How to fix a toxic workplace

In a recent survey of tech workers, more than half the respondents said they believed they were working in an unhealthy work environment. Of 9,000 participants in the 2018 poll by Blind, an anonymous workplace app, a quarter of the Google employees who responded said they viewed their workplace as toxic; more than a third at Facebook thought so, too; and almost half at Amazon and Intel said they were laboring away under toxic conditions.

person seated at desk beside two other people with a scribble drawing representing dark thoughts above their head

Has toxicity at work become the new normal? Many workers believe that it is. “I think what we are seeing is more people resigned to the fact that toxicity is a natural state of the workplace, and that is inherently problematic,” says Wharton management professor Stephanie Creary.

But is the workplace really any more toxic than it once was? Not that long ago, after all, women were expected to endure sexually inappropriate overtures from bosses, LGBTQ+ workers quietly acquiesced to compartmentalizing their personal and professional lives, and African-American workers routinely met with various indignities, exclusions and a professional dead-end in many sectors and professions.

“I think what’s important to keep in mind is that perception is reality. Trying to track down the question of whether there is a real increase in toxicity is missing the point—the perception is clear that there is,” says Wharton marketing professor and identity theorist Americus Reed.

But if you’re in a toxic workplace and can’t or don’t want to leave, what can you realistically do to turn things around? How does an employee frame the argument for a better atmosphere without acting or appearing to act in critical way? Addressing someone behaving badly at work in a kind, concise manner makes the offending co-worker change his or her behavior in 75% to 80% of cases.

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