Coping with toxicity at the workplace

Thursday October 17 2019

You may very well be the source of the toxicity. Do you constantly undermine other people’s work? PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP


Everyone who joins a new workplace expects to find a happy and healthy environment.

However, this is not always the case. Sometimes, employees find themselves stuck in toxic work environments, or in the middle of destructive work relationships.

In some cases, this toxicity could cause them to quit their jobs or request for a transfer.

However, the good news is that you are not completely helpless. You can do something to successfully pick your way through the toxicity. These are some of those ways:


You may very well be the source of the toxicity. Keep yourself on the straight and narrow and evaluate your actions and behaviours, and how they affect other team members.


For example, do you constantly undermine other people’s work? Are you always the one noticing that your neighbour has gained weight?

“Be professional. Avoid being at the centre of every office gossip and unnecessary office chitchat. Get your work done and leave. Also, do not jump into confrontations with toxic workers. Remember, your behaviour and conduct at the office ought to be a reflection of your employer’s brand,” says Perminus Wainaina, the head of recruitment and managing partner at Corporate Staffing Limited, a human resource firm in Nairobi.

Confrontations and malicious gossip will ultimately bounce out of the office and reflect badly on you and your employer. And don’t forget that office walls have ears!


If the toxicity is being directed at you, you must rise up and have a candid conversation with its purveyor. This will let them know that you are not comfortable with their dysfunctional habits.

This way, you will be drawing a boundary and setting the standards on how others will treat and interact with you.

“Do not assume that the toxic person will wake up one morning and suddenly realise that they are negatively impacting your work or output,” says Abby Curnow-Chavez, a management consultant and co-author of The Loyalist Team: How trust, Candour, and Authenticity Create Great Organisations.

She also suggests that while explaining how you are being affected, you should make a point of asking for feedback on your own behaviour. Another rule of the thumb is to always avoid a combative and vindictive approach.


When you’ve tried everything with no success, consider bringing the issue at play to your manager’s attention.

This might be a very uncomfortable undertaking because other team members might misinterpret your action as back-stabbing or snitching.

It will also be going against the norm, especially if the toxicity has been ongoing for a long time and if no one in the team has been courageous enough to raise the red flag.

“The key is to remain neutral in the way you raise your concerns. Do not victimise others without any tangible evidence. Have a documentation of everything that has been happening, stick to the facts, and be clear. Don’t issue ultimatums. Instead, ask for your senior’s input on the way forward,” says Stephen Makau, a Nairobi-based human resource consultant.

Abby suggests that you can request your boss to call for a meeting that will address the issues at play. “Such a proactive move will provide a forum where other team members can gain better understanding about each other’s perspectives, set behavioural and networking standards, and increase accountability among themselves,” she says.


Avoid getting lost in the toxicity. Mind your emotional and psychological well-being and stay focused on your goals and targets. “Toxicity can easily drain your mental strength, especially when compounded with other work stressors and burnout,” says Makau.

“Eat well, exercise when you can, and take breaks when necessary. Do not hang onto a matter you cannot change, and if all your intervention attempts haven’t worked, consider looking for greener pastures.”

One of the best tricks to have in your bag is to have a mentor. He or she will be better equipped to direct you on which path to take, and what options to reach out for.


When addressing a toxic employee, be sure to address the toxic behaviour, and not the employee’s personality. “Don’t tackle their personality, as this may result in long-lasting emotional and psychological injuries. Instead, focus on their behaviour and clearly explain how it is affecting the team, or your efficiency,” says Wainaina. Seek to find out the root cause of the problem.

“Perhaps the troublesome employee is enduring some difficulties back at home, and the tension is inadvertently spilling over to the workplace,” he adds.