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How Discrimination Erodes Work Climate: A Guide to Avoiding Toxic Environments

Updated: Mar 20, 2023

If you don't have a lens that's been trained to look at how various forms of discrimination come together, you're unlikely to develop a set of policies that will be as inclusive as they need to be.
- Kimberle Williams Crenshaw

How can you tell if the work climate in your organization has become toxic? One clue is when employees are no longer themselves at work, but instead are acting around their superiors or colleagues. At first, this might seem like an indication of good acting skills, but really it indicates that the employee’s true self isn’t being accepted at work and that they’re trying to fit into some kind of mold to be accepted as part of the team. This article describes some ways that discrimination in the workplace can erode an organization’s climate and how to avoid creating these toxic work climates.


Historical Events That Changed the Global Landscape

Gunter Schabowski, a former member of the communist party in Berlin, once altered history by feigning concern during a news conference. Schabowski hadn't read the speech before he left for a press conference. He perhaps ought to have gone through his notes after all. Schabowski stood up at the press conference on November 9, 1989, clutching a letter he had just been handed. He then turned to the half-awake crowd and immediately made a commotion by misinterpreting the message and declaring that the wall was falling immediately. They were trying to make it easier for East Germans under retirement age to go to the West without going through a lengthy justification. Schabowski disrupted this strategy, and East Berliners were clamoring to cross the border in more significant numbers than border guards. At 11:30 p.m., officials realized there was no turning back from this error and started letting individuals through. Demolition of the Berlin Wall began.

The Cold War came to an end with the fall of the Berlin Wall. Additionally, it effectively ended communism in Western Europe. Even if this had been the only noteworthy aspect, did you also know the wall's fall contributed to the end of apartheid? Apartheid, which lasted until 1993 in South Africa, was the official separation of non-white citizens. P.W. Botha, the president of South Africa, and Ronald Reagan, the president of the United States, were pro-apartheid friends during the Cold War. Reagan aided the anti-apartheid movement and shielded Pretoria from penalties as a token of gratitude for Botha's assistance. Both the Botha and Reagan presidencies came to an end with the end of the Cold War. President F.W. de Klerk of South Africa, who had just been elected, saw mounting opposition to apartheid in his own nation and worldwide. George Bush's harsh US sanctions added to the rising public pressure, and de Klerk eventually gave in. Due to the wall's fall in Germany, steps were taken to end apartheid in America and abroad.


Emotional Strain

People often can't always control their emotions and may need a way to vent and cope. The best way is through healthy coping skills, such as controlling emotions, healthy venting, and community. Healthy coping skills help people avoid toxic work climates and build strong communities. Emotional stressors like discrimination cause employees to lie, hide, or fake their way through the workday. They also lead to employees who are isolated or over-connected which can create an unhealthy culture. According to Drs. Ramani Durvasula (psychologist) and Jeanne Segal (psychotherapist), when bosses act discriminatory against employees, it invites lying by those who have been bullied. It's important for employers not only to eliminate discrimination from the workplace but also to provide avenues for healthy expression with peers so employees can connect with each other in a productive manner that allows them room for self-expression without judgment or fear of retribution.


Unhealthy Teams/Employee Relationships

In order to avoid a toxic work environment, team members need to recognize what's happening within their relationships and take action. Recognize that actions such as Lying, Bullying, Procrastination, Unreliability, Gossiping, Saying one thing and doing another, and Stealing credit is damaging your work climate by eroding morale and undermining productivity. In these cases, you need to intervene as an individual - find a way to approach the person who you believe is displaying or generating these behaviors. Speak with them about your concerns, and come up with an agreement on how they will change their behaviors. If necessary ask for help from human resources or other management personnel; people don't always have awareness of the effects their behaviors are having on others. You may also want to check out some organizational guidelines which provide suggestions for creating healthy teams/employee relationships as well as dealing with difficult situations such as harassment at work.


Performance Problems

Addicted to social media but failing to respond to emails is a sign that people might be more addicted to social media than they are to their actual jobs. The reason for this may be because of a lack of motivation or time management skills. A person who is suffering from this issue may have trouble communicating with their employer, coworkers, and customers. They also may not be on top of company information like financial data or upcoming events. It can even affect attendance at important meetings or appointments, which could eventually lead to termination.


Personal Issues

It's important to know how the other sections in this blog can generate personal issues. Here are some personal issues that may arise and how to resolve them.

Lack of Trust: When employees do not trust management, they will be less likely to cooperate in the workplace. This can lead to lying, hiding, and faking by employees.

Saying one thing and doing another, and Stealing credit: A lack of trust in a manager can also cause an employee to say one thing and do another. They might agree to something verbally but then back out later on it once they feel like their idea was stolen.

Gossiping: The most common activity among employees is gossiping. There are many types of gossip such as malicious gossip or office gossip which leads to distrust between co-workers. The issue with gossip is that people generally want information without having to put in any work for it so they take what has been said elsewhere and twist it up so it's unrecognizable.

Unreliability: Some managers will promise promotions or raises when those promises cannot be delivered on time. These changes in company policy could come about because of failure to perform at work and thus generates a sense of unmet expectations from employees. Fear: Some bosses have unrealistic expectations from their employees which causes fear in those who fail to meet these expectations.


With these tools, you can identify toxic work climates and avoid them. When it comes to diversity and inclusion, we must not only accept differences but celebrate them. This will help create a culture where everyone is valued and respected. It takes time, energy, and commitment to make diversity and inclusion happen at your organization. However, when your organization becomes a better place for all people--especially those who are marginalized--the benefits are endless.


Until Next Time, Climb Together!


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