Home Is your workplace high-pressure or is it a toxic work environment?

Is your workplace high-pressure or is it a toxic work environment?

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The internet is awash with blogs on toxic work environments, but what about high-pressure work environments?  Is there a difference between the two and if so, are you able to differentiate between them?

Let's break this down: High-pressure work environments can have one of two effects on people: They can either get the adrenaline pumping and focus individuals and teams to produce excellent results, or they can have a negative impact if there is no relief or a person who doesn't function well within those environments. In that case, it can end in stress and burnout, but it doesn't mean it is toxic. What sets high-pressure environments apart from toxic environments is, on the whole, the aim is to work positively and constructively towards an end, not haphazardly with negative drivers. 

Generally, you will probably know if you are going into a high-pressure workspace - it may even be the nature of the job. Whereas, a toxic environment is not an environment most people choose to seek out. It has no benefit to the organisation, the team or the individual.  While some people thrive in high-pressure environments, if the pressure comes in sustainable waves it can be beneficial to all in the organisation, no one thrives in a toxic environment. Not even the bullies. 

We wanted to know if people were aware of the difference between the two, so we undertook some qualitative research. We asked a focus group of fresh grads and well-seasoned professionals what they thought the difference between toxic and high-pressure environments was. The themes were very common, we've shown them in the flow chart below:

Toxic or high pressure work place

What does it all mean?  


Value, respect, appreciation - It doesn’t have to mean balloons and champagne, it can be as simple as receiving thanks, a thumbs up or an acknowledgement of good work. Positive psychology research shows a connection between gratitude and well-being which helps to create a positive productive work environment. Isn’t that any organisations aim?

Clear objectives - Clear objectives help with individual goals and with team performance They provide direction, motivation and focus for the team giving them a measure of control over their output. If people have clear realistic goals and objectives to work towards they will be on board with giving their best to the task. 

Well-organised - Being well-organised works hand in hand with clear objectives. If the workplace is well-organised then individuals and teams are better able to get on with their jobs.  From leadership down, clear roles, procedures, purpose, interdependence, direction and accountability provide a positive productive organisation. It creates space for people to get on with their job without worrying about clutter. 

Open and constructive feedback - We all need feedback and there is always room for improvement, but the difference between constructive feedback and bullying or gaslighting is immense. How the feedback is communicated and which words are chosen has an impact on the receiver and outcome for a productive organisation.  Putting someone down, being aggressive, only focusing on weaknesses or coercing someone is quite clearly negative and not the way to maintain a happy productive team. However, being polite, concise and providing professional direction can improve the outcomes for the individual, their development and of course the organisation as a whole. 

Trust is incredibly important in a productive organisation empty promises and underhanded behaviour are not conducive to a workplace where trust abounds. Staff become disengaged, fearful of outcomes which then denigrates commitment to the organisation and the leaders within the organisation. While there can never be well-intentioned underhanded behaviour, well-intentioned empty promises are just as counterproductive. 

As we have mentioned high-pressure work environments are not for everyone but those that work effectively will set clear goals, be well-organised, provide staff who offer constructive feedback and offer appreciation and respect. Unrealistic expectations and undue pressure or overwork are not part of a high-pressure environment, they are found in toxic workplaces and are due to poor communication, leadership, not enough time or people to handle the workload, and a lack of clear objectives.  

Leadership and workplace culture are major drivers in how you function within the workplace and unless you are in a leadership role you may not be able to drastically change that culture, however, read here for four tips on how to possibly avoid ending up in an environment that doesn’t suit you.

Is your workplace high-pressure or is it a toxic work environment?
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