Content Dam Diq Online Articles 2015 05 Positive Work Environment 1

Don’t become a victim just because you work in a toxic workplace; help to better your dental office

May 13, 2015
So you work in a toxic work enviroment? You are not alone. Many of your dental peers work in the same toxic conditions. You don't have to be a victim. There are steps you can take to make the office a better place to work.

“Toxic workplaces” are a hot topic in business literature. Apparently rightfully so, as negative work environments are growing, both in number and in their reach across multiple business sectors. Employee surveys document the downward spiral of job satisfaction and employee engagement across all types of industries and environments, including dentistry.

But a victim mentality is also starting to emerge in the world of work, which probably reflects this growing tendency in our culture at large. The tenor of the message increasingly sounds like, “Woe is me! I work in a toxic workplace,” or “You should feel sorry for me because I have a really terrible boss.”

My professional expertise is in helping workplaces become more positive and healthy. I’m fully aware of the negative, damaging communication that occurs in many work settings. Sometimes I’m appalled at the stories I hear from employees, supervisors, and managers (the dysfunction impacts all levels of an organization), and the damaging words and actions that occur.

But we’re not passive victims who can’t impact those we work with on a daily basis. As I remind groups I speak to, being dysfunctional is not limited to everyone else; we often contribute to the sickness of the system in which we work. (Surprise! You’re not perfect and you’re not right all of the time!)

If you work in a toxic workplace, one that is poisonous, damaging, and even potentially dangerous to the mental and emotional health of employees, there are steps you can take to make your workplace less toxic. You are not a helpless bystander.

First, do a self-assessment. Ask yourself and consider, “What am I doing that isn’t helpful in creating a positive workplace?” This could include both actions (complaining about a coworker to another colleague) and attitudes(harboring anger and grudges).

Consider these terms, and see if any might apply to you – grumbling, irritable, complaining, quick temper, unpredictable, territorial, impatient, quick to find fault, rarely compliment anyone, gossiping, uncooperative, withhold information, unreliable, or non-communicative.

The second proactive step you can take is to actively disengage from participating in negative interactions. This means, quit complaining. (Remember the saying, “If you can’t say anything positive, don’t say anything at all”?) Also, when you’re involved in a group discussion and it turns negative, excuse yourself. You don’t have to say anything, and you don’t have to judge others. Just quietly excuse yourself and don’t contribute. Your leaving will send a message, and may lead to a followup discussion with some of the team members. (“I noticed you left when we starting griping about management.” “Yea, I’ve decided to try not to engage in that type of discussion.”)

Communicating positive messages to others is a third and easy step. Often, the easiest way is to share your appreciation for your teammates and the work they do. A simple thank you can be meaningful, especially if it’s specific. (“Jen, thanks for getting your report to me on time. That will help me get the information together for the manager’s meeting.”) This can be effective in softening up even those colleagues who seem hardened and angry, though it may take some time.

That’s it? you may ask. Quit being negative and try to be positive? Yes, that’s the starting point. We know that toxic workplaces are comprised of many components, but one of the key aspects is the negative communication and lack of positive messages that feed off each other and become like a poisonous gas that suffocates those working in it.

Also, we know that when people take responsibility for themselves and their actions, and they have a sense that they can make a difference, change can occur. So even though you may work in a toxic environment, don’t succumb to the belief that it is all just happening to you. Figure out what you can do not to add to the trash and to help clean up the air.

Paul White, PhD, is a psychologist, consultant, and speaker who makes work relationships work. Dr. White is coauthor of “Rising Above a Toxic Workplace, The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace,” and “Sync or Swim (a fable about working together as a team). For more information, visit