Let’s talk about the word “toxic.” It is a broad, heavy word that is thrown around a lot. We talk about toxic people, toxic environments, toxic food. It feels like we are swimming in toxicity and we don’t know what is healthy anymore. But do we know what it means as it relates to the workplace?

When I think of the words “toxic people,” the list of defining terms that comes up for me is as follows; see how many of these terms fit your definition of “toxic people.”

  • Manipulation
  • Control
  • Victim mentality
  • Gaslighter
  • Dishonesty
  • Boundary pusher
  • Disrespectfulness


There are many more words that may be part of your list. The type of people who embody all of the aforementioned traits are, for sure, a challenge to work with, but that doesn’t even scratch the surface of the impact they can have on others. Many of us end up becoming hypervigilant to be able to cope with the negative and harmful behaviors that truly toxic people can demonstrate. The level of maladaptive behavior that some people demonstrate can be abusive, very challenging to navigate, and have deep ramifications, especially for survivors of abuse.

However, not everyone falls into the above level of toxicity. And yet, there is a general sense that human interactions, in this day and age, have become more challenging overall. By the way, if the level of workplace toxicity you are dealing with has reached the level of what is on the above list, we need to talk because that is simply not ok, and you may need some help from HR consulting companies near you in directing certain individuals towards the exit door.

When it comes to the workplace, maladaptive or dysregulated behavior patterns look like poor performance, coworkers not getting along with each other, subpar work product, management challenges , and perhaps even an increase in absenteeism or workplace injuries. We see an uptick in workplace conflicts that both employees and supervisors and managers struggle to know how to navigate and resolve, as well as an increase in performance issues. However, as in many types of relationships (with the exception of abusive relationships) all parties may be playing a contributing role.

For example, a client put an employee on a performance improvement plan because there were concerns regarding the employee’s ability to produce results. However, when the situation was further discussed, there was much more to the story than simply poor performance. The employee was initially hired under a different manager for a job that they had no experience performing and in which a degree of expertise was necessary to be effective. The employee received no training for the job but when they were approved to attend training, there was a change in management and the new manager did not follow up to ensure the employee received proper training. Meanwhile, colleagues of that employee continuously complained regarding unmet service expectations. Eventually, there was so much frustration across the company that people started treating the employee very poorly. The employee became withdrawn and fearful, which further perpetuated complaints and frustration.

When we looked at the full picture of what was going on, there was an overall culture of poor management, a lack of psychological safety for the employee to be able to speak up and receive help, and ultimately punishment for a lack of performance. Is that a toxic environment? Is management toxic? Is the employee toxic for becoming dysregulated and demonstrating bad behavior? Or is this a situation where many different things went wrong and a lack of experience and awareness led a fixable situation to spiral? If you’re struggling to identify the signs of a toxic workplace, seeking advice from HR consulting companies near you can provide professional insights and effective strategies for improvement.

We are leaving you here with a cliff hanger on this topic so that we can invite you to join us at the upcoming PASCO-HR conference where golbou ghassemieh will be speaking on this topic and what you can do to avoid similar scenarios and prevent toxicity in the workplace. If you haven’t signed up for it yet and you are in the Santa Rosa, California area, here is the link.

Based in Santa Rosa, California, with satellite offices in Bend Oregon and Boise Idaho, The Personnel Perspective is a business management consulting firm specializing in human resources, leadership development and training, and recruiting.  Our firm’s core belief is that a company achieves organizational excellence through its people.  Contact us to learn more: (707) 576-7653.