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I’ve noticed, and it might not have escaped you either, that an increasing number of people refer to colleagues, co-workers & other people in the workplace as toxic. Serious commentators even use the expression in articles.

A cursory glance at Google will show you just how often this occurs:

I don’t like it. I don’t like it at all. 

In fact I find it deeply unpleasant. A sort of labelling or ‘othering’ which potentially insults a colleague, perhaps one you genuinely find difficult to work with, and discredits the person using the expression. 

I’m not naive. We have all dealt with colleagues who behave in ways which are unpleasant. Sometimes persistently and deliberately. Not good. As an ex-HRD I could dine out on the stories about employee behaviours, as could most HR professionals. There are issues to be addressed and this can, and does, include performance management or even disciplinary processes as required. But it also includes helping people change, supporting them to be the best version of themselves.

There is something about the categorisation of someone as toxic which is non-inclusive, seems to encourage a ‘pile-on’. It denies the option of improvement. It states “you are this” instead of “I notice this behaviour and I’d like to talk about it please’. 

But is it just me? I notice a strong reaction in myself. That could say something about me of course. So I tweeted: 

 And had some illuminating replies from some of my Twitter pals including these:

So maybe it isn’t just me. There seem to be really good points here which are worthy of reflection. 

And whilst we reflect, please can we all avoid referring to other human beings in such a dismissive way?