Navigating Workplace Toxicity: Understanding, Addressing, and Overcoming - American Society of Employers - Heather Nezich

Navigating Workplace Toxicity: Understanding, Addressing, and Overcoming

For a significant portion of the American workforce, the experience of work is anything but uplifting. According to a 2023 Work in America survey conducted by the APA (American Psychological Association), nearly one-fifth (19%) of respondents characterized their workplace as toxic. Additionally, over one-fifth (22%) reported that their work environment had negatively impacted their mental well-being.

The term "toxic workplace" encapsulates a range of detrimental behaviors such as internal conflict, intimidation, and other forms of misconduct that undermine productivity. Mindy Shoss, PhD, an industrial-organizational psychologist and professor at the University of Central Florida, succinctly describes a toxic workplace with a single word: fear. Shoss emphasizes that toxic workplaces deplete employees of their energy and enthusiasm, replacing it with a pervasive sense of fear.

The U.S. Surgeon General's office highlighted the deleterious effects of toxic work cultures in 2022 through its Framework for Workplace Mental Health and Well-Being. Chronic stress resulting from workplace toxicity can manifest in various serious health conditions, including depression, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and more.

Toxic workplaces often involve ethical and legal transgressions such as sexual harassment, discrimination, and reprisals against whistleblowers, according to David Yamada, director of the New Workplace Institute at Suffolk University Law School. Other forms of toxicity may include bullying or unreasonable workloads. Regardless of the specific form it takes, the result is consistent: increased absenteeism, reduced productivity, and heightened employee turnover.

A study published in the MIT Sloan Management Review in 2022 identified toxic work cultures as the primary driver of employee turnover, surpassing factors like job insecurity and lack of recognition for performance. Key contributors to toxic cultures cited in the report include failure to promote equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI), employees feeling disrespected, and unethical behavior.

Addressing toxic workplace environments requires proactive measures from both employees and employers. Employees who feel mistreated should explore available avenues for recourse outlined in their employee handbook. Employers must take employee complaints seriously, promptly investigate allegations, and establish clear policies to address discrimination, harassment, and bullying.

Dr. Shoss advocates for workplace wellness audits to gauge employee perceptions of support, fairness, and encouragement. Organizations should prioritize fostering a culture of respect and safety, holding leaders accountable for upholding these values.

Dr. Leslie Hammer from Oregon Health and Science University recommends training leaders to cultivate healthy work environments. Her research on interactive supervisor training programs has demonstrated positive outcomes, including increased job satisfaction, reduced turnover intentions, and enhanced well-being among employees.

The U.S. Surgeon General’s framework for Workplace Mental Health and Well-Being includes the following five essentials as a starting point for organizations in updating and institutionalizing policies, processes, and practices to best support the mental health and well-being of workers:

  1. Protection from harm
  2. Opportunity for growth
  3. Mattering at work
  4. Work-life harmony
  5. Connection & Community

Learn more about how to implement these in your workplace by downloading the Surgeon General’s Workplace Mental Health & Well-Being Framework here.


ASE Connect

Supervisory Training - A Key to Cultivating Healthy Work Environments

Principles and Practices of Supervision I

This course provides the foundational skills for supervisors, either new or experienced.  This nuts-and-bolts class looks at popular managerial models and provides practical tools and knowledge to help supervisors conquer the ten most critical tasks of a supervisor. This is a multi-session course over several weeks.

Principles and Practices of Supervision II

This class is the sequel to Principles and Practices of Supervision I.  This class builds on the nuts and bolts learning in Principles I and takes a look at the strategic and leadership aspect of the supervisor role.  In this class, supervisors look at ways they can influence their teams for better performance and some things that might hinder their success.  This class provides supervisors an opportunity to gain insight into how they supervise. This is a multi-session course over several weeks.

View upcoming course dates.

Coaching and Leadership Development

ASE has coaching programs for individuals, teams, and groups of leaders. Coaching and leadership development programs can improve effectiveness, communications, engagement, and accountability. Learn more about our coaching and leadership development programs here.



Please login or register to post comments.


Filter by Authors

Position your organization to THRIVE.

Become a Member Today