Navigating Conflict and Toxicity in the Workplace

Since we invest 90% of our time in business workplaces, learning many of the challenges of office leadership and their employees, we thought we would share our experiences and our clients’ experiences with toxicity and conflict in the workplace.


What is a toxic work environment?

A toxic work environment is a workplace that has an overwhelmingly negative culture and unsatisfied, unhappy employees. Toxic work environments and the employees in them often demonstrate negative characteristics like these examples-

  • Bullying-Starting gossip and rumors about a coworker, no matter how sever the comments are, this sort of behavior is a form of bullying and can be hurtful.
  • Distrust-This can be distrust from either side: managers who assume the worst in people, or don’t trust them to do their jobs; or employees who don’t trust their managers or bosses because they see them cut corners or engage in unprofessional or unethical behavior. Trust is the cornerstone of all relationships.
  • Othering- A pattern of exclusion and marginalization based on having identities that are different from the norm-othering is often an invisible mechanism that bars people outside the dominant culture from access to opportunity.
  • Creating in-groups-40% of Americans feel physically and emotionally isolated. A sense of belonging to a group is something we all desire. In groups are created in the workplace just as they are in other social dynamics and can be a form of exclusion and loss of productivity.
  • Pessimism-Pessimistic employees are people who nurture a consistently negative attitude in the workplace. These people typically expect the worst of situations. Pessimists relate to the “half empty” rather than the half-full glass”, focusing on the negatives rather than the positives of a situation.

Some toxic work environments exist for a multitude of reasons, while others are due simply to the behavior of a few employees.

Sources; Indeed.com

What are the side effects of a toxic work environment?

Toxic work environments can have real and significant effects on your workplace and employees. A few of the most common results of a toxic workplace include:

  • Low productivity: Employees in a toxic workplace rarely seek to support their colleagues or assist with additional projects. Instead, employees often finish their work as quickly as possible to limit interactions with others.
  • High turnover: Many toxic environments see unusually high turnover as employees lose satisfaction with their position and look for work elsewhere.
  • Increased illness and absenteeism: Employees can suffer real mental and physical health effects that cause them to take more sick days and miss more days of work than healthy employees would.
  • Poor reputation: Your company could develop a reputation for having a toxic work environment, making it a challenge to hire highly qualified employees.
  • Decreased mental health: Your employees could suffer from increased depression and anxiety, which may affect their productivity and work products.
  • Poor production quality: Unhappy, ill employees are less likely to submit high quality work products, decreasing the overall quality of your company’s goods or services.

Our own experience finds that toxicity can start with company leadership, especially when we engage clients for an office redesign or relocation and the manager is afraid to make a decision. Additionally, we’ve experienced clients who believe a new furniture designed office look will solve toxicity issues. This will not work! It may help a little, but only temporarily.


Look for these signs to see if your company’s environment has grown toxic:


  • Your company goals are unclear and obscure.
  • Employees disregard the company values.
  • Employees are unsure what their roles include and what tasks they should perform.
  • Internal company communication is rarely clear or inclusive.
  • A small group of people make decisions for everyone in the company with little or no employee input.
  • Employees feel the company does not consider personal feelings important.
  • Company leadership is not transparent with the employees about decision making or company direction.
  • Individuals avoid solving conflicts which grow into large challenges.
  • Employees feel the company considers them a commodity rather than important members of the organization.
  • Employees feel they only have one option for completing their work and have little autonomy.

Sources; Harvard Business review.



Real Stories from clients relative to bullying and undermining in the workplace-

“I took a job with a leader for my group, who was known to be difficult to work for, let’s call her Jen. Plenty of people warned me that she could be difficult to work for; I thought I could handle it. I prided myself on being able to get along with anyone, I didn’t let people get under my skin. I could see the best in everyone. Two months later I was ready to quit. Jen worked long days and weekends and expected her team to do the same. Her assumptions about what could be accomplished in a day were wildly unreasonable. She often followed up at 8:30 am on a request she made at 6pm. She disparaged my teammates in front of me, questioning their work ethic and commitment to the company. She would scroll through colleagues’ calendars and point out how little they’d accomplished having a meeting free day.”

” I took a job working for a senior VP of Sales for a major moving company. While it was not diagnosed, it was clear he had a bipolar disorder, which made him extremely moody. When delegated projects, he would not assign deadlines, and would often dig into some of the projects on his own, while I was working in a different direction. It went on for a few years until he stated in my performance review that I did not follow direction. I presented several projects to him and the HR VP to justify the extensive work I did on these projects. At one point he berated me and called me incompetent in a hotel environment and in front of my peers and subordinates. I brought a complain to HR about his behavior, which resulted in my exit from the company with a severance package for 2 years. ”


One study shows that 94% of a 2000 employee survey said they had worked with a toxic person, and that their number one source of tension in the workplace was relationships.

In a New York Times survey, of more than 4500 doctors, nurses and other hospital personnel, 71% tied disrupted behavior, such as abusive, condescending, or insulting personal conduct to medical errors and 27% tied such behavior to patient deaths.

Check out this link for defining your toxic employees and associates https://www.business.com/articles/do-you-have-a-toxic-employee/


What you can do!

  1. Remember that your opinion is one of many. We all come to work with different viewpoints and values. It’s not realistic to expect your boss, teammates, reports to see eye to eye with you all the time. You and your colleagues don’t need to reach consensus on “the facts” of what happened or who’s to blame for a problem. Instead of spending hours debating whose interpretation is correct, focus your energy on what should happen moving forward.
  2.  Be aware of your biases. Biases creep into all sorts of workplace interactions. One common challenge of colleagues’ relationships is fundamental attribution errors – an inclination to assume that other people’s behavior has more to do with their personalities than with the situation. While believing the opposite of oneself. For example, you might assume that a teammate late to a meeting is disorganized or disrespectful rather than caught in traffic or stuck in a meeting that went long.
  3. Don’t make it “Me against them”. In a disagreement, it’s easy to think in polarizing ways: “me versus you, enemies at war,” or that one person is being difficult while the other party isn’t. One person is right; the other is wrong. Consider in such a situation, that there are three issues or things to address to solve the problem. This would include you, your colleague and the dynamic between you. Don’t spend so much time on your colleague, focus on the third issue.
  4. Understand your Goal. In an effort to avoid drama in the workplace and stay focused on the task. Be clear about your goals. Once you have defined your goals, write them down on a piece of paper. Both big goals and smaller goals (this might be simply staying away from or removing yourself from unproductive conversations). Source: Harvard Business Review contributor; Amy Gallo.
  5. Avoid Workplace Gossip and Venting. It’s fairly natural to turn to others when something is off at work. You might want to confirm that you’re not misinterpreting a vague email, get advice on advancing a stalled initiative, or simply be reassured that you’re a good person. If your colleague says, “Yes, Greta does seem a little grumpy today, what’s up with that? You then, get a jolt of relief it’s not just you. Studies also show that venting and gossip can deter people from behaving selfishly. It is perfectly legitimate to seek help in the workplace to sort out your feelings or to check with someone else that you are seeing things clearly.
  6. Check out this link for defining your toxic employees and associates -https://www.business.com/articles/do-you-have-a-toxic-employee/


Final thoughts on Toxicity and conflict in the new norm work environments-

How to survive a toxic workplace

  • Build a network of trusted co-workers.
  • Stay focused on important goals.
  • Be nice to everyone (even toxic co-workers)
  • Strive for strong work-life balance.
  • Know that nothing is permanent.

Here are five tips for addressing a toxic work environment:

  1. Ask for a diversity and inclusion policy that doesn’t tolerate discrimination and workplace bullying and model that value in your own team and interactions
  2. Set clear boundaries for yourself and make an effort to unplug to have a better work-life balance
  3. Recognize colleagues with regular appreciation for their efforts and encourage more employee recognition to make others feel appreciated and connected
  4. Outline clear expectations and establish clear communication
  5. Acknowledge that there’s a problem with workplace toxicity by hearing and giving feedback

Find someone who will help you learn the value of your voice. A Better Up coach can provide the guidance you need to use your voice more effectively in your professional and personal life.

Moving forward

Nobody should have to endure a toxic workplace. All that toxicity wreaks havoc on your mental health and damages your confidence, motivation, and career trajectory. The bottom line is that you deserve better and don’t have to accept a toxic work environment.

For some situations, begin by acknowledging that sometimes the best thing you can do is leave. If it’s not working out, if nobody wants to make it change, leave. Tolerating it means that you’re accepting that you don’t need to grow or be happy at work, which spills into your personal life, too.

Instead, choose yourself and a happier relationship with work.









Learn about our three hundred and sixty degree approach to office furniture projects including furnishing, renovating, designing, relocating and decommissioning an office. BT360 has provided creative, functional and cost-effective workplace environments since 2011. Have an office furniture project or question? We’d love to hear from you.

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