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"Toxic" Workplace is the Norm

Three people messaged me yesterday asking how to handle a toxic work environment. I am not a big fan of that term and have previously written about it. Here and here. 

So, I thought about it differently yesterday and asked how it is possible that today "every" workplace is toxic. What has changed? I remember 10-20 years ago this was not the case. You were unlucky if you ended up at a "toxic" place but today it is almost certain. So what's changed?

  • Have we been given this term and we just label everything that is not to our liking as toxic? Maybe, however, people do struggle so maybe it is not just labelling. 

  • Do we have an increased number of incompetent leaders that is causing dysfunctional workplaces? Yes, but we cannot blame everything on leaders!

  • Are we constantly fed with the idea of mental health issues which is causing the problem? Read here. 

  • Do we have a purposeless bullshit job that adds to our misery? Read here. 

In addition to the above and many more ingredients, my theory is that life got way too complex for everyone and we all contribute to "toxic" environments. Society is like a pressure cooker ready to blow at any moment. People are stressed and stretched. People's social, financial, emotional, and physical situations are causing massive problems. We have no social circles, families are torn apart, and the future looks bleak. People have no purpose in life and that's a massive problem (no, your pottery hobby is not a purpose!). The lack of stability has destabilised us all and we behave according to our (perceived) circumstances. There is a massive amount of pressure on people that is unrelated to work. 

Then we have work. In fact, that's all we have, and we know that it is not normal therefore, we unconsciously reject the very thing we live for! We cannot have a healthy life when we have only one major focus. That's called an empty life. As a result, we are annoyed with work, plus add the pressure that comes with it, not only in the form of KPIs, targets, goals, and greed but also the fact that we have nothing else to focus on, which magnifies and looks like a massive monster hovering above us. There you have it: the recipe for a "toxic" or dysfunctional workplace where the workforce creates the very problem they complain about. All of us! And leaders are incapable of managing it because, I would say, it is impossible.

People snap at each other, are demotivated (by life, not work), and hopeless, so they are just going through the motions, which causes problems at work. Given these ingredients, I would not expect anything less than "toxic" workplaces. It is guaranteed, and I am afraid that no organizational intervention, training program, or coaching will solve this one. People are pressured from every angle possible, and I am just waiting for things to break.

So, what was my advice to the people yesterday? In this perfect storm, I say, save yourself. It is not the time to save the world or your company. It is the time to mentally take yourself out of the madness because if you mix with pigs you get dirty. Simplify life, get off social media, go out, spend time with friends, and family, and don't get involved in other people's business. It is overwhelming! I always admired those co-workers who came to work, did the job, and went home. Never participated in anything, never gossiped or got themselves into politics and always had a few nice and encouraging words to everyone. They were so bloody happy, well-balanced, and stable. They knew the secret all along. Minding your business, building your life and staying away from the nonsense create healthy individuals. Be that person! And guess what? Only healthy individuals can create healthy workplaces. Start with yourself. Not for others, for you! Nobody is coming to save you. You are on your own and you have a choice. Simplify life and your way of thinking and don't listen to the noise!

PS: If you manage to distance yourself from work and look at it for what it is - making money for a living - you will realise that work is not as important or such a monster. Your inability to distance yourself from it makes it a monster. Your relationship with work is the problem, you are giving too much power and importance to it. Take it back! 

365 things you can change to make the workplace better:

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