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Toxic Workplaces

Fishtown Wellness Center / Mental Health  / Toxic Workplaces

Toxic Workplaces

By Ryan Cocron, LMFT

Possible Signs of a Toxic Workplace

Toxic workplaces and workplace trauma seem to be increasingly common. Toxicity and trauma can impact people long after the toxicity ends or someone gets a new job. As a therapist, I have observed an increase in clients talking about toxicity and or trauma at work. Furthermore, I have personally experienced how workplace trauma can impact workers and appear in new jobs. Some signs you may be experiencing or have experienced trauma at work include:

  • tension at work or intense dread when thinking about work
  • guardedness around managers/bosses
  • feelings of resentment or being taken advantage of

When I say trauma and toxicity, I am referring to anything from harassment and abuse to pressure to work longer hours and compromise boundaries. Systemic factors, such as misogyny, sexism, racism, and homophobia are unfortunately still common in workplaces. 

Toxicity often starts with management or company CEO’s. People in higher positions inherently have power and can abuse that power. Intense pressure, unrealistic expectations, harassment, and manipulation can often get passed down from higher management to lower level employees. In my first therapist job out of grad school, I had an incredibly manipulative and toxic manager. Because of her behavior and leadership, there was often a lot of splitting of staff, inconsistent expectations, and inappropriate behavior that was normalized. I have noticed myself feeling nervous about new supervisors/managers in jobs because of these experiences. 

Factors that can contribute to workplace toxicity

Trauma can also be a normal part of certain helping professions such as nursing, caretaking, and therapy. In these fields, vicarious trauma, or second hand trauma, is common and can be incredibly challenging to manage. When working with traumatized people, the feeling of helplessness can be overwhelming. I have so many clients who have experienced truly horrible things, and the feelings of powerlessness and anger that can come up can be paralyzing if not handled through supervisions, self-care, and healthy coping mechanisms.   

Another factor that can make workplace trauma complicated is how it can replicate the family of origin trauma. If someone grew up in a household that was impacted by trauma, neglect, manipulation, etc., these types of workplace interactions can perpetuate trauma responses and make functioning at work difficult. If someone had an abusive parent, for example, having an abusive boss could replicate trauma responses and make their ability to function and work even more challenging. 

Next steps

When writing this blog, my main goal was to begin a conversation about trauma at work because I feel it is often not discussed. It is my hope that if you are reading this, and any of this resonates with you, that you may be able to begin to better protect yourself. Therapy, talking with coworkers, setting boundaries, or talking to union or trusted leaders are just a few ways to potentially protect yourself while in toxic workplaces. 

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