Identifying a Toxic Work Place

Toxic, the word that makes an appearance very rarely in everyday work place conversations is actually a huge problem in the day to day at work.

Many will choose to ignore it because it is considered a waste of time to address the issue. However, ignoring it will not make it go away.

So here is why you should not ignore it and how to handle it.


The work place is a community. Can be small can be large and no one wants to be left out of what is going on in the community they operate in.

At work, if you are being left out or ignored by your peers it can be very bad for your morale, your mental health and how you perform your duties. Being left out can be as important as not being invited to sit in important meetings that touch on your work. Or as simple as your coworkers excluding you in conversations and gatherings.

The exclusion is a toxic behavior and can candidly be described as bullying. Yes, social isolation is bullying.  And it not being invited will make you question why. Is it because your input is not considered important enough or because they believe you are the kind to not invite into the inner circle. Are you working in an environment where others think you will be uncomfortable or are they uncomfortable? Whatever the reason and in cases like this, the toxic monster will rear its ugly head.

You can broach the subject with your boss, the human resource department or your co-workers. Having an open and honest discussion to air your feelings can help people get to know how you feel. And your boss or HR can help to change this through meetings and events.

Most work places opt for introducing team-building activities. And also, asking managers to keep an eye out for cliques that develop within a department and help you to tackle feeling excluded before it gets worse.


With people’s temperaments so different, feathers can be ruffled. In this case, getting to know the people you work with and what their boundaries are will help you avoid feeling disrespected. Also, if one person is seen to be blatantly rude and not afraid to wear it like a badge of honor, this can be bad for others around.

If you feel that someone is deliberately attacking you, tackle that immediately. If not this rudeness will invite more rudeness. If you are the boss, be aware that this rudeness to one coworker may not just be limited to them. There is a danger that the rude person may also damage the dynamics in the group and even decrease other worker’s creativity and effort.

Rudeness to customers is another matter and is destructive for business. Again here the boss or the human resources team members can step in to help the company change its culture. Managers should provide feedback and they should learn to ask for it themselves.

Letting people know how their behavior impacts others can help bring proper decorum to the workplace.


You may think of harassment as only relating to sexual harassment, but it can take on many forms. In fact there is documentation that points out what harassing behavior is. Ranging from harassing someone because of their race, physical ability, religion, age, and gender or pregnancy status.

Besides demoralizing the victim, this type of behavior puts the company at legal risk. The human resources department needs to protect the company by putting a halt to harassment. By creating policies, training staff, and investigating all allegations, HR can reduce actual harassment and lower the risks to the company.

The Very Important To Do

Let your feelings be known. Speak up about exactly what behavior you regard as toxic. If you don’t say anything this atmosphere will only grow.

Report the toxic behavior to powers that be where you work. Be it your boss, manager or a human resources department.

Document the behavior immediately. Later when you do report it, you will not be talking just from memory. Write down dates, places it occurred, names of witnesses and a descriptions of exactly what the toxic behavior entailed.

Consult when in doubt. You may have a written policy so go ahead and read that. Or there may be someone that has been around longer than you have so consult them. You don’t have to take on the toxic behavior alone.

Seek professional help because toxic behavior can damage your mental and physical health. The toxic atmosphere over a period of time can cause you to question your own thoughts, can make you question what is real or imagined, and can lead to confusion, loss of confidence and self-esteem. So please, do quickly seek professional help and get treatment if that is needed.


A Zambian site sharing quick read articles around work, money and adulting life with selective interviews and quotes.
The founder, editor and lead writer who left university with a good grasp of public administration, economics, money, banking and international relations is also qualified in journalism and creative writing. She has been published in Drum and The BBC Focus on Africa Magazine and has been featured in several local and international publications.
An avid bird watcher with an extraordinary fondness for chikanda ( a Zambian delicatessen that vegans and non-vegans world-wide are putting on their bucket list ) she often tweets in poetry and short prose @kwachalelo