It’s 2024, and toxic workplace traits are unfortunately alive and well. According to research, 75% of UK workers have experienced a “toxic workplace culture”, and 1 in 10 Brits have endured bullying in their place of work.
When it comes to the most common behaviours that occur in a toxic workplace, 56% of Brits say they have felt “belittled” in front of their employees, 42% have felt bullied, and 32% have been forced to work long hours.
For those familiar with the naughty pop culture sensation Mean Girls, these toxic traits may have many similarities with the ultimate “mean girl” herself, Regina George.
As she hits our screens and theatre stages again this month with the launch of the new Mean Girls musical and movie remake, this cunning, confident, manipulative queen of everything may have characteristics that are all too familiar to many of us, particularly in the workplace.
Whether it’s forming “cliquey” and non-inclusive friendship groups, excluding individuals from social events, or taking credit for a presentation you put a heck of a lot of hours into, a toxic working environment is a very serious matter that needs to be nipped in the bud quickly to protect your health. Of the three-quarters of UK employees who’ve experienced these negative and belittling situations, 87% said their mental health was affected.
David Rice, HR expert at People Managing People comments: “Unfortunately, toxic behaviours are still very common in the modern workplace, from employees at all levels.
“Any behaviour that has the potential to impact an employee’s mental health should never be accepted, and it’s vital it is addressed as quickly as possible so it does not continue.”
If you’ve been exposed to these toxic workplace behaviours and scenarios, David Rice shares his top tips on how best to handle them:
“Feeling included by others can help build your confidence, productivity, and job satisfaction, so if you’re feeling excluded, it’s important to address this.
“First and foremost, make sure you process your emotions before acting on them right away and saying something irrational.
“One of the most common reasons for exclusion, whether it be in a work or social setting, is affinity bias. This is the unconscious human tendency to gravitate towards other people with similar backgrounds, interests, and beliefs.
“In many cases, exclusion as a result of affinity bias has no malicious intent, and the way it makes you (someone who has been excluded) feel may come as a surprise to the organiser. In the first instance, I would simply ask the organiser if you can come to the next event or meeting and perhaps provide a couple of reasons why you would like to attend. The organiser might not have known you had a common interest in or knowledge of the meeting topic.
“If the exclusion continues after this direct interaction with the organiser, raising your feelings with the HR team is a good idea to escalate it further and get to the bottom of why you are being left out.”
A colleague has taken credit for a piece of work you did
“There’s nothing worse than putting in hours of work into a presentation or piece of writing and someone else taking the credit for it.
“It’s really important that you address this straight away, as it can quickly start to impact your self-esteem and leave you feeling resentful towards your work. Let the person know you are upset and politely ask for a correction. Rather than coming across as accusatory, make sure you focus on communicating how their taking the credit made you feel and asking them how they came to the conclusion that you weren’t the creator of the work in the first place.”
A colleague constantly talks over and interrupts you in meetings
“Interrupting in meetings is one of the most common forms of ‘power play’ in the workplace. The majority of the time, the interruptor doesn’t realise they are even talking over you, which is part of the problem.
“For meetings to be productive, it’s vital that everybody has a reason for attending and has the ability to contribute. If you feel confident enough to do it in the meeting itself, simply asking them calmly to allow you to finish your point can be really impactful.
“If you’d rather address it with them privately, pull them aside outside of the meeting in a neutral setting. Try to give the interrupter the benefit of the doubt, as they may be unaware of their behaviour. Use ‘I’ statements, such as those beginning with ‘I feel’ or ‘I think’, instead of using accusatory language to explain how the interruptions affected you.”
You have anxiety about turning up to work
“If toxic workplace behaviours are becoming overwhelming and leaving you feeling anxious about turning up to work at all, it’s really important that you acknowledge these feelings sooner rather than later.
“Speak with your HR team or a colleague you feel comfortable talking to to explain how you’re feeling, understand how your workplace can support you, and ultimately put a stop to the toxic behaviours. There is no reason anyone should feel anxious about turning up to work, and it is your workplace’s responsibility to make sure you feel comfortable and happy.”