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Jerry Roberts

Jerry Roberts

Workplace incivility and toxic workplaces can cause health problems and have a serious financial impact on an organization. Today let’s look at the signs that indicate you’re earning a living in one of them.

First, some research to consider from Jeffrey Pfeffer, a professor of organizational behavior at Stanford Graduate School of Business, and author of “Dying for a Paycheck: How Modern Management Harms Employee Health and Company Performance – and What We Can Do About It.”

Factors leading to stress

Pfeffer says: “Even if you work at a white-collar office job, if your employment is characterized by economic insecurity, a lack of work/family balance, long work hours, a sense of not being treated fairly, or a lack of autonomy...the resulting stress can affect your health.”

Now that’s an eye-opener because nothing in that points to the physical aspects of work, but instead highlights the mental side; the stress and psychological impact on people who are likely dissatisfied with working hours, conditions, compensation, and/or the relationship with their boss.

Stress leads to bad choices

Pfeffer states this leads to making choices that eventually do have a negative effect on the physical side. This includes more smoking, drinking, overeating, illicit drug use, and less exercise. Guam has a massive problem with diabetes. We generally lay this off on culture, that the local diet has always been the issue. Pfeffer might say if the rate of diabetes and other diseases have increased over time, the job experiences of those afflicted could be one of the key reasons.

You think it’s just a management problem?

Most of the time people look at toxic workplaces from the standpoint of how managers treat employees. We’ll start with that but it’s only half the story. Stay with me. It’s a sign of a toxic workplace when...

• The No. 1 thing employees talk about apart from the work itself is how much they hate their jobs and their managers.

• You can't bring up legitimate concerns with your manager, and going to the HR director only makes things worse.

• Managers talk only about hitting targets and higher production, mistakes, and following the chain of command. Profits and cost cutting are the sole focus of the leaders, not growing talent. Verbal and written warnings are given with great frequency.

• Nobody ever asks for your input.

• Management focuses solely on what employees are doing wrong or correcting problems, and rarely give positive feedback

• Managers are forced to work longer and longer hours, so they have little concern for stress or other issues that impact workers.

Others also contribute to the trouble

Yes, managers can make a job tough to enjoy. There’s no doubt the preceding factors contribute to the overall toxicity of a workplace and make going to work a negative experience. However, we can’t lay everything at the feet of the leaders and managers. In most organizations we also find the following:

• Workers badmouth decisions made by leaders.

• Longtime employees feel they’ve paid their dues and don’t have to contribute as much any more. This is often the case when employees tout their numbers of years of experience over skills and performance.

• You hear people say the infamous words, “That’s not my job.”

• Gossip rules the roost.

• Co-workers tease or criticize you for trying hard, that you’re showing them up. This is peer pressure to try to control others.

• Employees are quick to grab the glory when things go well, but run and hide from their role in any failure.

Toxic workplaces are usually a team effort

There you have a half-dozen factors based on the attitudes of managers, and a half-dozen on how workers contribute to negativity. These are some examples. There certainly are more. What’s the takeaway? A toxic workplace is a collaborative effort. It takes time to get there and just about everyone has a role in it. Look in the mirror, accept responsibility, and if you want change — be the change.

Jerry Roberts comments on business and the workplace daily at 7:20 am on The Ray Gibson Show on The Point, 93.3 FM. He can be reached at, or email

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