No matter the circumstance in your working life – a toxic work environment can negatively impact job satisfaction, self-confidence, the ability to do your job well and ultimately your mental health. More than 80% of people have reported toxic work environments have greatly impacted negatively on their mental health. To the extent that nearly 50% reported leaving their job because of toxicity while 31% reported the need to take leave from work to cope with the consequence of an unhealthy workplace.
Toxic workplaces can take many forms including digital toxicity. But at their core, toxic workplaces are representative of unhealthy behaviours by the individuals that work there, and the negative impact these behaviours have on both those involved as well as bystanders on the periphery. All levels of a workplace can be affected by digital toxicity regardless of standing or seniority and always include people whose behaviour lacks “compassion, empathy and understanding”. Signs of a toxic work environment include:
1. Where employees feel the need to “walk on eggshells”
2. Wherever there are cliques, gossip or rumours
3. Where different employees receive different messages from leadership
4. When bullying is an issue and no action is taken when it is reported
5. Where there is a lack of positive feedback or praise
6. When there is avoidance or secrecy
Often the resulting effect is individuals feeling the need to keep their grievances and concerns to themselves or only communicating them on the underground grapevine. As working from home has become widespread digital toxicity, in particular, has become more prevalent than ever.
Methods of dealing with digital toxicity
1. Approach the person in question
Speak to the person who instigated the behaviour as a first step. Let them know you felt uncomfortable with the content or the tone of the contact. Be positive, indicate you’ve always had a good working relationship, or thought this company was about collaboration and respect and check if they need something from you.
2. Raise the issue with a supervisor
If the toxic conduct you’re experiencing is more serious, you may need to take further action to get aid. For example, if it’s aggressive, sexist or racist or it seems there was malicious intent, you may need to approach your manager or HR. This means considering the behaviour as if it was face-to-face.
3. Setting acceptable boundaries
Whether in the digital space or otherwise, we often make the assumption someone else, like our manager, will set boundaries for us, however that may not be the case. For example, the only person who can say you are, or are not, available at a particular time or on a certain day is you. Nevertheless, how you convey that message is important. It needs to be delivered with respect and confidence in an assertive and helpful tone. For example, ‘I’ve become aware of a lot of out-of-hours exchanges, and for me to work at my best, I need maintain my work/life balance.”
4. Establish specific guidelines within your team
From the onset of employment, training or at least clear standards around using technology should be provided by your workplace. With the expectation of the same professional levels of courtesy, respect and transparency as in face-to-face interaction. Regardless, expectations and guidelines can be introduced or reinforce collaboratively in a team.