toxic 2Our global society cannot afford to lose the best minds and the best efforts, the latter of which come forth in positive, collegial environments. Thus, examining toxic academic work environments is important and timely. If you are observing any of the following, it’s time to begin the discussion around, “Are we a toxic academic work environment?”

  • Absenteeism

Anyone who tracks absenteeism will notice that more and more people are out on ‘sick days’ - and they may actually be sick or they just need respite from the environment. Either way, there’s a loss of productivity. Watch for signs of an increase in people being ‘out.’

  • Illness

Depending on the level of toxicity in your academic work environment, you may notice more illnesses or a longer recovery time for sickness. The maladies that result from people who are working under incessant stress, bullying, or exclusionary behaviors include an entire range. Start paying attention to your own physical well-being and that of others.

  • A reduction in productivity

This indicator is particularly noticeable when the quality(or quantity) of work goes down. If someone used to do a great job, be on time, get projects completely with few or no errors, etc. and gradually, you see more late work, more errors, hear more excuses for why projects aren’t completed, and so forth, then you will know that there is some kind of problem. While it may be a personal problem with an individual, if there are multiple examples of this within a department or other work unit, it’s worth considering whether toxicity at some level is the culprit.

  • Racist, sexist, ‘-ist’ comments, slurs, “jokes,” etc.

Another example, the ‘-ists’ of various types. It is phenomenal to me that in 2010 we continue to have places - academic environments - where racist jokes are told. Where sexist comments are made. Other “ists” are present and that’s because there are so many types of “ist” comments and slurs that are made. All you had to do was watch some of the foolishness that went around during this last election season, and continues to go on; it certainly causes one to think, ‘Wow, what’s going on in the United States, also in all the other countries?’ So people need to just be aware of that.

  • “Social” functions are poorly attended

You notice that the social functions that were previously well attended are now sparsely attended - or have completely stopped. When people can barely tolerate being around one another at work, they are not going to spend time together outside of work. This was one of the big signs that one of the departments where I worked was sliding into toxicity…early on, people went out on Friday afternoons, got together on the weekends, invited one another over for Thanksgiving, and scheduled lunches or breakfasts together. We LOVED each other…and then…

  • Turf wars

When people are scuffling over ‘turf,’ they aren’t working collaboratively and they aren’t making sure that everyone has what s/he needs in order to be successful.

  • Blaming, external locus of control, etc.

Then you see a lot of blaming and “it’s somebody else’s fault,” and a great deal of external locus of control - then this is a danger sign.

These are just a few of the possible indicators. Don’t assume “it will work itself out.” It won’t.

graphic-fresh-berries-300x199Sadly, toxicity exists in the academic work environment. Please access the recording “Antioxidants” for Your Toxic Work Environment so you can live, learn and earn in positive, healthy, & productive places.




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