On Tuesday, a troubling video capturing an HDFC Bank executive berating colleagues over targets brought workplace toxicity into sharp focus and took netizens aback. The viral video has since sparked a widespread conversation, highlighting the prevalence of toxic work environments and the urgent need to address it.
This incident serves as a reminder that numerous individuals experience similar stressors that profoundly affect their mental health.
Prerna Singh, 24, Bengaluru, has been working in sales in education technology for a few years. Initially she was excited to gain financial independence and says that she has learned a lot in this field. However, the toxic workplace had taken a mental and emotional toll on her that surpassed all else.
“I cannot help but feel an overwhelming sense of frustration and burnout that has taken a toll on my mental and emotional well-being,” says Singh.
After few months he will be reinstated… This step taken only because of viral video, otherwise senior management knows very well how the employees are being treated in their organisation. They only care about targets.
— Pr@tima Kushwaha (@Pratima_24) June 5, 2023
Sinking under the weight of meeting absurd and close-to-impossible sales goals, she felt suffocated and reached a point where she dreaded getting out of bed and logging into work. “They keep pushing for ever-increasing numbers without considering the difficulties we encounter every day. Putting in many hours of effort and getting little in return is discouraging,” she says.
What is a toxic workplace?
Experts say that in a toxic workplace, one is always painted as incompetent, irrespective of how one works. The culture is one which includes bullying, harassment, and disregard or disrespect towards the employees.
This is going Viral on Twitter today:
HDFC Bank Manager thrashing his junior for not selling enough insurance.
Easy to sit back and criticise the Manager here.
But understand the deeper issue:
 This is the case with almost all the corporates & Startups, not just HDFC.… pic.twitter.com/x9MRMrRRtx
— Akshat Shrivastava (@Akshat_World) June 5, 2023
According to Bengaluru-based counselling psychologist Arouba Kabir, a toxic workplace is characterised by an absence of safety and security, physically and emotionally. It is a place where individuals feel targeted and taken advantage of. In such an environment, the focus on work becomes all-consuming, leaving no time or energy for anything else.
Moreover, contributions and efforts are often unappreciated, adds Kabir. Recognising the signs of a toxic workplace is crucial to take necessary steps to address and alleviate these detrimental conditions.
Complaints against the organisation are not considered and the people who try to complain about the toxicity of the workplace are outcasted. Their reputation is attacked and tarnished.
An HDFC Bank Senior VP is seen shouting at his employees for not meeting targets
Confirmed from a friend who understands Bengali, he is asking his junior to sell 75 insurance policies in a day🤯
Is this why these bank employees missell us policies and investment products? pic.twitter.com/SGNabDZinR
— CA Kanan Bahl (@BahlKanan) June 5, 2023
Signs of a toxic workplace
Identifying a toxic work environment can be done by recognising several signs.
According to Kabir, a few signs include:
- Feeling disrespected or experiencing a lack of support
- Poor leadership
- Inadequate communication
- A lack of trust among colleagues
- Insufficient collaboration
- Overwhelming amount of pressure
- Setting unrealistic goals or expectations
- Poor transparency
- Unfair treatment
- Instances of discrimination or favouritism based on gender, age, or race
Work culture matters
To gain deeper insights into the driving factors behind individuals’ decisions to leave their jobs, FlexJobs, a job site specialising in remote, flexible, and work-from-home positions, conducted a survey from February 23, 2022, to March 7, 2022, involving 2,202 individuals. The findings revealed that the primary reason for job resignation was attributed to a toxic company culture, cited by 62% of respondents. Following closely behind were factors such as low salary (59%), poor management (56%), and an absence of a healthy work-life balance (49%).
Workplace toxicity and mental health
When individuals find themselves in an environment where they cannot thrive or be productive, it can have a detrimental effect on their mental health. Chronic stress and burnout can arise, leading to a decline in self-esteem as constant self-doubt creeps in, says Kabir.
“Confidence diminishes, morale erodes, and both personal and professional growth become hindered. The strain from work can spill over into one’s relationships, causing conflicts and potential failures,” she adds.
Additionally, financial instability and professional instability may arise, further exacerbating the situation, she says. Individuals may resort to unhealthy coping mechanisms such as stress eating. Overall, the negative effect on mental health can be extensive and wide-ranging for employees in such circumstances.
Surviving toxic workplaces
Kabir suggests the following ways to cope with a toxic workplace:
- Believe in yourself and validate your feelings, even if others do not. Practise self-acceptance through regular exercise, breathing exercises, meditation, journaling, and therapy if needed. Trust your capabilities and skills to combat attempts to demoralise or take advantage of you.
- Set clear boundaries to establish what is acceptable and not acceptable. Communicate your boundaries assertively, kindly, and consistently to others. Ensure to consistently respect your boundaries over time, rather than being inconsistent.
- Seek support when facing toxicity. Talk to a trusted colleague, friend, or family member to gain perspective on what is healthy and unhealthy. Discussing about your experiences can be helpful in understanding the situation.
- Develop personalised coping strategies for the workplace. Determine who and when to talk to for support and identify activities like breathing exercises or breaks to manage stress effectively.
- Recognise that not everything is within your control. Focus on the aspects you can control and let go of the things you cannot. Communicate your concerns about uncontrollable issues but take responsibility for what you can change. If needed, seek professional help.
Addressing workplace toxicity: a guide for employers
Delhi-based counselling psychologist Arushi Gupta suggests establishing and maintaining a healthy work environment, which is crucial for the well-being and productivity of employees. To tackle workplace toxicity effectively, she suggests employers take the following steps:
Set clear professional boundaries: This ensures that employees understand acceptable behaviour and know where to draw the line.
Implement a zero-tolerance policy: Human Resources (HR) need to enforce a zero-tolerance policy regarding discrimination, sexual harassment, bullying, and any form of harassment. This sends a strong message that such behaviours will not be tolerated within the organisation.
Conduct sensitisation workshops: Organise workshops and training sessions to raise awareness and promote sensitivity among all employees. This helps create a culture of respect, empathy, and understanding.
Encourage self-care and personal time: Utilising personal time to relax and engage in activities or hobbies that evoke positive emotions can help reduce stress and maintain mental health.
Establish feedback mechanisms: Set up a feedback mechanism or platform where employees can express concerns or report issues they are not comfortable with.