By Savanna Ledford and Gail D’Souza
Monday morning, we meet again. As you grab that delicious cup of coffee you walk in dismay to your workspace thinking, “I truly hope Jo isn’t at the meeting today.” You are already dreading the negative comments, bullying, gossiping, and clique-y behavior that will come your way and there is no way out. You sit through the meeting pretending everything is okay because you do not believe this is a toxic work environment. When the meeting is finally over, you walk back to your desk dreaming about the upcoming weekend. This scenario is more common in the workplace than one may think. In fact, approximately 80% of employee concerns and issues related to productivity are associated with their work environment.2 The relationship between a toxic work environment and low employee productivity is not a novel phenomenon.
What is Productivity?
Productivity is a measurement of someone’s efforts that allows the input of resources to effectively create a product3, and depends on factors including support from leadership, individual ability, and work environment. Those who work in a collaborative environment tend to be more productive, healthier, and happier.3 Whereas those who work in a toxic environment tend to be depressed and unmotivated due to the level of harassment and inequality one may experience.3 When comparing the effects of harassment in the workplace, it was found that employees perceive harassment to be more psychologically harmful and not socially acceptable compared to other characteristics of a toxic environment.4 Therefore, an organization should aim to create an environment that promotes feelings of inclusivity, welcoming, and supportive to ensure productivity levels remain high.
Impact of Environment on Productivity
To explore the impact of toxic work environments on worker productivity, a survey of 267 individuals was conducted looking at four dimensions of a toxic work environment (ostracism, incivility, harassment, and bullying) and their impact on job productivity using a five-point Likert scale. All four elements had a significant negative impact on job productivity, supporting that a toxic work environment has direct negative effects on employee productivity.3 This result was also seen in several other studies.4,5,6 A field study, found that ostracism predicted employee turnover and was a main element in causing a harmful workplace environment.4 Another study of 903 nurses showed that incivility was positively associated with both anxiety and job burn-out, which ultimately decreased productivity this is because the workplace incivility led to an increase in anxiety which led to job burn-out.5 A systematic review on harassment and productivity of those in higher education found that there are three main forms of harassment in higher education: gender harassment, workplace bullying, and mobbing, all associated with the reduction of employee productivity because these three main forms led to employees to have a loss of confidence, stress, fatigue, and loss of self-esteem which was associated with the increase in incomplete tasks and not going to work.6 Overall a myriad of factors contribute to positive and negative work environments and these factors are known to impact mental health.
Relationship between Workplace Stress and Mood Disorders
Increased workplace stress can have debilitating effects on an individual and their work.8 In 2020, the American Psychological Association reported that 64% of adults experienced workplace stress in their lives, which can be caused by toxic work environments.9 Negative comments from co-workers, supervisors, and upper management can increase adverse feelings in a worker and decrease self-esteem, adding to a worker’s on-going stress levels.11 The effects of negative work settings have the potential to increase incidence of mood disorders such as anxiety, depression, and even suicidal thoughts.11 Depression can affect a workers concentration, reduce their motivation, and also affect their productivity through absenteeism.11 To prevent mood disorders in employees, organizations can fix toxic work environments and take specific steps to boost productivity.
How to Fix a Toxic Work Environment?
Now that we understand the effects of a toxic work environment on employee productivity, here are some ways to combat them within your organization. The first step is for the manager or employee to acknowledge the presence of a toxic work environment.12 In doing so, the manager or employee may help diffuse the situation and be an advocate for their employees/coworkers.13 Additionally, once employees realize they are in a toxic environment, they can seek help to improve their work settings.12
The next step to eradicate toxicity would be to specify and reconcile expectations.12,13 Organizations may do so by communicating their expectations to the managers/employees so that everyone understands the work environment the organization strives for and the importance of abiding by the rules of the organization.12,13 The organization may also specify intolerable behaviors at the workplace that include gossiping, bullying, ostracizing, and micro-aggressions towards people in the organization.11,12 Another way to specify organizational values to employees is to create a Diversity and Inclusion policy at the workplace to prevent discrimination against individuals based on gender, color, race, and sexual orientation and improve respect for each other in the workplace.12,14 Finally, ensuring employees have work-life balance can help combat mood disorders and toxicity in the workplace.11,12 This can include flexible work hours, paid vacations, and hosting inclusive work events to create a positive work environment.11,12
Creating a positive work setting is important as it helps boost work productivity and increase individual mood and morale in an organization. As graduate students, we are generally overworked and may not feel the need to report toxic environments to supervisors as it can lead to confrontation or negative feelings between co-workers. These conversations are hard to address but by doing so, you may alter your situation and decrease toxicity in your workplace. Doing so will also make you more cognizant of toxic work environments, so your next job will be truly enjoyable. The next time Monday morning rolls around and you are grabbing that delicious cup of coffee, I hope you are thinking in relief, “I truly hope to discuss my feelings with Jo, remedy the situation, and boost my productivity by doing so.”
- Miller, David. 4 Key Warning Signs That Show Your Work Culture is Toxic. https://www.goalcast.com/2017/09/13/warning-signs-work-culture-toxic/
- Sergio, M; Behzadi, H.; Otto, A.; Van Der Spoel, D. Fullerenes toxicity and electronic properties. Environ. Chem. Lett. 2013, 11, 105-118.
- Anjum, Amna. An Empirical Study Analyzing Job Productivity in Toxic Workplace Environments. International Journal of ENvironmental Research and Public Health. https://res.mdpi.com/ijerph/ijerph-15-01035/article_deploy/ijerph-15-01035.pdf
- O’Reilly, J. Is Negative Attention Better Than No Attention? The Comparative Effects of Ostracism and Harassment at Work. https://pubsonline.informs.org/doi/10.1287/orsc.2014.0900
- Shi Y, Guo H, Zhang S, Xie F, Wang J, Sun Z, Dong X, Sun T, Fan L. Impact of workplace incivility against new nurses on job burn-out: a cross-sectional study in China. BMJ Open. 2018 Apr 5;8(4): e020461. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2017-020461. PMID: 29626049; PMCID: PMC5892738.
- Henning, M.A., Zhou, C., Adams, P. et al. Workplace harassment among staff in higher education: a systematic review. Asia Pacific Educ. Rev. 18, 521–539 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12564-017-9499-0
- Ariza-Montes JA, Muniz R NM, Leal-Rodríguez AL, Leal-Millán AG. Workplace bullying among managers: a multifactorial perspective and understanding. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2014 Mar 4;11(3):2657-82. doi: 10.3390/ijerph110302657. PMID: 24599041; PMCID: PMC3986997.
- Colligan TW, Higgins EM. Workplace stress: Etiology and consequences. Journal of workplace behavioral health. 2006 Jul 25;21(2):89-97.
- Stress in America™ 2020: A National Mental Health Crisis. https://www.apa.org. https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/stress/2020/report-october. Published 2021. Accessed April 18, 2021.
- Workplace Stress – General: OSH Answers. Ccohs.ca. https://www.ccohs.ca/oshanswers/psychosocial/stress.html. Published 2021. Accessed April 18, 2021
- Woo JM, Postolache TT. The impact of work environment on mood disorders and suicide: Evidence and implications. International journal on disability and human development: IJDHD. 2008;7(2): 185.
- Blog.vantagecircle.com. https://blog.vantagecircle.com/toxic-work-environment/. Published 2021. Accessed April 18, 2021.
- Pickering CE, Nurenberg K, Schiamberg L. Recognizing and responding to the “toxic” work environment: Worker safety, patient safety, and abuse/neglect in nursing homes. Qualitative health research. 2017 Oct;27(12):1870-81.
- Theodorakopoulos N, Budhwar P. Guest editors’ introduction: Diversity and inclusion in different work settings: Emerging patterns, challenges, and research agenda. Human Resource Management. 2015 Mar;54(2):177-97.