‘Troubling’: 1 in 5 American workers experience toxic workplace

The results of a new survey indicate nearly 1 in 5 U.S. workers experience working under “toxic” conditions, with 22% of workers saying it has negatively affected their mental health.

These concerning numbers come from the 2023 Work in America Survey from the American Psychological Association. According to the survey, 19% of the labor force feels — on some level — demoralized, frightened or traumatized at work.

“The number of individuals who report experiencing a toxic workplace without protection from harm is troubling,” Arthur C. Evans Jr., Ph.D., APA’s chief executive officer, said in a release. “No one should feel fear at work. It is clear there is much work to be done to foster a positive work environment for all workers in the nation.”

The mental health implications are severe, according to the study.

Those who reported a toxic work environment were three times more likely to experience mental health harm when compared to those who reported a healthy workplace. But mental health isn’t the only casualty of a toxic workplace. The study shows that turnover at the workplace soars and productivity plummets with “toxic” labor environments.

A closer look at the numbers reveals the work force is not a monolith when it comes to toxicity.

For example, only 13% of people who work from home report a toxic workplace compared to 22% of in-person workers. And the disparity grows when looking at job hierarchy. Only 9% of upper management said they work under toxic conditions compared to 26% of front-line workers.

“This finding raises the question of whether it may be difficult for upper management to relate to assertions of employees that a workplace is toxic when upper management may not, themselves, be exposed to that aspect of the workplace,” the report said.

Yet, the U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy said employers, in order to solve the ills of a toxic workplace, must work to protect employees when they report harm.

“A healthy workforce is the foundation for thriving organizations and healthier communities,” Dr. Murthy said in a 2022 news release. “As we recover from the worst of the pandemic, we have an opportunity and the power to make workplaces engines for mental health and well-being.”

Luke Garrett

Luke Garrett is a D.C. native dedicated to journalism. He is a reporter and the creator, host and producer of the original WTOP podcast, “DMV Download.” The podcast debuted in 2022. On the show, Garrett takes a weekly look at the biggest stories and ideas in the D.C. region.

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