March 29, 2023

Not only are there many types of toxic people in the workplace, but there are also toxic work cultures created by them.

Typically, a toxic culture is a mini-societies of negativity created by higher-ups which change the dynamics of the employees. This negative work culture robs people of their senses and promotes an atmosphere of horror and a reflection of hell at work.

A toxic work culture includes a top-down culture of authoritarianism, elitism, and favoritism, a company culture of gossiping, snitching, blaming, over-competitiveness, and bullying.

Here we’ll talk about these and many others along with how to handle each.

Toxic Work Culture Overview

The most important thing you can do, however, is to hold onto honesty and distance yourself from the toxicity. Whatever you choose, do not add to the chaos as best you can.

Understanding Group Dynamics

All human beings coalesce with others of a like mind along with similar upbringings, cultures, education, background and etc.

We are very social creatures and find the greatest comfort around those with whom we share a kinship. It’s a completely natural and normal thing to do, especially at work.

So, when this happens, a certain set of dynamics come into the picture. The number of people isn’t important, it’s the culture that burgeons forth as a result of it.

In many cases, this can be a positive thing where healthy competition, friendship, and camaraderie result. But, it can also be very negative, where toxic behaviors and attitudes fester for too long.

Top-Down Trickling

The first thing to understand is that all toxic office behavior trickles from the top down. Therefore, your boss, manager, supervisor or other such person encourages, promotes, or ignores the particular toxicity.

Any good higher-up worth their salt will recognize bad behavior, even in their most favored employees, and squash it immediately.

Individual Classifications

Psychological research has put these group dynamics of each individual by way of the Greek alphabet. The “alpha” and “beta” people parse out by gender and often lead the charge in toxic work culture.

  • There can be an alpha male, and/or alpha female.
  • There can be a beta male, and/or beta female.

Everyone else will fall under the category of delta, gamma, sigma, omicron, and so on. These are often newcomers to the job, outcasts, younger individuals, interns, undesirables and other such characters low on the totem pole. But, their positions in the hierarchy can have a greater turnaround, sometimes on a daily or even hourly basis.

About Alphas

The alpha individuals are those who are the stars of the company. They always receive praise for their work and higher-ups often display a preference for them.

Usually, these people are largely responsible for continuing the toxic culture allowed to take hold.

About Betas

Beta individuals can play out in one of two ways.

  • Betas can kiss up to or latch onto the alphas.
  • Betas can also be in direct competition with the alpha or behave in ways that are directly contrary to the alphas.

Of course, which one this is will depend on the person and the type of toxic culture.

The 9 Types of Toxic Work Culture

As you read each type of toxic work culture, you may find there’s a combination of several different ones appearing at your workplace. It’s very rare for it to be only one since human beings are a varied bunch with a range of personalities and mentalities.

1. The Stitch; Bitch

Stitch and bitch culture at work is the classic gossiping, negative talking, and constant complaining while people work. They accomplish a lot and get projects done. But when this group gets together it is akin to the stereotype of a bunch of old ladies gathered around to sew a quilt.

If this is what you experience, it is not good or advisable to question, break up or put a wrench into the flow of their discussion. This will be grounds for being an outcast and being treated in a specific way that will be very different from the rest of the group.

2. Mob Mentality

Depending on what other types are mixed in with what you experience at work (i.e. the Stich; Bitch), mob mentality will infiltrate at some level or degree. This will be particularly true when an individual has upset alpha or beta individuals and even the boss.

Mob mentality usually involves bullying tactics to get the target to leave the company or feel terrible in some way.

This is a delicate toxic work culture because it could set off at any moment and for any reason. No one can survive in such a place and the best way to handle this is by transferring to another department or office in the company. However, finding a new job altogether may be best.

3. Snitches Get Rewarded

Some bosses think it’s appropriate to encourage snitching among their underlings. They believe this keeps everyone honest and in line. But, this is the worst way to go about it and it fosters tension. The nervousness and stress cut the air like a knife and workers pit against each other.

A Common Scenario

What often happens is that the boss treats each person under his/her management like a buddy or pal, lulling the person into a false sense of security. They then tell them their concerns about people not being honest or truthful in some way important to the flow of business.

Shortly after, you see people spying on each other and looking for anything to report to the boss. When they have done this several times, they find the boss gives them rewards and perks; so they do it continually thinking they’re doing the right thing.

When the snitch gains favor with the boss, it’s not uncommon to hear horror stories about getting set up, having deceptive evidence planted, and other manipulative tactics.

The best way to handle any degree of snitching like this is to keep detailed records of your work and track everything you do.

4. Too Many Chiefs, Not Enough Indians

When you work at a company where skill, talent, education, and industry savvy reign supreme, you may notice how everyone at work wants to take a leadership role. Because they are so good at what they do, everyone has something special to bring to the table.

The unfortunate thing about this, however, is that egos tend to get in the way. If everyone’s leading, then who’s doing the work to finish the project?

While it’s good for everyone to have their own minds and opinions, nothing is going to get done if these permeate every level of the project or task at hand.

When this happens, begin doing the work or attempt to direct the conversation toward responsibility delegation.

5. Favoritism; Preferential Kaleidoscope

Many higher-ups in various industries will exude favoritism or offer preferential treatment that alters, changes, and shifts on a whim. Regardless of the pecking order, they will change whom they prefer as quickly as the moon phases.

There’s no reason or rhyme to the boss’s preferences and they do not illustrate their criteria. Such a thing often results in workplace animosity that can make the environment difficult and unproductive.

The best thing you can do is to maintain your work ethic and productivity as best as possible.

6. The Elitist In-Crowd

Even though the toxic work culture of the elitist in-crowd is often at large organizations, it can play out in small businesses too. The elitists are a select group of people with special skills outside of other employees at the company.

For instance, if there’s a team of CEOs at a metal factory, they may treat their skilled metalworkers with less regard than their comrade CEOs. However, the metalworkers may return the favor by banding together as their own elite group. This creates division in the company with an “us versus them” mentality.

Avoid embroiling yourself in these divisive tactics as much as possible. Even if the “other side” treats you with disdain and disrespect, act as though it doesn’t bother you. It may be easier to say than do, but it does work over time with patience, persistence, and being genuine.

7. Vicious Cycles of Blame

The blame game is no stranger to the workplace. This is usually something that’s a direct result of the trickledown effect coming from a superior. Whether they encourage it or do it themselves, once they allow blaming to occur, it will happen repeatedly in perpetual motion.

People will blame others for their shortcomings, shirking responsibility as to why they weren’t able to finish a task, report, project and etc. This can kick down the totem pole until it reaches someone that will serve as an acceptable scapegoat. Then, reprimands and punishments ensue to someone who may not be responsible for it in any way.

If you find this to be true, at work, you should take a two-pronged approach.

  • First, document and take notes of everything you do so there is no question of your innocence.
  • Then, when you are the rightful person to blame for something, take ownership and stop the cycle in its tracks.

8. The Competitive Hustle

For bustling industries that rely heavily on competition and constant results, a toxic culture is sure to follow. This is true for high-pressure sales, like automobiles, or the stock market exchange, for example. Owners, bosses, CEOs, and others encourage heavy hustling of customers/clients in order to mass-produce profits.

This often translates to coworkers stealing potential clients from each other and other subversive tactics. Such an environment will, can, and does produce a species of a sociopath.

People who thrive in such a work culture will step on anyone’s toes to get what they want and they will do whatever it takes to get to the top.

For a clearer understanding of this, watch Martin Scorsese’s movie “The Wolf of Wall Street,” featuring Leonardo DiCaprio.

Either you will conquer this type of work culture or it will defeat you. What you choose to do is entirely individual and it will be very difficult, if not impossible, to handle any of it in a way that saves your sanity.

9. Authoritarianism; Fear

Have you ever had a job where you walk into work every day and immediately someone is getting yelled at?

What about having a boss who does things to put people on edge intentionally?

Some higher-ups believe this is the only way to act toward employees and underlings.

In some cases, they will encourage other coworkers to behave like this too, thereby continuing the tension.

Such stress cuts into efficiency and productivity because people consume themselves in distraction. This could be due to the shakiness of their position, the harsh soul-cutting words they just heard, or because they’re afraid; among other examples.

What You Can Do in a Toxic Work Culture

The unfortunate thing is, there’s not much you can do in any type of toxic work culture except stay quiet and don’t engage in it. You’re there to do a job, so do it. But refrain from adding to the pool of negative talk, actions and behaviors.

In the event, people say you’re being too quiet or question your silence, shrug it off and iterate you have nothing to say. The best thing you can do for yourself is to steer clear of the drama and avoid participation in the negative culture at all costs.

If it’s unbearable, you may consider quitting your job even if you’ve just started in the new role, options include;

Understand, many people learn their toxic behaviors from an early age. This usually comes from childhood. Or their previous work experience and role models weren’t the best examples to live by which cultivated them to become toxic coworkers.

Approaching your situation in an unbiased and clinical way will help you devise the right plan of action to deal with it.

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