factors that can influence your focus, attitude, and performance at work -- such as a sick parent, marital problems, financial concerns, problems with your kids, or health problems of your own. The key point is that there are many factors that influence workers in a business environment. Put a lot of different workers together, each with their own influences and personal issues, and you have a very complex system of mixed emotions, needs, ideas, and desires, which if mixed together improperly, can lead to a toxic workplace.
How do you avoid bringing your own baggage to work and keeping your workplace clean and non-toxic? Durre' recommends the following:
- Work with purpose. "Making a lot of money is not the ultimate indication and marker of success." Focus more on quality service and excellent products, instead of money and profits. (See also: Does More Money Always Lead to Better Productivity at Work?)
- Lead by example. "Most management specialists and psychotherapists point out that the values and personalities of the people at the top of a company filter down to the mail clerk. So if you have companies run by sociopaths and psychopaths, liars, cheats, bullies, con artists, and people with no morals, ethics, or a conscience -- many of the employees will reflect those values and behaviors," cautions Durre'.
- Keep your eyes open. There is not just one definition of the toxic co-worker. There are so many qualities that can sabotage the work environment. These toxic qualities are not gender-specific either, so do not assume that a female co-worker cannot be a sexual predator in the workplace, for instance, or a man can't be the source of nasty gossip.
- Trust your intuition. "If you feel that someone is lying to you, you don't trust them, you get a queasy feeling in your stomach, you sense that they're giving you lip service or setting you up, confront it and deal with it."
- Be insightful. Acknowledge that no one is perfect and accept the fact that neither are you. Everyone has some negative qualities, but instead of letting pressure mount or tempers flare, further polluting your workplace, examine yourself as a person and be adult enough to apologize when you hurt someone's feelings and accept responsibility when you make a mistake. If there are areas in which you want to improve, enlist help (counseling, books, support groups, human resources etc.) and make a plan.
Surviving the Toxic Workplace: Advice From the Author
In her new book, Surviving the Toxic Workplace, Durre' examines effective communication skills. "My desire is to understand and empower all of my clients and readers with effective communication skills to cope with and/or eliminate toxic conditions and influences at work and in their lives," she says.
Written in a clear, concise manner, with funny stories and humor, the book is organized into four parts:
Part I: What is a toxic workplace and why is it harmful to people and productivity?
Part II: Communication techniques to get it right.
Part III: Toxic personalities and how to deal with them. (All 79 different types are classified into 12 groups.)
Part IV: What to do after a confrontation.
Because this wealth of information cannot be condensed into one short article, a series articles highlights the key points and take-aways that the author prescribes for navigating a toxic work environment and identifying the most common types of toxic personalities.