Toxic Workplaces Can Hurt Productivity AND Your Health

BY Jessica Helinski
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Toxic workplaces aren’t uncommon. More than 50% of salespeople say they've worked with a toxic co-​worker or worked for a toxic manager. This kind of draining environment will eventually take its toll on employees, both professionally, as well as physically and emotionally. Toxicity may stem from the very top, leaders, or they may come in other forms. Paul White, author of Rising Above a Toxic Workplace: Taking Care of Yourself in an Unhealthy Environment, appeared on the Manage Smarter podcast to discuss this topic and lend professional insights. 

Toxic leaders

A toxic workplace is an unhealthy environment. As White explains, it is a “sick system,” consisting of poor communication, little to no accountability and poor decision making. Sometimes, it’s leaders who are the troublesome figures, whether it be the CEO or a manager. Unlike incompetent leaders (who, explains White, just don’t know what they are doing), truly toxic leaders’ issues are complex. “A toxic leader often is very skilled and talented,” he says. “It's just that their goal is just about themselves. They can wrap it in the organizational goal of reaching certain milestones, but it ultimately ties back to them.”

This selfishness, tied with manipulation,drives toxic behavior. Essentially, as White points out, “A toxic leader really treats other people just like a monetary resource; people are to be used and used up, and they manipulate."

Toxic colleagues

Toxicity in a workplace may also stem from fellow salespeople, who White describes as “dysfunctional colleagues.” These co-​workers typically use tactics like gaslighting and other manipulations to disrupt. “They can't follow through on commitments [and] just have patterns of behaviors and thinking that create problems, such as blaming and making excuses, not telling the truth, withholding information, etc.,” White explains. 

Dealing with this kind of unhealthy environment has a negative impact on productivity, as well as emotional and physical health. “If you think about the term ‘toxic,’” White says, “and think about it in a physical sense, something toxic is harmful, it's dangerous." Salespeople dealing with this toxicity may begin to lose sleep, to feel on edge or agitated, or even exhausted. Working alongside a toxic individuals ultimately “expends a lot of time and energy,” he adds.

Reps may not even realize that a toxic co-​worker or leader is having that big of an impact until they notice physical symptoms. Often, this may be a first clue that the work environment is taking a toll. “One of the first [major signs] is physical symptoms,” White explains, “whether that's a loss of sleep or intestinal problems or headaches or the sciatic nerve. Our body does really reflect what's going on inside of us emotionally.”

What can you do?

Not everyone will be able to address their issues directly with the toxic individual. While some reps may be able to transition to other positions away from the toxic person, work with HR, or even leave a job entirely, those may not be realistic options for all. How should reps navigate and “survive” this type of workplace? Find out in Wednesday's post what professionals suggest for handling these situations professionally while safeguarding your emotional and physical health.