Oxford's 'Word of the Year' on Toxic Work Environments

Each year, the Oxford English Dictionary selects a Word of the Year based on its ability to reflect the ethos of that year and its potential as a term of lasting cultural significance. Though previous words, such as “selfie” and “post-truth,” have revolved around politics or pop culture, the Word of the Year for 2018 could not be more relevant to the workplace. After narrowing all of 2018 down to a few phrases and going through rounds of debate, Oxford has chosen a word that speaks to what we’ve gone through this last year and, more importantly, where we need to go. The Word of the Year 2018 is toxic.

What Oxford said about toxic work environments

According to Oxford, toxic behavior has infiltrated the business world. Though initially used to describe the substances and waste generated by mass industry, a growing number of people now use the word ‘toxic’ to describe workplace afflictions. As people in 2018 demanded safe and welcoming workplaces, denounced company leaders for enabling harassment, and took to protest in the Google walkouts, the world became more aware of the prevalence and impact of toxic work environments. Regardless of fault, corporations have become a focal point of harmful behavior and people are looking for solutions.

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Oxford University Press on the prevalence of "toxic work environments" (Source)

Other major sources confirm this trend. According to the Gallup 2018 Global Emotions Report, fewer people today are well-rested or finding enjoyment in daily life. Instead, they’re reporting record-high levels of worry, sadness, stress, and anger. As headlines expose businesses for the cultures they’ve allowed to fester, business leaders must recognize the frustration and anger emerging from employees and customers, and the ways they communicate this through turnover, legal actions, and protest.

Many companies have ignored the intangibles of business for far too long. As scandals and bad press drive employee and consumer trust to record lows, priorities that once belonged solely to HR are moving to the core of executive strategy. This year, Oxford and Gallup made clear that toxic workplace behavior is now on the world stage. In a similar vein, McKinsey and Deloitte have stated that CEOs need to prioritize social responsibility, diversity, and inclusion. Times have changed, and the way that businesses engage culture and ethics today will make or break how they perform tomorrow.

People are fed up with toxic behavior and looking for ways to trust employers again. While 2018 was the year that the world began to speak up against toxic behavior, people will soon start asking what companies are willing to do about it. In 2019, everyone from the consumer to the CEO will be looking for solutions that finally bring safety, responsibility, and trust back into business.

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