Toxic work environment and how to deal with it

Just one person out of the whole team is able to do some serious damage to the work environment by turning it into a toxic one. According to some surveys, 3 to 15% of people have a toxic attitude when they are at work.

Such a persona can be everyone from the cleaning lady to the CEO of the company. Here’re a few characteristics of toxic people:

  • They have narcissistic behaviour
  • They underestimate the work of others
  • They think they are perfect and are not open to changes
  • They attract other toxic employees to the team
  • They don’t know when to stop when giving tasks to other employees
  • They don’t commit to their own responsibilities

In 2018 WARBLE conducted a survey that was aiming to identify the reasons behind the existing of a toxic work environment in companies. It was anonymous so that the employees would be as honest as possible.

The results are more than interesting:

63% of the participants shared that they witnessed a destructive attitude or a toxic environment but they didn’t report to anyone.

46% didn’t share anything about leadership-related problems because they didn’t believe that there would be any consequences for the people with destructive attitude.

I can tell from my personal experience that when we work with a supervisor who has destructive attitude towards the job, usually we as employees feel that we can’t do anything about it or that our opinion won’t matter no matter what position we are on.

39% from the participants in the survey were afraid of sharing this kind of a problem with their supervisors because they were afraid of looking too emotional and wouldn’t want to attract any compassion that they don’t need.

38% see destructive attitude in their supervisor but they wouldn’t report it because he or she is their boss. They are afraid of future consequences such as revenge from the supervisor. Unfortunately, that reaction is really common and employees really do have a reason to be afraid of that.

32% don’t believe that the HR department would be discreet when it comes to what they shared.

26% are afraid of being fired because they shared their feelings.

5 signs that we work in a toxic environment

  1. It is scientifically proven that the toxic work environment can cause some serious damage to employees’ health. Our bodies tell us when we have to be aware of our environment by often getting sick, anxiety, headaches, lack of any desire for physical activity.

When your employees start to frequently take days off, this is one of the clearest signs that the work environment is toxic. In that case, your employees are often absent from work and the reasons they give you are similar to: being too tired, burnouts, stress. It is even worse if your employees show up sick at work.

  1. Lack of enthusiasm – you can notice that easily – observe your employee’s body language. If they constantly look like they’re sad, their pose is always arched, they are not energetic when talking on different topics or they don’t talk at all in between each other.

According to Robin Rose (a consultant that works with leaders and teams to enhance skills, integrate new behaviours, and improve performance), the social danger can lead to the same mental symptoms as the physical danger. That’s why they are very similar to each other. She shares that we should observe our employees and watch for verbal and nonverbal symptoms:

  • if there’s a persona that needs to always dominate all the discussions and to impose their opinion
  • if there’re situations when all the employees talk without listening to each other and ignoring other people’s opinion
  • if when the dominant persona in the team speaks, the other employees have bad body posture, they are hunchbacked
  • if the face mimics of the employees are defensive, tense.

All of the signs above say nothing but fear.

  1. Lack of communication or negative communication – employees don’t get instructions on how to do their job properly and therefore, they don’t know how to do it. If they’re doing too much without getting feedback, or at least not a positive one, this leads to demotivation and is a clear sign of a toxic work environment.
  2. One of the most powerful signs for a toxic environment is the staff turnover. Often leaders stand behind the reason for that. Pay attention to all the methods that managers and supervisors use to work with their employees. Employees don’t quit from bad companies, they quit from bad managers.
  3. Check if there’re friend groups in your team and if gossiping is happening on a daily basis. This is something that you can easily notice. A person can feel the talking behind their back, if it’s there, from their first day at a new job. There’s no strong leader that would miss this sign.

How to deal with a toxic environment


David Rocky invented the SCARF model which contains of 5 different factors and it helps us identify the pressure in the social environment. He believes that those 5 factors influence our behaviour in social situations.

  1. Status – identifying the people who misuse their status, they try to overrule their colleagues
  2. Certainty – identifying bad communicators. Those are the people that are the most critical in their behaviour, they demotivate the whole team. What is different about them is the fact that they are critical and they use the information they have by turning it into a negative one. Example: Even if only a tiny detail from the whole project is not done, they can turn this in a huge problem by starting to use expressions like “a failure”, “nothing goes as planned” etc.
  3. Autonomy – in this step we are looking for the lack of autonomy or in other words – who are the people that refuse to take responsibility for their actions. Their presence of those people in a team, even if the team is really strong in general, can demotivate other employees. These are the people that stay out of responsibility and even if it’s possible they would stay out of participating in a project.
  4. Relatedness – how your employees identify themselves with the culture of your company. Are they feeling valuable to the team? We should watch for gossiping or for groups of people that would spread rumours. If we find out about this kind of groups, we should put those people in different departments so they can work on different projects so that we can stop their negative influence on other parts of the team.
  5. Fairness – we should watch if leaders recognize the accomplishments of their employees and if they are fair to what the employees do.


  1. We analyzed and we determined which ones of our employees are causing the toxic environment. We tried to talk to them and solve the problem but nothing worked. Nothing led to a positive outcome. It may sound drastic but for the good of the company, this type of demotivating toxic personas should be dismissed. These people don’t have a place in the company because they spread their negativity amongst other employees.

They are the main reason for the staff turnover so if you don’t want to lose a big part of your employees, dismiss demotivating people, no matter how valuable you think they are, even if you consider them top talents. Without them, your team will be more motivated and that will lead to higher engagement, higher productivity and better results.

  1. Once we are sure that we no longer have any toxic people in our team, we have to get rid of the toxic culture that stacked overtime. The way to do this is by replacing everything that may be a symbol of old habits and toxic environment. This can represent a change in the office interior, a change in the social rituals of the company, changing some brand elements etc.

Experts advise us to develop a positive and healthy work environment which will help gaining focus on work tasks instead of personal ones.

A good manager should pay attention to the work environment and to take care of their employees.

Once you see satisfaction and a good relationship between your employees you’ll know you succeeded.

  1. To avoid the part where employees don’t listen to each other when on meetings, be ready with a strict agenda for how the meeting will go. Have some key points that you have to go over. Focus on solving problems, not on the problems themselves. This way you will avoid spreading negativity from your critical employees. Try to get your employees to think with positivity.
  2. To get your employees to connect with your brand, create more possibilities for them to get to know each other.
  3. Try to give constant feedback to your employees and reward them when they’re doing a good job so that they won’t feel demotivated.
  4. Engage your employees in making decisions. By doing that, your employees will be more motivated, more proactive and will spread that attitude to others.

One advice: Acknowledge the achievements of your employees in front of others. My previous employer used to reward their employees for good results, successful projects or taking part in charity, on every three months. Create different occasions to reward your employees’ success.

What to do in case you are an employee, you love your job but your work environment is toxic?

If you are in similar position, report that to your supervisor or at least to the HR department. You’ll be defended by the law for that, it would be no reason for someone to dismiss you.

That’s it for this week. We hope that we brought value to you and your company. Be free to contact us on