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How to make a Toxic Workplace Checklist


“People don’t leave jobs, they leave toxic work cultures” – Dr. Amina Aitsi-Selmi

A toxic workplace can manifest in many ways, including low morale, gossiping, bullying, and general unhappiness. However, the catalyst for a toxic environment often begins when workplace relationships start to suffer.

For instance, a toxic work environment can evolve when unhealthy competition between colleagues goes unchecked. Employees may be competing for budget, time, or other organizational resources.

If you’re not sure whether your workplace is toxic or not, use this checklist to find out. Once you know what to look for, you can start taking steps to make your workplace more positive and productive.

What is a toxic workplace?

A toxic work environment develops over time and is often the result of poor managers and/or employees who employ manipulation, unethical tactics, or who are motivated solely by personal gain are usually responsible for workplace toxicity. 

Additional characteristics of toxic workplaces include:

  • Poor compensation & benefits
  • Lack of recognition for exceptional performance, 
  • Consistently prioritize customers issues over employee concerns 
  • A failure to promote internal mobility, 
  • Poor employer-employee relations 
  • Constant blurring the line between personal and professional boundaries

What are toxic behaviors?

Toxic workplace behavior is any behavior exhibited by an employee or the management that negatively impacts the work culture. (Smithy Law Group)

Examples of toxic workplace behaviors include:

  • Interpersonal aggressiveness
  • Narcissistic behavior by those in leadership positions
  • Workplace gossip or rumor-mongering
  • Bullying behavior on an individual or group basis
  • Theft of others’ ideas or intellectual property
  • Passivity and disorganization in leadership
  • Refusal to engage or outright ignore others
  • High absenteeism and voluntary turnover

Toxic Boss, Managers & Supervisors

Toxic management can be defined as a leadership style that destroys an individual’s dignity, self-confidence, or effectiveness through remonstrances, daily spikes, or inappropriate speeches.

Below is a 10 Questions Checklist to help identify toxic managers within your organization:

    1. Does your boss criticize employees publically?
    2. Does your boss disregard your opinion and feedback?
    3. Does your boss assign you more work than you can handle or keeps you busy with menial tasks?
    4. Does your boss downplay or undermine your accomplishments?
    5. Does your boss take credit for the work that you did?
    6. Does your boss avoid meetings with you?
    7. Does your boss hinder communication between top management and yourself?
    8. Does your boss threaten your job security in this company or profession?
    9. Does your boss take steps to damage your professional reputation?
    10. Does your boss use underhanded tactics to force you to quit your job?

Note: managers are often responsible for toxic work environments, toxic workplace culture, and the negative energy that exists in a hostile work environment.

Toxic Employees & Toxic Workplace

A toxic employee affects everyone around them. For instance, a toxic person spreads negativity through gossip, bullying, harassment, or derogatory treatment of co-workers. Also, toxic employees do not recognize their ethical duty to be professional at work and treat co-workers respectfully. Instead, toxic workers define workplace relationships not by organizational structure but by co-workers they favor and those they do not.

Toxic Work Culture & Toxic Work Environment 

Toxic work culture is one where the workplace is plagued by fighting, drama, and unhappy employees to the point that productivity and the well-being of the people in the office are affected. 

In addition, non-inclusive workplaces, where members across gender, race, sexual identity and orientation, disability, and age don’t feel they are treated fairly, welcomed, or included in decisions that affect their work.

Poor Communication in a Toxic Work Environment

There are many instances wherein poor workplace communication can happen. In general, poor communication occurs when there is a discrepancy between the message being sent and what is being received and understood (i.e., text, email, conversation, written, etc.).

Here are some examples of toxic communication in the workplace: 

  •  Employees respond defensively to basic questions
  • Co-workers do not trust each other (reluctantly share information, avoid specific details)
  • The use of derogatory language is the norm
  • Gossip is rampant
  • Communication is consistently poor (Poor listening skills)
  • People assume that colleagues already know
  • Overstepping professional boundaries is commonplace
  • The work environment feels unhappy and stressful (nobody talks or smiles)

Poor Leadership in a Toxic Work Environment

Poor leadership is a combination of self-centered attitudes, motivations, and behaviors that adversely affect subordinates, peers, customers, the organization, and employee performance.

Here are a few signs of poor leadership (CHRON):

  • Self-serving leadership styles
  • Resistant to change 
  • Unable to manage themselves
  • Unable to accept criticism
  • Lack of accountability and transparency
  • Poor communication skills
  • Refuses to take responsibility for actions or decisions
  • Blames employees for mistakes

Toxic leaders lack concern for co-workers, or the work environment impacts the organization in the short-, medium- and long term. Therefore, it is a leader’s responsibility to ensure that their stress levels do not affect their team or their work and that their team’s stress levels are kept in check.

Note: Toxic leaders are often responsible for mental health issues in the workplace. Thus it is critical to identify the toxic behavior of leaders to maintain a healthy workplace.

General Toxic Workplace Checklist

The following is an 18-question survey to help managers, employees, and owners assess whether or not the work environment is toxic. Use this checklist as a litmus test of your workplace.

    1. Are employees afraid to voice their opinions to your managers?
    2. Is management consistently micromanaging employees?
    3. Is your boss watching you as you complete tasks?
    4. Does information flow in one direction during team meetings, from the boss to the employees?
    5. Do sarcasm and snide remarks occur more frequently than positive or supportive statements?
    6. Do people get promoted based on friendships with senior managers?
    7. Does leadership tolerate or encourage offensive statements directed at employees?
    8. Are new or different ideas unwelcome?
    9. Are employees kept in the dark about organizational changes?
    10. Are your legitimate concerns met with dismissive and patronizing responses?
    11. Is verbal or physical aggressiveness accepted, excused, or tolerated by leadership?
    12. Do leaders or managers use derogatory language when talking to employees?
    13. Do leaders blame subordinates when things go wrong?
    14. Do the human resource departments use corrective processes, such as improvement plans and coaching, to validate employee termination?
    15. Do human resource departments shield management from employee complaints rather than find solutions?
    16. Do employees avoid reporting issues to human resources due to fear of retaliation?
    17. Is negative feedback on job performance the only type of feedback given?
    18. Are evaluations used to instill fear in employees instead of as a development tool?
    19. Is voluntary turnover consistently high?
    20. Is there a general feeling of unhappiness at the workplace?

If your workplace is toxic, it’s time to take action. Don’t wait until things get worse – start by reading through the checklists provided in the blog and identifying the signs of a toxic workplace and toxic behavior. With the right tools and support, you can turn your toxic workplace into a positive and productive one. Have you seen any of these warning signs in your office?

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