Social:Toxic workplace

From HandWiki
Short description: Informal term for a workplace marked by infighting and personal conflict

A “toxic workplace” is a colloquial metaphor used to describe a place of work, usually an office environment, that is marked by significant personal conflicts between those who work there. A toxic work environment has a negative impact on an organization's productivity and viability. This type of environment can be detrimental to both the effectiveness of the workplace and the well-being of its employees.


The word toxic was first used as a metaphor for poisonous interpersonal relationships (as opposed to a factual description of a workplace literally involving toxic chemicals) in 1989, in a book about leadership for nurses.[1][2] This book contrasted a toxic work environment, with a high-conflict and uncollaborative approach, against a "nourishing" workplace, with shared values and active listening.[1][2]


Toxic workplaces are created by the actions of toxic employers and/or employees; that is, individuals who are motivated by personal gain, whether driven by power, money, fame, or special status, utilize unethical means or behaviors to psychologically manipulate, belittle, or frustrate those around them, or divert attention away from their personal inadequate performance or misdeeds. Toxic workers do not feel a sense of duty toward their workplace or their co-workers, especially in regard to ethical or professional conduct toward others.[3] Toxic workers also define relationships with co-workers, not by appropriate organizational structure, but by those who they like/dislike or trust/distrust.[4]

In 2017 and 2021, nineteen percent of Americans suffered abusive conduct at work, according to the Workplace Bullying Institute.[5][6]

In 2017, the Workplace Bullying Institute found that 61% of bullies were bosses,[7] a figure which rose to 65% in 2021.[8] A 2022 study by McKinsey & Company concluded that women are 41% more likely to be subjected to a toxic workplace culture and that their risk of burnout is elevated.[9][10]

Corporate and organizational results

This phenomenon harms both the company and the employees, including those who are not direct targets. Co-workers are distracted by drama, gossip, and by choosing sides in the ongoing animosity. This can translate into lost productivity.[11] While employees are distracted by this activity, they can not devote time and attention to the achievement of business goals. Positively motivated and ethical employees may try to speak up to a toxic employee, but this can make them a target (see Whistleblower). Managers of toxic employees can feel intimidated by a toxic employee and try to appease the employee in an effort to avoid confrontation. Over time, positively motivated employees drift away from the workplace and may begin to view management as inept and ineffective. This can result in poor job performance as they begin to feel less valued and, therefore, less loyal to the company.

Fellow employees may begin to experience physical symptoms from the stress and worry over whether they or someone they care about in the workplace may be targeted. This can even develop into a clinical depression requiring treatment.[12]

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health found toxic workplace environments are a leading cause of workplace violence such as, “violent acts, including physical assaults and threats of assault, directed toward persons at work or on duty.” Studies on this issue include verbal violence (threats, verbal abuse, hostility, harassment, etc.) can cause significant psychological trauma and stress, even if no physical injury takes place. Verbal assaults and hostility can also escalate to physical violence.

Prevention and resolution

Interventions to address this negative behavior in the workplace should be undertaken carefully.[13] Fixing the problem should be very important and will likely be very beneficial rather than causing any extra trouble.

When toxic workers leave the workplace, it can improve the culture overall because the remaining staff becomes more engaged and productive.[14] The process of removing the toxic employee allows the other employees to become more willing to open up and communicate with each other as they learn to help and support one another anew. This is significant for the overall culture of the company. Companies that articulate a strong set of cultural values regarding communication, respect, and professionalism as well as a performance evaluation system that ranks both technical performance and the professional treatment of fellow employees are felt by HR professionals to be more resilient and stable.[15]

In the United States , the issue of workplace bullying has garnered increasing attention from state governments; as of 2023, thirty-two states have introduced versions of the Healthy Workplace Bill,[lower-alpha 1] which defines 'toxic' conduct and outlines support for employers to address the behavior through discipline.[16]

See also

Note: This topic belongs to "Organized labour " portal


  1. As of October 2023, only 3 states have currently active bills.


  1. 1.0 1.1 Christian, Alex. "How every workplace became 'toxic'" (in en). 
  2. 2.0 2.1 Baillie, Virginia K.; Trygstad, Louise N.; Cordoni, Tatiana Isaeff (1989) (in en). Effective Nursing Leadership: A Practical Guide. Jones & Bartlett Learning. ISBN 978-0-8342-0036-4. 
  3. Housman, Michael; Dylan, Minor (2015-11-01). "Toxic Workers". "Thus, a toxic worker is defined as a worker that engages in behavior that is harmful to an organization, including either its property or people." 
  4. Benoit, Suzanne (2011) "Toxic Employees: great companies resolve this problem, you can too!" Falmouth, Maine: BCSPublishing
  5. "2017 Workplace Bullying Institute U.S. Workplace Bullying Survey". 
  6. "2021 WBI U.S. Workplace Bullying Survey". 
  7. "2017 Workplace Bullying Institute U.S. Workplace Bullying Survey". 
  8. "2021 WBI U.S. Workplace Bullying Survey". 
  9. McKinsey, & Company (2022). "Women in the Workplace". 
  10. Sull, Donald; Sull, Charles (2023-03-14). "The Toxic Culture Gap Shows Companies Are Failing Women" (in en-US). MIT Sloan Management Review. 
  11. Bitting, Robert. "Using Effective Leadership Strategies in the Workplace". "Archived copy". . Retrieved May 13, 2011.
  12. Davies, Andrews and Smith. "Do You Have a Toxic Employee in Your Workplace?" Retrieved May 13, 2011
  13. Ryan, Liz (2007-11-01). "The Toxic Employee". "Interpersonal relationships, contrary to popular opinion, are not irrelevant to performance planning. If one person on the team can't go three days without upsetting one or more other members, you've got an issue." 
  14. "Is Employee Turnover Always Bad?". 
  15. SHARP Report, April 2011, Washington State Department of Labor and Industries, "Workplace Bullying and Disruptive Behaviour" accessed at:
  16. The Healthy Workplace Campaign accessed June 14, 2011 at:

Further reading

  • Durré L Surviving the Toxic Workplace: Protect Yourself Against Coworkers, Bosses, and Work Environments That Poison Your Day (2010)
  • Kusy M & Holloway E Toxic workplace!: managing toxic personalities and their systems of power (2009)
  • Lavender NJ & Cavaiola AA Toxic Coworkers: How to Deal with Dysfunctional People on the Job (2000)
  • Lavender NJ & Cavaiola AA The One-Way Relationship Workbook: Step-By-Step Help for Coping with Narcissists, Egotistical Lovers, Toxic Coworkers & Others Who Are Incredibly Self-Absorbed (2011)
  • Lubit RH Coping with Toxic Managers, Subordinates ... and Other Difficult People: Using Emotional Intelligence to Survive and Prosper (2003)
  • Sue MP Toxic People: Decontaminate Difficult People at Work Without Using Weapons Or Duct Tape (2007)
  • Dr. Gary Chapman, Dr. Paul White, & Dr. Harold Myra | Rising Above a Toxic Workplace: Taking Care of Yourself in an Unhealthy Environment (2014)