DEMAND AN END TO POVERTY THIS GENERAL ELECTION
TAKE ACTION
Employment

What exactly is a toxic work environment?

Toxic work environments are in the news, but what does one look like?

Image: energepic.com/Pexels

For the past few weeks, Britain has been engrossed in the Phillip Schofield, This Morning drama. One thing that’s been reported in several places is whether there’s a toxic work environment on the show.

Resident doctor on the show Dr Ranj Singh recently came out to say there was in fact a “toxic” work culture involving bullying and harassment, which he claims he attempted to whistleblow. Since then, the doctor said he was “managed out” of the show, adding that the problems went beyond Schofield.

The words toxic and workplace have been in mainstream vernacular for some time and other TV shows have been called out for similar conditions, such as those starring Ellen Degeneres and James Corden.

So what exactly constitutes toxic, and how do we differentiate between a toxic one and a pressured work environment? Is there a difference?

Your support changes lives. Find out how you can help us help more people by signing up for a subscription

We spoke to some workplace experts to find out.

Victoria McLean, a career coach and founder and CEO of career consultancy City CV, says it’s important to recognise what a healthy work environment looks like. She tells The Big Issue: “A good workplace environment is about much more than your physical location – so while table football, rooftop yoga and beer Fridays sound great, they’re not actually what make a great workplace.

“A good environment is more about the trust that you have among colleagues and managers, that everyone has a voice and is heard, the flexibility you have within your role, strong collaboration, open communication, good work/life balance and mutual respect.”

So, what makes a toxic one? McLean says: “This is the exact opposite – there might be secrets and whispers, gossip and rumours, inflexible rules or one rule for some people and another for others, bullying, harassment and limited communication. You’ll probably find employees suffering from burnout and stress, lacking in motivation and a culture of blame.”



But many work places can be stressful, with lots of pressure and rules. Does that make them toxic? You can tell the difference between the two by the way they make you feel, says McLean: “In a toxic work environment, you typically won’t find true collaboration or transparent communication. These are qualities you can find in a high-pressure environment because they are necessary in being productive and efficient.

“You’ll also find that even though it might be stressful, your work is still valued and everyone understands the reasons why they’re doing what they do and the overall company goals they’re working towards. You’ll get open, constructive feedback and the workplace will be equitable – lack of equity is a sure sign of a toxic environment.”

We also spoke to leadership and workplace expert, Kate Davis, who is CEO of Meraki House consultants, which consults on how to create happier, more productive workplaces.

Davis explains that another telltale sign of toxic employment is whether you feel safe and secure or not: “A toxic work culture is one where employees feel under excessive pressure, a lack of support and unhealthy competition. At the root of this toxicity is a lack of psychological safety, where people don’t feel safe to ask for help and support, share new ideas or admit failure.”

These can leave an employee having to adjust their behaviour for fear of making things worse for themselves. Davis adds: “Those who work in this kind of environment have poor work-life balance, and feel the need to ‘watch their back’ from other co-workers, or management.”

A poor work place isn’t just felt by junior employees but can also be experienced by leaders within the organisation. Davis says: “This feeling isn’t just contained within the main team but can stretch into senior leadership too. I hear often from leaders who feel this lack of safety, even though they are ‘supposed’ to be the ones creating the supportive culture. In a healthy fast-paced environment, workflows change and move rapidly, forcing you to multitask, or quickly adapt to new circumstances and deadlines. This doesn’t rely on a culture of fear to motivate but is driven by employee engagement and a passion to deliver.”

She adds that whether you’re looking for new employment or assessing your current one, the positive signs to look out for include an environment that fosters employee engagement, satisfaction, and productivity, benefiting both the employees and the organisation as a whole.

Davis adds: “I firmly believe that creating workplaces where people feel engaged, valued and heard is the most sustainable way to grow businesses.”

Do you have a story to tell or opinions to share about this? We want to hear from you. Get in touch and tell us more.

Support the Big Issue

For over 30 years, the Big Issue has been committed to ending poverty in the UK. In 2024, our work is needed more than ever. Find out how you can support the Big Issue today.
Vendor martin Hawes

Recommended for you

View all
Why the four-day working week is a feminist issue – and what we need to do about it
Four-day working week

Why the four-day working week is a feminist issue – and what we need to do about it

This vegan restaurant offers workers with learning disabilities a pathway to independence
Learning disability week 2024

This vegan restaurant offers workers with learning disabilities a pathway to independence

Free bus travel could lift young people out of poverty and unpick cost of living crisis. Here's how
A bus on Manchester’s new Bee Network
General election 2024

Free bus travel could lift young people out of poverty and unpick cost of living crisis. Here's how

Rishi Sunak says people on benefits don't want to work – here's why that's 'wrong and harmful'
dwp protest
Benefits

Rishi Sunak says people on benefits don't want to work – here's why that's 'wrong and harmful'

Most Popular

Read All
Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits
Renters: A mortgage lender's window advertising buy-to-let products
1.

Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal
Pound coins on a piece of paper with disability living allowancve
2.

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over
next dwp cost of living payment 2023
3.

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know
4.

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know