Bad aggressive female boss talking down to employee

Sticking It Out In a Toxic Workplace Culture

Thursday, July 25, 2019

If you have job-hopped as much as some Millennials, it’s likely you’ve experienced all kinds of work cultures: caring cultures, hierarchical cultures, collaborative cultures, authoritative cultures, and results-based cultures. Employees thrive in cultures that best fit their work and personality styles. Some of this fit can be attributed to generational shifts and some of it is personal. One culture that does no good for anyone involved, though, is a toxic workplace.

Let me tell you a story.

Every day Lakshmi would go to work, she would end up in tears. Her manager spoke to her in a demoralizing and demeaning tone. Her coworkers were pleasant enough, but no one dared to stand up to the manager for fear of losing their jobs. Lakshmi was good at hers, but her manager undervalued her work. Busy through lunch most days, if Lakshmi stopped to eat, her deadlines would pile up again and she would have to work late. She cried at work more often than she ate lunch.

While Lakshmi’s case is extreme (and true), it exemplifies one of the worst toxic cultures I’ve heard of. But toxic cultures are not as unique as you might think. I’ve worked in numerous places as a part-nomad and part military spouse; of those places, I experienced at least four cultures that were extremely toxic. As this ATD blog post from Ryann Ellis states, here are some warning signs you are in a toxic culture:

  • The boss is a known bully.
  • Coworkers frequently gang up on each other.
  • Bosses or coworkers frequently take credit for others’ work.
  • Employees are insubordinate.
  • Office gossip and false accusations run rampant.
  • The boss is ineffective or absent.
  • Everyone operates under different rules.
  • Supervisors don’t communicate expectations well or at all.

A toxic culture can affect your overall work quality, productivity, and even your personal life and health. This type of environment increases your stress level, which subsequently increases the cortisol in your body. Consistently high levels of this hormone increase your blood pressure and can cause depression, anxiety, heart disease, headaches, insomnia, digestive issues, and weight gain.


If you’re in a toxic culture, you should run—not walk—away. If you’re bound by financial or other limitations, begin your exit by starting a side hustle, working on your personal branding, and finding joy and relaxation in other activities.

Review this infographic from to find out if you’re in a toxic workplace culture and what you can do to sustain yourself from the stress of that toxicity until a better opportunity arrives.

How to deal with a toxic work environment
How to deal with a toxic work environment, courtesy of

About the Author

Lisa Spinelli is the Senior Content Manager for the Career Development, Talent Management and Finance communities as well as the ATD Job Bank administrator. Prior to joining ATD, Lisa worked as a content strategist, editor, and journalist for over 14 years. She has managed teams, websites, and social media accounts as well as reported and edited articles for places like America's Blood Centers,, Red Herring, the Boston Phoenix and Patch. Some of her works have been published with Fast Company, Huffington Post, Mental Floss, Northern Virginia Magazine, Houston Chronicle, St. Louis Post-Dispatch and the Associated Press, to name a few. With her diverse and inside knowledge of content development and creation, along with content acquisition, management and marketing, Lisa brings a fresh unique perspective to the role. She resides in Northern Virginia with her three divas and Air Force veteran husband. Follow her on Twitter @atdcareerdev.

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