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Toxic Top 20 Continues–#6-10!

By February 26, 2019 March 15th, 2019 No Comments

How is a workplace toxic?  Let me count the ways!

OK, that’s a little dramatic, but there’s a lot of examples of behaviors and attitudes that make workplaces absolutely insufferable and sometimes destructive.  In my last blog post, I talked about my Toxic Top 20 featured in my book The Arsonist in the Office and discussed the first 5 ways to decide if a workplace is toxic.  Seeing one of these twenty does not necessarily mean you’re working in toxic conditions, but if the evidence mounts, you might have a problem.

Here are numbers 6-10 on my Top 20. Let me know what you think!

6.  Cutting, personal, hurtful barbs and teasing are commonplace. Things get personal quickly if a culture lacks standards. It is delivered like a joke, but it feels like an insult to the recipient.

7.  Blistering emails fly. The internet is forever and the life of nastygrams is, too.

8.  Employee humiliation is common and often used right out in the open in meetings and group emails.

9.  Processes and policies are ignored in place of pulling things out of thin air to match the circumstance.

10. Insults are in; constructive criticism is out. Evaluations and helpful corrective opportunities morph into run- ins with a crazy ex.


#6 becomes a way to control a person.  Supervisors or coworkers who want to put a person ‘in their place’ use cutting remarks as a way to control others.

#7 is rampant these days as people become more detached because of email and social media.  Written communications, whether through texts or emails, are also the most easily misinterpreted.  If you have an important message to deliver, feel free to put it in writing, but also talk about the matter directly with the other people involved.  Nastygrams, the emails with some sting and vitriol, are poison for an organization.  They don’t go away, they’re easily shareable, and their full tone can be misinterpreted.  Additionally, if someone is writing mean words to hurt someone, it also shows an inability on the writer’s part to interact with the recipient in a constructive way.  It’s just bad all around.  If you have something to say, just say it.  In a toxic environment, you’ll often find that communication channels have broken down, so expect this to happen.

On #8, is it any surprise that mean people will do mean things?  It’s a rite of passage in some toxic companies to watch a new employee brought to tears with humiliation.

On #9, somewhere in an MBA program, someone must have written a book on ‘Management by CYA’.  Whether it’s the need to ‘tell lies to cover up the last round of lies’ or ‘set one fire to distract people from the last fire set’, managers in toxic conditions are stuck with a game of deception.  They cannot justify their actions based on the existing standards, so they just create new ones.

On #10, when standards of decency break down, bad things happen.  In toxic organizations, that lack of standards can often show up in places where constructive criticism should be taking place.  The employee evaluation that should start with ‘here are some areas where you can improve’ turns into ‘you are worthless’.

Sound familiar?  Let me know what you think!


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