Toxic Workplaces: Psychologist Explains How to Spot a Toxic Workplace


From the way feedback is conveyed to how disagreements are resolved, the “spillover effect” of a toxic workplace can overtake you.

After a 17-year career in finance and accounting, Sofia * realized she had had enough.

Despite her leadership role in her field, the Melbourne woman said she constantly faced overt toxic behavior, sexism and racism from her colleagues and bosses who were predominantly male.

“I would say the financial world can be a pretty toxic place at the best of times,” she told “It’s very competitive and the behaviors that go with it are often quite toxic, there is definitely a culture of partying and tough drinking.”

“Add to that being a woman and being a woman from a non-traditional background and I found that I was faced with toxic behaviors throughout my career.”

Describing the work culture of the ‘boys club’, Sofia said her colleagues frequently went to strip clubs and socialized while getting drunk while watching football. However, when Sofia made it clear that she was not interested in these activities, her lack of participation “ostracized” her from her colleagues, which she said inadvertently damaged her career.

“The older you get, the harder and harder it is to be ostracized and harmful to your career,” she said.

The turning point came when Sofia returned to work after maternity leave.

“I had just had a baby and it completely changed the way they treated me,” she said. “I took about six weeks off and was really excited to go back to work, but they did things to undermine me, like booking meetings for 6 in the evening and then canceling them after they had organized custody of my child. “

“They did a whole bunch of manipulative stuff and I just broke. I said it wasn’t respectful and I wasn’t going to do it anymore.

These experiences left her “completely and utterly frustrated and fed up,” so Sofia realized it was time to stop.

She took the skills she learned in finance and started a social enterprise with the goal of empowering women. Two and a half years later, her company now donates a significant portion of its profits to support homeless and housing-stressed women.

“I wanted to create my own brand that would be nicer and make the world a better place for women,” she said. “I wanted to give women a meaningful career path and support women like me, who came from non-traditional backgrounds where their skills were not being used.

What does a toxic workplace look like?

SEEK resident psychologist Sabina Read said that at its core, a toxic workplace is a place where “unpleasant or unhealthy behavior goes unaddressed.”

While a toxic culture can be “entrenched” and make it difficult for someone to recognize what is going on, Ms Read said employees often “sense” that something is wrong.

“People who lack empathy, compassion and understanding usually contribute to a toxic culture,” Ms. Read said.

“There is a real contagion effect in toxic workplaces, and that’s why we talk about toxic crops, because only a handful of people may be contributing to the toxicity, but the ripple effect can. be very wide. “

Additionally, she says telltale signs of a problematic workplace could include:

– Unfair and inequitable treatment of people

– No positive feedback

– The feeling of always “walking on eggshells”

– Undisputed discrimination and negative behavior

“It’s the undisputed thing that is the key here,” she added.

“Every organization makes mistakes and is in conflict, but when there is no room for these issues to be dealt with, discussed or contested, then we know there is some toxicity involved.”

After enduring 17 years of bad behavior, Sofia said that looking back on it, she wished she had quit sooner.

“I wish I had left 10 years earlier,” she said. “I wish I hadn’t thought you had to have all this training, mentoring and sponsorship. “

Regarding her advice for people struggling with toxic workplaces, she advised employees to document bad behavior they’ve experienced.

“I would keep a lot of notes and be very clear about the things you will and will not tolerate,” she said.

Finding ways to connect with others will also help you stay connected and potentially feel less isolated, she added.

“I was very lonely at the end because there weren’t a lot of other people in my industry or even around me at a higher level,” she said. “So I would say make friends with other people in similar positions in different industries and seek that out so that you don’t feel alone. “

* not his real name, but his identity is known to

This article was created in sponsorship with SEEK


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