The move to remote work has taught employees that they no longer have to be exposed to a toxic workplace. But unfortunately, many workers had no idea that their workplace was toxic until they were no longer subject to it daily.

With the return to the office, many people have discovered that they were reluctant to return to what they felt was a place of hostility and dysfunction. Since no group of people gets along all the time, the toxic workplace goes beyond arguing over who was the last person to clean the coffee pot.

While there is little chance that the office will change and become less toxic, someone can do a few things to alleviate some of the stress. Unfortunately, the worst-case scenario response always remains to move on to another job. If the goal is to change careers, there is still a toxic work environment to endure until the move is complete.

Here are some of the problems and possible solutions to help move past a bad work environment. The answers may make it tolerable or better for all.

Control Issues

This problem manifests in many ways but usually stems from a co-worker or boss who actively works to undermine someone’s productivity to dominate them. Without touching on the psychological reasons someone would want to behave this way, once on the receiving end, it is hard to get out from under it.

Controlling can be as innocuous as criticizing someone for not being more proactive or as destructive as sabotaging their efforts to succeed. The manipulation of the employee is to make the controller look better in their boss’s eyes or to soothe their own ego.

Controlling can be as innocuous as criticizing someone for not being more proactive or as destructive as sabotaging their efforts to succeed. The manipulation of the employee is to make the controller look better in their boss’s eyes or to soothe their own ego.

Control issues can include:

  • Stopping the employee from making decisions.
  • Stifling their ability to learn or grow in the job.
  • Quashing or stealing creative ideas and suggestions.
  • Setting them up to take the fall for the other’s mistakes.

Ways to combat this issue include a frank discussion with the person doing the controlling, a report to higher authorities, documenting the events as they occur for reporting at a later date, or moving to another department.

While all of these solutions are viable, they also contain the danger of retaliation against the wronged employee.


When there is a lack of communication, it usually starts at the top and moves down the chain of command. A manager with poor communication skills often neglects to pass on information to the entire workforce. They may have an upper-level management meeting where protocols are discussed but never followed. Instead, they give the lower management directives that ensure they will deliver those messages to their workers.

That leaves the other employees who need the information operating without guidance which usually leads to mistakes. While most times, a lack of communication is not life-threatening, it does work towards nullifying the desire of the employees to see the company succeed.

A lack of communication is also apparent when employees go to their supervisor, request instructions, or help with a problem and are either ignored or disregarded. From the employee’s perspective, the supervisor does not care, so why should they? If someone making more money has no interest in fixing a problem, why should the underling put more effort into solving it?

Ways to combat this issue are to set up a meeting to go over the problem and work on a solution, discuss it with a higher manager, or offer a solution to the trouble to management.

Whether or not management is receptive can be challenging, so the employee should prepare an argument that will present the problem and the solution at once.


Harassment is a problem that has both physical and psychological implications. It is one thing to address sexual or racial harassment and quite another to address favoritism and bullying. However, all forms of harassment intimidate the employee. While this falls under controlling behavior, this has more serious ramifications.

A person who is being sexually or racially harassed can file legal charges. A person not invited to a birthday party out of spite cannot. Both hold the employee psychologically hostage. There may also be a physical element in the case of sexual harassment.

All forms of harassment should be taken seriously and addressed with human resources and the direct supervisor or their supervisor. Employees must have and deserve a safe workplace.

Human resources or the supervisor must take action to eliminate the bad behavior. Getting other employees to stop ostracizing an employee might be more challenging than confronting a sexually inappropriate or racist employee. Still, both types of harassment must be dealt with immediately.

The company is liable should any harassment not be addressed. Therefore, there are severe legal consequences in store for a company that does not put an end to the harassment.

Ways to combat these issues in addition to reporting the incidents to human resources and management include:

  • Documenting the incidents.
  • Gathering collaborating witnesses and allies.
  • Speaking with government agencies that specialize in workers’ rights.

Ethics Violations

Ethics are moral principles that help guide and direct the company towards a greater good and a better future. In addition, ethics allows businesses to make decisions that build trust with employees and consumers.

For the employee, there is not a lot they can do to change a company’s ethics; they can only choose how they will react to situations that may compromise their ethics. They should prepare to leave the company if they feel they can no longer associate with a business due to their values.

When ethics are not evident during the interview, the prospective employee may go into a job unaware of hidden ethical violations. For example, someone who performs bookkeeping may not realize that there are fraudulent entries or other serious issues that could put them at risk. Likewise, someone who updates records in a medical facility may not know they are committing fraud by changing answers on forms.

Other ethic violations include theft, harassment, and discrimination. In addition, abuses can have overbilling clients, deceptive practices to confuse customers, or a breach of confidentiality.

Ways to combat the issue include:

  • Reviewing the employees’ handbook.
  • Documenting the behavior.
  • Requesting a meeting with human resources or upper management.
  • Making a written report of the behavior.

Taking these steps may only worsen the employee’s situation, so the employee should be prepared to change jobs. In addition to reporting problems within the company, federal agencies can help with issues like defrauding customers.

Moving On

While these examples are extreme, other signs of a toxic workplace include routine bullying, bad attitudes, failure to finish jobs, gossip, and negativity. If these behaviors are common in a workplace, employees should remove themselves from the situation and work towards their goals.

If the decision is to move on, they should do their best to leave quietly without burning bridges they may need in the future. However, if legal issues surround the departure, it is best to seek legal advice.

By moving on, employees can make better decisions for themselves and recognize signs of a toxic workplace. When interviewing, pay attention to the questions the interviewer asks and ask to take a tour of the facility to observe workers and conditions. Watch for sullen or argumentative behavior, as well as the overall attitude in the workplace.

Once an employee escapes a toxic work environment, they should do their best to stay out of them in the future.