I had to get out. It was toxic.”
I am too familiar with that sense of urgency to leave a job and a company after workplace trauma. It’s horrible to start a position ready to contribute, only to leave defeated and traumatized sometimes. Once, years ago, a Sr. Director told me that when one of his female peers talked, he wanted to punch her in the face. Yes, it can be bad out there.
Unfortunately, no one I know has been able to say they haven’t had a toxic experience at some point in their career. The idea that experiencing a toxic workplace is inevitable concerns me and even makes me afraid for the future of work.
But what is a toxic workplace?
I like looking up the definition of a term, so here goes: Toxic — very harmful or unpleasant in a pervasive or insidious way. (Oxford)
My definition: The behaviors displayed and words used at work are devaluing, disrespectful, demanding, and harmful to employees’ mental, emotional or physical health.
That is precisely what my peers, friends, family, and myself meant when we labeled our past workplaces this way. The behavior we witnessed or were subject to was harmful.
Statements you may hear at work:
“It’s not safe here.”
“I am afraid to say anything about what they did in the meeting because I know it will only be turned on me, or I won’t be believed.”
“They can do whatever they want; no one is going to challenge them.”
It’s pretty simple, and the definition helps us more clearly describe how we feel and what behavior we experience.