Workplace Wellness: Leadership Practices That Can Lead To A Toxic Workplace

difficult-person-negative-attitudeFrom the small, mom-and-pop shop to large corporations, to even entire governments, we are plagued with shared stories of workplace bullying, harassment, and drama. And not surprisingly in today’s political climate, there is no shortage of media coverage on the ill effects of a toxic workplace.

There is a difference between routine workplace hassles and working in an environment that stresses you out to the point of dread and illness. According to one definition, a toxic workplace is a workplace that is marked by significant drama and infighting, and where personal battles often harm overall productivity.

One of the main contributors to a toxic workplace is a toxic leader

A toxic leader, is not just a poor boss.  They are leaders who proactively engage in harming others and who think that they can do no wrong. They use fear and intimidation to maintain control. They act like bullies and often pick on their employees. They try to gain compliance by embarrassing or threatening employees and they lack empathy for others. It is astonishing to see how many textbook narcissists can rise into the highest positions of power in today’s world. These narcissists tend to believe that the rules do not apply to them and they see disagreement as defection.

These ten negative leadership practices, (which were adapted from the Global Business and Economic Roundtable’s Road Map To Mental Disability Management) are found to be the most likely to precipitate a toxic work environment:

  1. Imposing unreasonable demands on subordinates and withholding information materially important to them in carrying out their job
  2. Refusing to give employees reasonable discretion over the day-to-day means and methods of their work
  3. Failing to credit or acknowledge their employees contributions and achievements
  4. Creating a treadmill at work with too much to do all the time and rejecting, an employee’s concerns about workload
  5. Perpetuating an environment in which employees are never sure what is happening around them
  6. Allowing mistrust to take root through gossiping and vicious office politics
  7. Tolerating, even fostering, unclear company direction and policies, job ambiguity and unclear expectations (when you aren’t clear on how your performance will be measured, you’re already set up to fail.)
  8. Sub-par performance management practices, specifically employee performance reviews that fail to establish the employee’s role in the company’s future
  9. Lack of two-way communication up and down the organization
  10. Imposing rules that the leader doesn’t bother adhering to but commanding obedience in an effort to exert power and maintaining a sense of control


Initially it is hard to identify a toxic workplace or a toxic boss.  Sometimes it is just a feeling such as:

  • An overwhelming sense that something is wrong
  • A sick feeling in your stomach
  • Feeling like you’re on alert
  • Feeling like there’s something “not being said” in every meeting
  • A strong urge to seek help or discuss the situation frequently with friends
  • Sweaty palms, racing heartbeat or other abnormal physical signals of stress or anxiety

If any of these signs ring true, then you may be working in a toxic work environment. Unfortunately, employees in these situations and experiencing these feelings, often believe that these problems are the cost of doing business and must be endured. Many workers believe they are helpless to change the situation and suffer devastating physical  and mental health problems.


Employer’s Responsibility

Employers have to make sure that their workplace is safe including from psychological abuse and from a “poisoned” environment under Canadian law. Employers need to ensure that they hire the right leader for the job.  However, according to a Gallup report, companies choose the wrong person for their leadership role about 82% of the time, which is an issue when looking to engage and retain good employees.  According to the same report, managers account for at least 70% of variance in employee engagement scores across business units, and toxic bosses are one of the leading causes of unhappiness in the workplace. A toxic leader can have a devastating impact on the corporate bottom line, so it is imperative that there is an emphasis on hiring the right person for the job. 


Individual Responsibility

A good rule to work by, is if your current job is poisoning your life, and/or your boss frequently upsets you, scares you, frustrates you, abuses you, or in other ways makes you very unhappy at work, AND you are not getting the support you need to rectify the situation, then prepare yourself to find a better job. It is that important to your health and well-being.



Is your workplace a healthy place to work?
Are your leaders supportive?
Do employees know how to deal with negativity and toxicity?


Do you need someone to work with your leaders and teams on developing a healthy workplace culture? If so, Beverly Can Provide This Training. Please feel free to call and discuss the details at: 705-786-0437


If you have some strategies to share – comment on this posting!


Additional Postings:

Dealing With Difficult Employees

Don’t Let That Difficult Customers Rattle Your Staff

How To Handle A Difficult Boss

Stop Letting That Difficult Person Ruin Your Day

Transform Your Thinking

Words Hurt

Emotional Wellness

End Gossip

Stress Still The #1 Lifestyle Risk

Effective Communication Month



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Written by Beverly Beuermann-King

Building Resiliency Through Stress and Wellness Strategies. Stress and resiliency strategist, Beverly Beuermann-King, CSP, translates current research and best practices information into a realistic, accessible and more practical approach through her dynamic stress and wellness workshops, on-line stress and resiliency articles, books, e-briefs and media interviews.

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