What Are Workplace Dynamics?
Most adults spend a significant portion of their day, year, and life working for pay. As a result, the dynamics of a workplace—including how coworkers interact, how responsibilities are delegated, and how dedicated workers are to the company’s mission—can have significant effects on people's physical and mental well-being.
Each person’s vision of an ideal work environment may be different. But in general, a psychologically healthy workplace is one in which coworkers are respectful of each other’s personalities, ideas, and working styles; work is allocated fairly; and trust exists between coworkers, particularly between higher- and lower-level employees. Although it’s not always possible for someone to secure work in a field that is personally meaningful to them, employees who feel that they are doing work that is interesting, challenging, and rewarding are more likely to experience healthy workplace dynamics.
If, on the other hand, poor workplace dynamics are not addressed, it can trigger burnout or widespread employee dissatisfaction. It may also lead to high turnover, which often creates challenges both for employees who leave and for those who are left behind. Thus, working toward strong workplace dynamics is in the best interest of workers, their families, and the company's bottom line.
What Are the Signs of a Toxic Workplace?
The term “toxic workplace” can be used to describe any workplace in which negative dynamics harm employee well-being, foster conflict between coworkers, or slow productivity. Possible signs of a toxic workplace include:
Verbal abuse. Insulting language is frequently used, employees are belittled or threatened by superiors, disagreement is not tolerated, or malicious rumors are spread.
Poor communication. Priorities are disputed, instructions are vague, or employees do not feel comfortable communicating bad news to superiors for fear of a negative response.
Imbalanced workloads. Some employees have little to do, while others must work extra hours on their off-time to keep up with their workload. This can breed resentment among coworkers and may lead to overburdened employees leaving a company.
Overall poor mood. It’s unrealistic to expect everyone to be happy or motivated all the time. But if most employees are in negative moods more often than not, talking or laughing is rare, or no one seems to care about what they’re doing, it will likely have long-term effects on morale and well-being.
While the signs vary, ultimately anyone who feels drained at the end of the day, who dreads going to work in the morning, or who struggles to keep up with unrealistic expectations may be in a toxic workplace.
How Do You Handle a Toxic Work Environment?
Spending 40 hours a week (or more) in a toxic workplace can be damaging to mental health, triggering anxiety, depression, or apathy. If someone has determined that their workplace is toxic, they may decide that leaving the job is the best choice for their well-being. However, for those who are unable to find another job (or unable to do so immediately), there are steps that can make a toxic workplace more bearable.
Employees should, first and foremost, prioritize their own well-being. This means getting enough sleep, engaging in self-care behaviors, and/or seeing a therapist to discuss feelings of anxiety or sadness.
Next, it’s best to communicate concerns about a toxic workplace to a supervisor or trusted coworker; together, it may be possible to take steps to reduce toxicity. Reporting verbal abuse or outright harassment to HR will ideally allow for bad actors to be held accountable.
When all else fails, setting firm boundaries such as leaving at a set time each day, or not checking email on off-hours can reduce the likelihood that the negative effects of a toxic workplace will bleed into other areas of one's life.