Toxic workplace

A toxic workplace is a workplace that is marked by significant drama and infighting, where personal battles often harm productivity. Toxic workplaces are often considered the result of toxic employers and/or toxic employees who are motivated by personal gain (power, money, fame or special status), use unethical, mean-spirited and sometimes illegal means to manipulate and annoy those around them; and whose motives are to maintain or increase power, money or special status or divert attention away from their performance shortfalls and misdeeds. Toxic workers do not recognize a duty to the organization for which they work or their co-workers in terms of ethics or professional conduct toward others. Toxic workers define relationships with co-workers, not by organizational structure but by co-workers they favour and those they do not like or trust.[1]

Quite similarly, Harder et al. (2014) define a toxic work environment as an environment that negatively impacts the viability of an organization. They specify: "It is reasonable to conclude that an organization can be considered toxic if it is ineffective as well as destructive to its employees".

In the United States, the issue of workplace bullying is getting increasing attention from state governments; twenty-six states have introduced a version of the Healthy Workplace Bill which provides a definition of this conduct and support for employers to address the behaviour through discipline.[2]

Studies by National Occupational Safety and Health found toxic workplace environments 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, and the like) can cause significant psychological trauma and stress, even if no physical injury takes place. Verbal assaults and hostility can also escalate to physical violence.

Corporate and organizational results

This phenomenon harms both the company and the other 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.[3] While employees are distracted by this activity, they cannot 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, 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 work place may be targeted. This can even develop into a clinical depression requiring treatment.[4]

Prevention and resolution

Interventions to address this negative behaviour in the workplace should be undertaken carefully.[5] A four-tiered approach involving fellow employees is suggested by Dr. Gerald Hickson and colleagues at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. This approach starts with an informal intervention, then, if that is not effective, moves on to a true awareness intervention, an authoritarian intervention and finally, discipline.[6]

When toxic workers leave the workplace, it can improve the culture overall because the remaining staff become more engaged and productive.[7] Companies who 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 less vulnerable.[6]

See also


  1. ^ Benoit, Suzanne (2011) "Toxic Employees: great companies resolve this problem, you can too!" Falmouth, Maine: BCSPublishing
  2. ^ The Healthy Workplace Campaign accessed June 14, 2011 at:
  3. ^ Bitting, Robert. "Using Effective Leadership Strategies in the Workplace". "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2011-08-13. Retrieved 2015-11-07.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link). Retrieved May 13, 2011.
  4. ^ Davies, Andrews and Smith. "Do You Have a Toxic Employee in Your Workplace?" Retrieved May 13, 2011
  5. ^ The Toxic Employee
  6. ^ a b SHARP Report, April 2011, Washington State Department of Labor and Industries, "Workplace Bullying and Disruptive Behaviour" accessed at:
  7. ^ Mayhew, Ruth "Is employee turnover always bad?" accessed 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)
Abusive supervision

Abusive supervision is most commonly studied in the context of the workplace, although can arise in other areas such as in the household and at school. "Abusive supervision has been investigated as an antecedent to negative subordinate workplace outcome." [weasel ] "Workplace violence has combination of situational and personal factors". The study that was conducted looked at the link between abusive supervision and different workplace events.

Conference Board of Canada

The Conference Board of Canada is a Canadian not-for-profit think tank dedicated to researching and analyzing economic trends, as well as organizational performance and public policy issues.

Describing itself as "objective" and "non-partisan", the Conference Board of Canada claims not to lobby for special interests. It is funded through fees charged for services delivered to the private and public sectors alike. The organization conducts, publishes and disseminates research on various topics of interest to its members. It publishes research reports, conducts meetings, holds conferences and provides on-line information services, which aim to develop individual leadership skills and organizational capacity.

The Conference Board of Canada was established in 1954 as a division of the American National Industrial Conference Board, now simply known as The Conference Board. The Conference Board of Canada acquired a separate legal identity in 1981, and currently has over 200 employees, mostly based out of its main office in Ottawa. It is currently registered as a Canadian charitable organization and maintains a presence across Canada with an office in Calgary and an affiliate in Quebec, L'Institut du Québec.

Dr. Susan Black is the President and Chief Executive Officer of The Conference Board of Canada.

Control freak

In psychology-related slang, the term control freak describes an individual who attempts to undermine other people based on how one dictates how everything is done around them. The phrase was first used in the 1970s, an era when stress was laid on the principle of 'doing one's own thing' and letting others do the same.

Culture of fear

Popularized by the American sociologist Barry Glassner, culture of fear (or climate of fear) is the concept that people may incite fear in the general public to achieve political or workplace goals through emotional bias.A largely unrelated concept in sociology is the "fear culture" on the Guilt-Shame-Fear spectrum of cultures.

Donald Schultz

Donald Schultz (born 27 August 1978) is a South African film maker, writer and entertainer who travels the world working with dangerous species.

Schultz was on a show on Animal Planet called Wild Recon which ran for one season for a total of 10 episodes. It ran under the title "Venom Hunter" overseas.He was also featured in Venom in Vegas, where he was put in a glass box full of 100 snakes, some venomous, in full view of the Las Vegas public. Occasionally, Schultz is also the guest on Chelsea Lately where he introduces Chelsea to various new animals.

He also co-hosted "Animal Intervention" with Allison Eastwood on Nat Geo Wild ' where he was involved in trying to convince owners of exotic animals, namely big cats, to either re-home or improve the conditions of exotic animals in their care. "Animal Intervention".

He often appears on the Jason Ellis Show on Sirius/XM to discuss Extreme Falling, Animals and tribal rituals among other topics of interest.Schultz works on a variety of travel, adventure and conservation content for television and other mediums.Schultz is also an accomplished skydiver and BASE jumper. With over 1500 wingsuit and BASE jumps, he has traveled to various countries on wing suit expeditions.

In March 2014, Schultz accompanied NITRO CIRCUS to South Africa for 3 LIVE shows in Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town. While there, the crew filmed 4 episodes due for release on MTV2 in 2014.In August 2013, Schultz was charged with a misdemeanor for shipping pet lizards across state lines in 2010. Schultz claimed he was unaware a permit was needed and received community service and a $6000 fine. He said he is going to use the whole experience to learn and further educate people about the need for conservation.

Four Barrel Coffee

Four Barrel Coffee is a coffee roaster based in San Francisco, California, with three cafes in San Francisco. Like competitors Ritual Coffee Roasters and Blue Bottle, Four Barrel is among local, independent companies which roast their own beans, wholesale, and operate cafes. Unique among local coffeeshops, Four Barrel does not provide free Wi-Fi or power for laptops. Four Barrel opened in 2008 and was started by one of the founders of Ritual, with its first location in the Mission District. In April 2017, Benny Gold collaborated with Four Barrel Coffee to offer, limited edition commemorative product.In January 2018 eight former employees filed suit against Four Barrel and its founder Jeremy Tooker, alleging that he sexually assaulted multiple women and created a toxic workplace culture for non male employees. The company settled the lawsuit out of court and Tooker left the company and divested his shares in it. The remaining owners were reportedly planning to rebuild the company with a 100% employee owned model. Multiple companies have ceased to carry Four Barrel product in the wake of the suit. As of seven months later the company has not made a transition to being worker owned and "will not for the foreseeable future," according to co-owners co-owners Tal Mor and Jodi Geren. They cite a lack of profitability and have pledged to begin profit sharing with employees by the end of the year, should the business stabilize.

Going postal

Going postal is an American English slang phrase referring to becoming extremely and uncontrollably angry, often to the point of violence, and usually in a workplace environment. The expression derives from a series of incidents from 1986 onward in which United States Postal Service (USPS) workers shot and killed managers, fellow workers, and members of the police or general public in acts of mass murder. Between 1970 and 1997, more than 40 people were killed by current or former employees in at least 20 incidents of workplace rage. Between 1986 and 2011, workplace shootings happened at roughly two per year, with an average of 12 people killed per year.

Kiss up kick down

Kiss up kick down (or suck up kick down) is a neologism used to describe the situation where middle level employees in an organization are polite and flattering to superiors but abusive to subordinates. It is believed to have originated in the US, with the first documented use having occurred in 1993. The concept can be applied to any social interaction where one person believes they have power over another person and believes that another person has power over them.

Linda Dessau

Linda Marion Dessau (born 8 May 1953) has been the Governor of Victoria since 1 July 2015. She is the first female and the first Jewish holder of the office. She was a judge of the Family Court of Australia from 1995 to 2013.

Ma Lan

Ma Lan (born 23 April 1962) is a Chinese performing artist of Huangmei opera who usually plays dan (female) roles. Before her abrupt (and unannounced) departure from the stage in 2000, Ma Lan was considered the most popular Huangmei opera performer in the country. She has won the Plum Blossom Award, the China TV Golden Eagle Award, and the Flying Apsaras Award, and performed on CCTV New Year's Gala in 1984, 1987, 1988, 1992, 1997, and 2005. She is often compared to the 1950s/1960s superstar Yan Fengying, whom she movingly portrayed in a hit 1988 TV series.

Ma Lan is married to writer Yu Qiuyu. In a 2006 blog post, Yu Qiuyu blamed toxic workplace politics and corruption in Anhui Huangmei Opera Company for his wife's involuntary retirement at age 38. This post generated fervent discussions.


In business management, micromanagement is a management style whereby a manager closely observes and/or controls the work of his/her subordinates or employees.

Micromanagement is generally considered to have a negative connotation, mainly due to the fact that it shows a lack of freedom in the workplace.

Narcissism in the workplace

Narcissism in the workplace is a serious issue and may have a major detrimental impact on an entire organization. Narcissistic individuals in the workplace are more likely to engage in counterproductive work behavior, especially when their self-esteem is threatened. Narcissism is both a personality trait and a personality disorder, generally assessed with the Narcissistic Personality Inventory.Oliver James identifies narcissism as one of the dark triadic personality traits in the workplace, with the others being psychopathy and Machiavellianism. These three traits have been found to correlate moderately to strongly with one another. Dark triad traits also share strong negative correlations with Honesty-Humility traits. Narcissism is distinguished from the other dark triad traits by its positive correlations with openness and extroversion.

Narcissistic leadership

Narcissistic leadership is a leadership style in which the leader is only interested in him/herself. Their priority is themselves – at the expense of their people/group members. This leader exhibits the characteristics of a narcissist: arrogance, dominance and hostility. It is a sufficiently common leadership style that it has acquired its own name. Narcissism is most often described as unhealthy and destructive. It has been described as "driven by unyielding arrogance, self-absorption, and a personal egotistic need for power and admiration".

Psychosocial hazard

A psychosocial hazard is any occupational hazard that affects the psychological well-being of workers, including their ability to participate in a work environment among other people. Psychosocial hazards are related to the way work is designed, organized and managed, as well as the economic and social contexts of work and are associated with psychiatric, psychological and/or physical injury or illness. Linked to psychosocial risks are issues such as occupational stress and workplace violence which are recognized internationally as major challenges to occupational health and safety.

Purl (2019 film)

Purl is a 2019 American computer-animated short film written and directed by Kristen Lester, with the story being written by Michael Daley, Bradley Furnish, Lester, and James Robertson, and produced by Pixar Animation Studios. The first short released as part of Pixar's "SparkShorts" program, the film focuses on a ball of yarn named Purl, who gets employed in a human-dominant company, which causes her to be ignored by her fellow employees. The short was released in February 4, 2019, to universal acclaim from critics, particularly for its themes.


SparkShorts is an American independent animated short film series developed by Pixar Animation Studios. It consists of a program in which Pixar employees are given six months and limited budgets to develop short films that are subsequently released on Pixar's YouTube channel.

Purl, Smash and Grab, and Kitbull, the first shorts of the SparkShorts program, were released at SIGGRAPH on August 14, 2018. The shorts later had a limited release at El Capitan Theater on January 8, 2019. Purl was officially released on February 4, 2019, while Smash and Grab was released on February 11, and Kitbull was released on February 18. Subsequent shorts will be released on November 12, 2019, on Disney+. The series was praised for its more mature themes compared to previous Pixar productions.

Toxic leader

A toxic leader is a person who has responsibility over a group of people or an organization, and who abuses the leader–follower relationship by leaving the group or organization in a worse condition than when they first found them. The phrase was coined by Marcia Whicker in 1996 and is linked with a number of dysfunctional leadership styles. Their leadership style is both self-destructive and ultimately corporately harmful as they subvert and destroy organizational structures.In his book, Petty Tyranny in Organizations, Blake Ashforth discussed potentially destructive sides of leadership and identified what he referred to as petty tyrants, i.e.leaders who exercise a tyrannical style of management, resulting in a climate of fear in the workplace.


A workplace is a location where someone works for his or her employer, a place of employment. Such a place can range from a home office to a large office building or factory. For industrialized societies, the workplace is one of the most important social spaces other than the home, constituting "a central concept for several entities: the worker and his/her family, the employing organization, the customers of the organization, and the society as a whole". The development of new communication technologies have led to the development of the virtual workplace, a workplace that is not located in any one physical space.

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