The Black Hole Of A Toxic Workplace




Do you know what happens when large stars collapse? Black holes are formed. They’re so dense that gravity is inescapable, even for light! Just like our Milky Way, there is a supermassive black hole at the center of our work culture - toxicity. The only difference is that it is not formed only by a collapse. It is seeded, breathed, and nurtured, consciously or otherwise. How do we prevent ourselves from being drawn right into such a toxic workplace?


Let us do a mental exercise. Close your eyes. Now imagine hanging out with friends and talking about everything at work that is toxic! What comes to mind?


Dents In A Toxic Workplace


Over the past few years, Millennials and Gen Z have lashed out at work culture failures, demanding change. With the pandemic, there is a global resignation movement in the works with more and more working populations recognizing the psycho-social hazards they had left themselves exposed to in their job roles. At the same time, remote working has also dented workplace interpersonal relationships leaving employees vulnerable to combating high workload in silos with poor feedback mechanisms, a lack of creative autonomy and job insecurity. How can we protect ourselves from this negativity that has the potential to expose us to physical and emotional trauma?


The first step is to identify the tell-tale signs of the difference between accountability and exploitation. At times, demand for performance merges with excessive reportage and harassment. This is not OKAY! Organizations need to be sensitized to drawing the line at a rational point of engagement. The onus of this lies both on the employer and the employee. It is critical to have objective grievance redressal mechanisms in place that empower people to communicate. On the other hand, best practices of organizational communication, such as written documentation, crystal clear policies on workplace etiquette, training and workshops on peer-to-peer engagement, can all help establish healthy boundaries.


Neutrality In Work Culture


To be able to detoxify a workplace, one needs to understand where it stems from. Toxic work culture is a direct consequence of irrationality or simply put, a lack of neutrality to people, processes, and systems. When you closed your eyes earlier for the exercise at the outset, did any of these come to mind?

  • A micromanaging leader

  • No work-life balance

  • Jealous boss and office politics

  • Unempathetic or worse, judgmental peers

  • An overwhelming negative emotional contagion affecting productivity

  • Lack of clarity on your role leading to burnout

  • Untoward behavior by a colleague that causes stress

At some point in our careers, we have all encountered these and more. The question that remains is if we ever tried to voice, express, and do something about toxic work culture? Or did we get sucked into the massive black hole? Every individual comes from a different background, experience, and aspiration. Uneven power dynamics, informal gossip, bullying, lack of social support can all cause dysfunction and lack of psychological safety. And not everyone has the same propensity to desire, demand, or adapt to change. It is the primary prerogative of an employer to proactively ensure neutrality in work culture by displaying a positive attitude to constructive criticism.


Escaping The Pull Of A Toxic Workplace


Toxic work culture has a tendency to trickle down. In fact, studies show that toxicity at work has a ripple effect. It, thus, makes the role of leaders more significant. The one quality that distinguishes a toxic work culture from a healthy one is the prevalence of empathy. Studies have found that when confidence is instilled in employees to act on morally compromising issues, trust in the organization and leaders has benefited. Work culture is a powerful manifestation of the collective behaviour of individuals who drive it. Escaping the pull of the black hole created by workplace toxicity is possible only when employees have the freedom to be their authentic selves at work within the norms of organizational empathy and ethics.


The company’s work culture needs to resonate with healthy microcultures that begin with the self. Emotional intelligence, human skills, and desired behaviors can be ingrained at the workplace when we stop manifesting personal biases. The opportunity cost of toxic work culture is, after all, a massive collapse of potential talent.