Life is too short and precious to waste time in a toxic work environment. If going to work every day and being around your team members feels more like a drain than a benefit to your career, your workplace might be a toxic work culture.
Toxic offices can be attributed to many things. Whether it’s incompetent management or deliberate drama, your unhappiness at work is taking a toll not only on you, but on the entire organization. One of my favorite memes on social media is, “I’m living in a drama-free bubble today. Respect the bubble, people!”
So how do you know if you work in a toxic environment? Does it come with warning labels? I wish it was that easy. If you're not sure whether you work in a toxic office, here is what one looks like. (This is in no specific order of frequency.)
Lack of appreciation and there is disrespect
Let’s face it. We dental assistants have one of the most difficult jobs in the office as we are often multitasking, and that’s because we excel at it. Team members who feel they are overlooked on a regular basis for their accomplishments are bound to contribute to a toxic workplace. It’s only human nature. Team members expect to be recognized when they shine, and rightfully so.
This is probably the number one complaint we hear from dental assistants. They want a guarantee that all team members are recognized and set up for a good performance-management system in which all staff can see updates for plans, goals, and practice initiatives. This way everyone can see what’s happening and it’s obvious when team members deserve to be rewarded for achieving goals. This is also a great way for management to identify issues and address them so the team gets back on track and remains harmonious and toxic-free.
There are offices that promote dysfunctional competition and thrive in an “us versus them” mentality. A little friendly competition is good among team members, but when the competition becomes dysfunctional and breeds contempt, it makes it very difficult to work harmoniously. Patients pick up on this. This type of work environment also frowns upon speaking up and more often than not, it promotes bullying.
Continually being short staffed
This seems to be the story of most dental practices today, especially with the shortage of qualified dental assistants. When team members are overtasked and stressed yet expectations remain the same, it is difficult to maintain a positive work attitude. This can be combated and even avoided by approaching hiring in a proactive way and cross training team members so everyone can help out in a pinch. Cross training makes you more marketable as a professional and adds variety to the position.
Favoritism, inequality, and discrimination
We’ve all seen it, and we have all seen what it can do to a team. Just because someone lives close to the office or doesn’t need child care doesn’t mean that this person should be dumped on with the responsibility of staying late or working more hours to pick up the slack of others. It is natural within a workplace for people to become close with the colleagues with whom they work closely. However, when it appears certain groups are favored by management, this will turn a workplace toxic very quickly.
Discrimination is seen in many forms and some are not immediately realized by the person who is being discriminated against. This should not be tolerated in the workplace. Circumvent negative work environments by ensuring practice policies and rules are the same for all team members.
Lack of clarity around practice goals or organizational vision
Ever feel like you’re on a treadmill going nowhere? Dental practices with intense pressure to reach short-term results, or that talk a lot about values with little action to back them, lead to a toxic workplace. Mixed messages make it difficult for a team to focus on what they should be doing, which often makes them feel as if someone is looking over their shoulder, and maybe they are.
There is an ebb and flow in workplace harmony, and various things impact the balance. We all strive for the perfect place to finish out our careers. Some of us find it while others search continuously. Landing in a toxic work environment is not the kiss of death for your career. Some people may actually thrive in this environment. However, with good workplace leadership and an openness to change, a toxic environment can be easily diffused and eliminated, This will render the happy-go-lucky panacea we all search for.
Natalie Kaweckyj, LDARF, CDA, is president of the American Dental Assistants Association.