The Tonic for Workplace Toxicity?


Some Points to Ponder

I recently read an article by Jonathan Long: 8 Toxic Types of People You Should Keep Out of Your Life.

Read article here:

This article raises a good point. Toxic colleagues and leaders, without question, are, at best emotionally exhausting and at work psychologically damaging.

In the investigations and audits I conduct, I see toxicity in many forms, a few of which include the following:

  • Constant negativity and complaining (which sucks the energy and enthusiasm out of colleagues, customers, clients, patients and students);
  • Unpredictable moods and behaviour, causing people to “walk on eggshells” because “they never know what to expect”;
  • “Busy bodies” spending a ton of work time needlessly gossiping, spreading rumours, and simply doing anything but working or allowing others to work (yet constantly saying how busy they are);
  • Self-designated perfectionists who critique others’ opinions, methods and productivity;
  • Controlling, overbearing and aggressive individuals who “strong-arm” others into agreeing with them or remaining silent about their disagreement; and
  • Divisive behaviours, such as pitting coworkers or staff against each other and creating camps/cliques in an effort to maintain control over workplace dynamics;

However, the article falls into the same trap as many leadership books.

And what is that? Books and articles commonly talk about the “five steps” to “coping” with a complainer or “adjusting” to an aggressor. Many “remedies” focus on the “best way” in which to respond to the ‘bad behaviour’. We have lost our way. The responsibility lies with those who are engaging in this behaviour, not with those who are forced to deal with it. Yes, it helps to know how to work with these individuals. However, the best help an organization can offer its employees is to hold people accountable for their unacceptable workplace behaviour.

The workplace is a communal space. Everyone should be expected to conduct themselves in a consistently respectful manner towards everyone else, regardless of their personal opinions or personal issues.

Leaders need to set clear expectations about acceptable workplace behaviour, ensure they model those expectations and address inappropriate behaviours of staff who fail to meet those expectations. It is not about offering “counselling” to those affected by the inappropriate behaviour, it is about eliminating the behaviour itself.

The bottom line? Books on “managing challenging individuals” should be focused on the “challenging individuals” not those who are being challenged by them. These books belong in the Leadership section of the local bookstore, not in Self-Help.

– Marli Rusen

For more information on Marli and the Services she offers please visit:

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