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Navigating a toxic workplace

Updated: Aug 11, 2022

One of the worst things employees fear at work is running into a toxic workplace. A toxic workplace is counterproductive to an employee’s productivity and when unaddressed, can severely affect company harmony and morale. In fact, studies have shown that toxic workplaces can result in the following - Lack of work-life balance, depression, prolonged stress, burnout and stagnation. These effects are correlational and causational, and they go both ways. In a time where the job market is uncertain and it is difficult for people to quit their jobs without second thought, there are thankfully a few ways for everyone to manage toxicity at the workplace without having to resort to drastic actions.

1. Steer clear of excessive gossip

It is human nature to gossip, and gossiping isn’t inherently bad. In fact, it provides us with a healthy dose of humor, entertainment and human touch to help us recharge at work. Furthermore, there is such a thing as good and bad gossip. However, too much gossip can backfire and become detrimental to an employee’s productivity. When overdone, they can even be weaponized to pit two people against each other, or coerce people against their own will. Ill humor can also result in put-down moments, which upsets coworkers and leads to a tense atmosphere.If you know a coworker who is guilty of excessive gossiping, either keep your distance from them, or remind them of their disruptive behavior.

2. Learn to be assertive and to confront

One of the things that we commonly encounter at workplace is to be respectful towards the authority or higher ups, to the point that we refrain from discussing our feelings even if they have said something hurtful to us. If a coworker or employer has rubbed you off the wrong way, or has said something incredibly personal about you which has upset you, you are allowed to express your discomfort. The key here is not to go guns blazing and be furious. Instead, it is to take a stand and to remind your colleagues that they have crossed the line. Something along the lines of… “I am uncomfortable with what you have said about me, and I would appreciate it if you would not bring that up again, as these are incredibly personal feelings to me,” is a great way to remind your coworkers to be mindful with their words. In fact, assertiveness can also be applied in meetings and brainstorming sessions, where everyone’s inputs are valued. Here’s another example of a respectful yet assertive statement, “I disagree with what you have suggested, as I believe doing so will affect the company and the team. I would like to propose doing A instead of B.” Communication is an art at workplace, and what better way to hone the art of communication than to be comfortable expressing yourself?

3. Create positivity in the workplace

We’re sure you’ve heard of the saying, the biggest things begin from the smallest gestures. Likewise, you don’t have to wait for someone to create positivity at workplace. Instead, be the positivity that you would like to see at workplace. A little bit of positivity goes a long way, be it praising your coworkers on a job well done or thanking them for their contributions, to complimenting the way your coworkers look will do wonders in raising team morale and creating a more interactive atmosphere for people to engage in conversations in. Consider sentences like - “Thank you for your hard work!”, “You did a great job!”, “Did you get a new haircut? I love it”. There is no bounds to creating positivity at work and it all boils down to your creativity. Some organizations hold activities such as “Get to know your colleague Fridays” or “Tennis Tuesdays” to encourage positive and casual interactions between employees to help foster company bonds too. Positivity begins from each of us, and we all have a part in spreading it.

4. Foster trust

Two of the common things that constantly put employees and employers at odds against each other - Autonomy vs. Micromanaging. Managers want to know what their employees are up to every second, and employees wish their managers would place more trust in their work and back off. But trust is a two-way street that can only be achieved with communication and time. Both employees and employers have to be upfront about their expectations towards one another, and be open to communicating each other's needs in an honest but respectful manner. For the employee, understand that trust is fostered by delivering the performance and standard that is expected out of your superiors. For managers, know that trust is fostered through clarity, including employees in decision making and allowing employees control over their work. Only with trust can both autonomy and micromanaging exist on a healthy equilibrium. Compassion, perspectives and empathy are paramount to discussing expectations, which in turn builds and foster trust.

5. Seek out superior or HR for advice

While your boss or HR might not necessarily hold the power to change everything at work, they may be able to intervene or address any issues at work if it becomes overwhelming for you. A slip in employee productivity is a slip in company wellbeing and performance, which motivates the higher ups to act earlier to curb the issue. Furthermore, bringing the issue to your boss or HR’s attention will allow them to report the problem to an even bigger higherup, which allows them to take note of the problem and monitor it. However, note that intervention from the higher ups can only go so far, and their intervention can only protect you in certain moments. To effectively address any toxic workplace issues, it is still important for you to practice the methods above to ensure maximum effectiveness in managing toxicity.

6. Request to be laterally moved

If all else fails, request to be moved to a different department. And while avoidance isn’t something we typically recommend to deal with a standing issue, allowing yourself a change of department will do wonders for your mental health. By uprooting yourself from a toxic environment and planting yourself in a new one, you may even open doors to newer opportunities and interpersonal relationships that may contribute to a positive growth in you, and provide you with more ways to upskill yourself to make you an attractive candidate for headhunters to consider when the time comes.


Toxicity at workplace isn’t something that can be overcome overnight. However, healthy management of toxicity can serve as a great buffer to your mental health, and that effect extends to others around you. The key thing to remember about toxicity at workplace is to learn how to actively draw the lines when the time calls for it, and in doing so, allowing yourself to be heard, which is great.

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