UAE jobs: Can't stand your boss? How to spot a toxic workplace

Even the best talent in the world won't thrive in an unhealthy work environment — here are the signs you should look out for

By Roujin Ghamsari

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File photo used for illustrative purposes
File photo used for illustrative purposes

Published: Sat 8 Jun 2024, 6:00 AM

Last updated: Sun 9 Jun 2024, 11:51 AM

Question: In the office, there will be bad days — but when does it become 'one day too many'? How do you know if a workplace is becoming toxic?

Answer: A recent study by MIT Sloan sheds light on a shocking reality: About 1/10 of workers in large US organisations are navigating through what they'd call a "toxic" workplace. So, what's behind this statistic and is this relevant here in the UAE? According to their research, this boils down to three main villains: Toxic leadership, toxic social norms, and poor work design.

Imagine the typical "bad boss" we've all heard about at coffee breaks or family gatherings. You know the type—dismissive, exclusive, willing to cross ethical lines to get ahead, and seemingly competing in the "Who's the Toughest Boss" championship. Chances are, you've encountered someone like that.

Lucky you, if you haven't had to work with them directly. Someone not too different from a character from my favourite Disney movie, The Lion King, Scar—intelligent and charismatic, yet deeply flawed by arrogance and a disregard for values that underpin a thriving workplace. Scar’s ascent to power was marked by cunning and deceit, exemplifying the very essence of unethical behaviour in leadership. His tenure was defined by favouritism, as he allied himself with the hyenas, and exclusion, as he marginalised those who were loyal to the previous leader, Mufasa.

Sound familiar?

But here’s what’s really at stake: The very heartbeat of your business. When staff motivation is low, in an uninviting office atmosphere, and compounded by a prevailing 'survival-of-the-fittest' mentality — we have a problem!

It’s more than just bad vibes; it’s about the bottom line. Thriving employees and toxic cultures are like oil and water—they simply don't mix. They hit where it hurts the most: The organisation's wallet.

For me, a clear mark of a toxic workplace is when an organisation lacks psychological safety.

Innovation thrives on this. It's pretty straightforward: When people don't feel safe to express their thoughts or share their ideas, innovation takes a back seat. A toxic workplace is essentially the archenemy of creativity. If everyone's walking on eggshells, worried about being shut down or ridiculed, how can we expect breakthrough ideas to surface?

Consider an organisation where the fear of making mistakes or suggesting something out of the box is seen as career suicide. This place is likely to stagnate, repeating what’s always been done because it's safe. But it’s a dangerous kind of safety, one that guarantees you'll fall behind as the rest of the world moves forward with bold new solutions and innovations.

Roujin Ghamsari is an accomplished HR practitioner and fellow of the CIPD, a professional body for HR and people development. Named among the 'Most Influential HR Practitioners 2023', she excels at collaborating with C-Suite leadership to craft and implement robust people plans, enabling organisations to deliver their strategic objectives.


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