Toxic Work Culture: Three Behaviors That Contribute

by Jan 12, 2023

Way before working at Civility Partners, I suffered from a toxic work culture. Even though I loved my job, it was very tiring—emotionally, mentally, and physically. The work environment was very unhealthy, and because of that, I made the best decision of my life by leaving the company.

Individuals have different behaviors, and oftentimes, signs of toxic behavior are ignored, which plays a huge part in contributing to an unhealthy workplace.

Working at Civility Partners has given me the closure I never had. My closest teammates, Catherine and Rebecca, have been the best support systems ever. They’ve made me realize how great it is to work in a company with a healthy work environment!


What is a Toxic Work Culture?

In the words of our CEO, Catherine, “toxic work culture” is when an organization allows negative behaviors to occur. Toxic behavior can come in many forms and run on a spectrum from less harmful behaviors like incivility and unprofessionalism, up to more egregious behaviors like bullying, harassment, and even violence. 


Behaviors That Contribute to a Toxic Work Culture

Over time, Civility Partners has seen a variety of “under-the-radar” or seemingly harmless behaviors that are indicators of a toxic workplace culture, yet are frequently ignored.


1. Teasing

Effective communication is what makes for good business relationships. However, if you’re not being listened to, communication is only a one-way street, and you’re not feeling valued, it’s a clear indication a toxic work environment is either brewing or already in existence. 

Sarcasm and teasing are often a part of company culture – we get to know our peers and we have history with them. Teasing about some old mistake they made or some personal story they shared can come naturally. However, joking or teasing you about flaws or things you’re embarrassed to have everyone know about makes for poor relationships and can easily turn ugly. 


2. “Power Tripping”

Everyone in the organization has the right to be listened to. True leaders are not power hungry, but rather positive influences. People who engage in “power tripping” make decisions using their power without consulting peers or colleagues, and they use their power to make others feel inferior. They often misuse their power in disciplinary situations. 

Obviously, this behavior hurts the team’s psychological safety and leaves people feeling like they can’t be innovative for fear of the power coming down like a hammer. This of course results in lowered morale throughout your entire organization.


3. Manipulation

A person who engages in manipulation initially appears to be very supportive of all you do. When they feel they’ve gained your trust and are very friendly to you, they will then control how you see things from their point of view. Here are some examples of manipulation:

  • Gaslighting
  • Dishonesty
  • Guilt-tripping
  • Blame-shifting
  • Silent treatment

This behavior can disrupt your relationship with your colleagues, as it causes you to dread coming to work each week and question your actions. You start wondering if your feelings are valid, if you’re valuable, and if you’re missing out on some reality that everyone else sees except you. The worst part is that manipulation might be so subtle that you might find yourself continuously focusing on your own actions rather than the other person’s, which makes it hard to seek help.


Four Solutions:

If one or more of these behaviors sounds familiar, understand that a toxic workplace is building up, or it already exists. Either way, now’s the time to put a stop to it, and here are some tips to do so:

  1. Provide training for managers, employees, and the overall workforce on such topics as respect, civility, inclusivity, and being an upstander.
  2. Hold individuals accountable for their behavior and what they learn in training through your performance management system. Understand that gossip, for example, is a performance problem and should be treated no differently than any other disruptive behavior like showing up late or missing a deadline. 
  3. Understand the root of the problem through a climate assessment. More than an engagement survey, a climate assessment can help you understand where problems are and how they hinder productivity, performance and relationships. Armed with that data, you can address the root causes of these and other types of problem behaviors.
  4. Foster a culture of transparency and open communication by starting with yourself. Engage in positive behaviors yourself, and watch as it influences your team.


Reach out to us if you’d like more information on where to get started. 



Jenny & The Civility Partners Team



Do you know how much money chronically bad behavior costs your company? Spoiler alert – it’s a LOT higher than you want it to be. Download our data and worksheet to see how it’s costing your organization and what you can do to fix it.

About Catherine Mattice

Catherine Mattice, MA, SPHR, SHRM-SCP is President of consulting and training firm, Civility Partners, and has been successfully providing programs in workplace bullying and building positive workplaces since 2007. Her clients include Fortune 500’s, the military, several universities and hospitals, government agencies, small businesses and nonprofits. She has published in a variety of trade magazines and has appeared several times on NPR, FOX, NBC, and ABC as an expert, as well as in USA Today, Inc Magazine, Huffington Post, Entrepreneur Magazine, and more. Catherine is Past-President of the Association for Talent Development (ATD), San Diego Chapter and teaches at National University. In his book foreword, Ken Blanchard called her book, BACK OFF! Your Kick-Ass Guide to Ending Bullying at Work, “the most comprehensive and valuable handbook on the topic.” She recently released a second book entitled, SEEKING CIVILITY: How Leaders, Managers and HR Can Create a Workplace Free of Bullying.

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