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Workplace Checklist: How Toxic is Yours?

Workplace Checklist: How Toxic is Yours?

Larry Buhl | for HotJobs

February 16, 2011

Any one of these issues indicates a toxic environment and should not be tolerated, according to Durre. And if you’ve got check marks next to items in more than one category, your workplace may be dangerously poisonous. Unfortunately, employees 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 problems from the stress and anger,” Durre says.

Detoxifying your workplace

How you respond to any of these problem areas depends on you, on the level of threat the situation poses, and on the supportiveness of the company.

Confront, politely. You should be able to resolve many interpersonal problems—gossipers, time wasters, and game players—without intervention, according to Hilka Klinkenberg, founder and managing director of Etiquette International.

“If someone’s always invading your space, for example, you can say you need to work and you’ll speak with them later,” she says. “If someone is talking loudly, you can say, ‘You have a good, strong voice, but it’s hard to concentrate when you speak at that volume.’ When teammates waste your time, tell them what will help you meet your deadline. But don’t vent and don’t blame. Present every issue in terms of a solution, not a problem.”

Do not confront. Situations where you’re in physical danger should be handled as if you’re meeting a bear in the woods: back away slowly and don’t antagonize. But don’t let it go. Report the problem to HR or to your supervisor if there is no HR department. If your supervisor is the threat, seek the next higher level—or in extreme cases, the police.

Go higher. If your boss won’t resolve the problem (or is the problem) and if HR doesn’t resolve the problem (or is part of the problem), you still have options, according to Durre.

“You can get an attorney or even hire a lawyer to write a letter merely threatening to sue, and you don’t have to spend thousands of dollars to do it,” she says. If you are part of a union, let them handle it. If you are part of a professional organization, tell them about it and recommend that the offending party’s license be revoked." If it’s an illegal or unethical situation, you can threaten to bring the situation to the media," Durre adds. “Companies hate bad publicity.”

Have back up. When HR becomes involved, you’ll need documentation to prove your case. Keep scrupulous records by writing down who said and did what, and when. It’s even better if you have other coworkers who witnessed the situation and are willing to go to bat for you.

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Plan your exit. Some companies have a culture of dysfunction. If the toxicity is coming from the top down, and it bothers you a lot, you’re better off coming up with an exit strategy, according to Marie McIntyre, author, columnist, and creator of

“You can’t change a corporate culture on your own,” McIntyre says. “Give yourself a timeline for leaving, and start working on it. Just focusing on a more positive future will help your stress level while you’re still in that negative environment.”

You shouldn’t have to leave just because of a bad boss or insufferable coworkers. But if the situation prompts you to start the company you’ve always dreamed about, that’s not such a bad thing. The bottom line is, you don’t have to suffer in silence. “The workplace shouldn’t have to be nasty,” Durre says. “It should be and can be a win-win for everyone.”

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