How to respond in a toxic workplace caused by the boss

In 2018, oxford dictionary he made his word of the year toxic. Toxic Work Environment, Toxic Culture, and Toxic Relationship were among the top ten most “toxic” locations in 2018.

Disengaged business executives, managers, and employees create toxicity. But companies do not monopolize toxicity. It also involves charities and churches. Some charismatic leaders in megachurches set the tone for toxic workplaces by their narcissism and greed.

Spotting a toxic workplace can be simple, not just from the inside, but from the outside as well. We don’t have to examine turnover statistics, reports or interview anyone to know that Donald Trump’s White House was a super toxic environment. Here are some signs of a toxic workplace:

  1. Lack of articulated and lived core values

  2. Procedures, practices, decisions made situationally

  3. bad communications

  4. Disengaged employees

Lack of articulated and lived core values

Leadership is advancing others, not promoting yourself. Leaders set the tone and create safe workplaces. Leaders establish and live core values.

The values ​​are our default position, our North Star. Do the right thing, period! The values ​​include respect for individuals and families, trust, integrity, transparency, care, rigor, good administration and responsibility.

The actions of Donald Trump and Justin Trudeau displayed no ethical guiding principles or core values. Trump lobbied his loyalist vice president, among others, to void the certified election results. Trudeau lobbied his attorney general to cover up his conflict of interest. They both acted in their best interest. None suffered legal consequences; therefore, his message to his compatriots: fundamental values ​​are not beacons for decisions: the end justifies the means.

Without consistent application of ethical guiding principles and core values, leaders ignore trust, integrity, care, good stewardship, and responsibility in favor of one particular outcome: a foundation for a toxic culture.

Procedures Practices Decisions made situationally

Align procedures and practices with core values. Hire people of character, train them, develop them and empower them. Accept mistakes as they grow and learn. Don’t control or berate them for making mistakes on the learning curve; Use them to teach and learn.

Values ​​should include providing a safe environment. Don’t compromise or “cut costs” associated with core values ​​like safety to “save” money when times get tough. Do the right thing and bear the costs!

When leaders and managers create procedures and practices that are contrary to core values, they confuse, frustrate, and cause discontent among employees. Employees grow fearful, accidents happen, rumors abound as toxicities surface. Value statements need consistent decisions to affirm them.

bad communications

Leaders build trust through action. Merriam Webster Dictionary defines trust, the basis of good communications, as “assured confidence in the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone or something.” Telling an employee eleven months later about poor performance doesn’t help. Regular feedback shows interest and a desire to listen, learn, and help the employee succeed. Employees need positive and negative feedback; positive feedback alone is as bad as no feedback.

Practice the TAP-principle:

  1. Be transparent: what you see is who I am, what fits with core values.

  2. Be accessible: Effective managers and leaders listen, ask questions, and encourage.

  3. Be foreseeable: Always apply core values. If you see an error that reduced costs by $100,000. Fix it because it is.

When the workforce sees that core values ​​are consistently applied, they know who you are and what you believe in practice.

Leaders must respond to legitimate employee problems. Share company performance with the workforce. Give them the opportunity to ask questions about the business and share their challenges. With the best of intentions, it’s hard to eradicate a rotten culture:

Disengaged employees

According to Gallup, the number one reason people change jobs today is for career growth opportunities. However, most companies do not hire employees.

Globally, 85% of employees are disengaged vs. 65% in the US Disconnected employees gossip, spread rumors, leading to toxicity, reduced productivity and increased turnover. Not surprisingly, the median length of service for US employees is 4.2 years; 2.8 years for millennials, the largest generation in the workforce!

To engage employees and eliminate toxicity, hire people of character, train them, develop them, and empower them. And driving leaders who live the values ​​of the entity.

How should employees respond to a toxic boss?

One size does not fit all. Dealing with a boss with a toxic attitude (toxic boss) depends on the situation. Is she a micromanager, a stalker, an ignorant and arrogant talker? Let’s look at micromanagers:

  1. Stay one step ahead – feed them project updates. Don’t wait for requests.

  2. Be proactive: provide solutions to improve processes and efficiency.

  3. When your projects trade you off, ask for priorities. Tell them that you can fulfill their requests, but with limited time, you need to prioritize.

  4. Ask questions to understand requests; reproduce what you captured.

  5. Clarify the role and responsibilities of team members. Micromanagers want to know only their direct reports; Be present when they meet with your staff.

  6. Understand that your results will never satisfy them; they want their way.

  7. Focus on what you control. Make sure you have a solid red line that you will never allow them to cross.

  8. Form alliances with like-minded colleagues. When micromanagers get what they want, they may trust you. Still, some people never change.

Not everyone will work with micromanagers. Don’t stay, grumble and accept “this is the only way.” He finds a channel to present the toxic situation. That is what the workers at the office of the Governor General of Canada did and achieved.

What about thug punches? Don’t accept abuse. Seek help; but don’t let them cross your red line.

Responding in a toxic workplace: a case study

I interviewed a person for six months to learn about their toxic workplace. Robert (pseudonym), vice president of a multi-location midsize corporation, is one of seven reporting to the chief operating officer (COO). Robert’s boss, Bill (pseudonym), a micromanager, reports to the CEO.

Bill has weekly meetings with fifty people: Robert’s level (10 people) and the lower level (40 people). In these “feedback” sessions, Bill talks 99% of the time, delving into minutiae and often criticizing the second tier for not meeting unattainable and inexplicable standards. Bill sees no harm in avoiding direct reports from him.

He wants everything tomorrow and believes that if you don’t have the necessary resources, that’s your problem. You must deliver.

Bill’s approach frustrates Robert because Bill goes directly to his team with specific tasks without Robert’s knowledge. Asking Bill to stop hasn’t worked.

“Why do you stay?” I asked Roberto.

“I think I can make a difference in the big picture.” Roberto responded.

Robert follows the eight items above. He stays ahead of Bill, anticipates needs, and provides quality information. Robert’s team routes Bill’s requests to Robert, who clears them with Bill before presenting him with the results. At Monday meetings, Robert answers questions about his division, which he delights his staff. To date, it is working.

“Has Bill changed?” I asked Roberto.

“No, but we are at peace and continue to do our best. We don’t expect it to change, and we don’t plan to leave.” He answered.

The culture is still toxic. Turnover is high, stress is rising, and productivity is low. Robert will not accept abusive language or behavior and is considering meeting with the CEO due to mounting stress and low morale.

Toxic workplace caused by the owner/boss

Robert is an executive with options. What about the workers of a small business where the owner/boss creates toxicity? Are you yelling, suspicious, throwing tantrums, demanding long hours, and ignoring the principles of healthy relationships? These employees don’t have a secure exit where they think someone will listen and understand them. I interviewed several of those people. Some of them leave a toxic place for a less bad, but still unhealthy place! Others stay because they need the salary to survive. This is a real problem. In addition to the eight points above, the other practical response is prayer.

What happens with toxicity in a team

This situation should be easier to fix because the foundation for a healthy workplace exists at the leadership level. You need effective intervention to learn the issues:

  1. Unclear objectives: Common goals foster cohesion and reduce conflict. Clear role of team members and team goals help combat toxicity.
  2. Lack of trust: Trust in the leader and in others is the glue of a team. People work best in a supportive and trusting environment.
  3. Poor team leadership: Listen, encourage and resource the team. Be genuine, humble and fair.
  4. Lack of recognition: Thank team members for daily tasks; interacts with team members often. Give credit when things go well; accept blame when they go wrong.
  5. Bad communications: Make sure everyone is on the same page. Inspire, motivate and reassure team members.

Sometimes a person does not understand the program. Dig deeper to discover the cause. Is something wrong at home? Often the employee has valid concerns that he won’t discuss because he doesn’t trust you. Perhaps the team member needs a reassignment to resolve their issues. Provide funds for counselling, if required.


A toxic work environment is detrimental to your health. Seek professional help if you feel stuck in your position. But draw a red line and don’t let anyone cross it. Be warned: the effects of your toxic workplace will spill over into your home, marriage, and family.

“Leaders” who promote themselves and take credit for everything are not leaders, but mavericks. Leaders develop and promote others, embed value-driven processes, and establish and maintain the right culture in their companies. Research shows that companies with positive cultures perform better on many metrics. They attract better talent, post higher productivity and profits, have lower turnover and higher employee engagement. Arrogant, rude, and unethical leaders set unrealistic expectations and create chaos that fosters toxicity.

A toxic workplace will cause burnout at any level. No organism is immune. Toxicity infects businesses, the government, charities and churches. Learn the symptoms, identify them early, and work to change the culture. Although some creators of toxicity will not change, help them even if they must leave the organization.

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