Are you in a toxic workplace culture?

By Naveed Saleh, MD, MS | Fact-checked by Barbara Bekiesz
Published July 11, 2022

Key Takeaways

  • Unprecedented numbers of people, including healthcare providers, are leaving the workforce, and a toxic workplace could be to blame.

  • In a toxic work culture, well-being suffers when employees spread negativity. Worker engagement also takes a nosedive.

  • As a leader, you can take certain steps to rectify a negative environment. As an employee, you can use specific techniques to try to mitigate the negativity of a toxic work environment.

At the beginning of 2021, more than 40% of all employees were considering quitting. Between April and September 2021, more than 24 million employees quit, which was a record, and resulted in what experts called the “Great Resignation.” And, we know this trend applies to healthcare, too.

According to research published in the MIT Sloan Management Review, 6% of health system workers quit during this period. And although this is less than other fields like clothing retail, with a 19% exodus, it is still a substantial number.[]

A toxic workplace culture is the No. 1 reason people quit their jobs, per the study authors. When it comes to predicting attrition, this factor is 10 times more impactful than remuneration.

The toxic healthcare environment

A toxic workplace exerts numerous detrimental effects on healthcare workers, according to the authors of a review published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.[]

Employees working in a toxic workplace spread negative feelings among others, and pervasive feelings of harassment, ostracism, and bullying can result in depression, burnout, anxiety, and stress.

When employee well-being is compromised because of a toxic workplace, engagement suffers.

Here are some characteristics that  identify a toxic healthcare environment:[]

  • Workers feel disrespected

  • Lack of diversity, inclusion, and equity

  • Unethical behavior

  • Employees are verbally abused or bullied

  • Environment is overly bureaucratic

  • Lack autonomy with regard to patient care

  • Too many responsibilities

  • Poor supervision and poor or toxic leadership

Related: Why doctors like you are leaving in droves

Changing a toxic workplace

Although every toxic work environment is different, some general tips for dealing with them can be applied across the board. If you are in a leadership role in your healthcare organization, consider the following guidance, from the publication Managed Healthcare Executive, on how to make the environment less toxic.[]

  • Identify the problem—find out what is causing the toxicity

  • Ask your colleagues for feedback on what can be improved

  • Flip the power dynamic by seeking the input and feedback of other members of the healthcare team and instituting an open-door policy for feedback

  • Set clear goals that involve employee input, and make it safe for them to share their ideas

  • Involve HR, and educate employees on how to help with difficult relationships or dynamics. Institute training on a “respectful workplace” for all employees, including leadership

  • Remain civil and constructive with feedback

  • Discipline "bad actors" no matter what their level is in the organization

As an employee—and not a leader—in a toxic workplace environment, you may not be able to change things from the top down. But you can take steps, such as the following, to mitigate the negativity of a toxic work environment.[]

  • Find supportive and sympathetic coworkers to confide in

  • Find a mentor who can help guide you

  • Engage in mindfulness exercises such as guided meditation and visualization

  • Find fun hobbies to take your mind off things

  • Set limits and boundaries such as limiting your response to non-urgent phone calls and emails outside of work hours

Finally, if worst comes to worst, you can always look for a new job.

What this means for you

No clinician or healthcare provider wants to deal with a toxic work environment. These workplaces can grind you down psychologically. Fortunately, there are certain steps you can take to help you deal with these work situations. Quitting doesn't have to be your first option.

Read Next: The changes that would keep more doctors from quitting
Share with emailShare to FacebookShare to LinkedInShare to Twitter