Posted by: healingtheworkplace | May 3, 2008

Toxic Emotions at Work

It seems as if everyone has a story about working in a toxic organization or for a toxic boss.  So, the topic of today’s post is “Toxic Emotions at Work”.

I’d like to dedicate this post to the memory of Dr. Peter Frost whose groundbreaking research led him to writeToxic Emotions at Work: How Compassionate Managers Handle Pain and Conflict.

Toxicity or emotional pain arises from many sources:

  • organizational change (especially when people lose their jobs or witness colleagues losing their jobs)
  • unrealistic demands
  • managers’ behavior
  • not being able to do a good job
  • unresolved conflict between team members
  • not being recognized for a job well done

Of course, there are many others.

It is also important to note that toxicity or emotional pain is a normal part of organizational life.

It should not surprise you, then, to learn that there are people who take on the role of “toxin handler”. These toxin handlers can be leaders or managers, people in human resources or anyone who is sensitive to the emotional needs of others and want to create a healthier workplace. 

Through his research Peter Frost discovered that without adequate preparation, e.g. the knowledge and skills needed to protect their own health, toxin handlers often become ill or burned out themselves. 

Frost also wrote that when the pain is acknowledged and dealt with effectively it can become a constructive force for organizational change.

“While emotional pain may be inevitable in the workplace, it need not become or stay toxic. Handled with skillful, caring attention by leaders and others, it can be resolved. It can also become a way to identify what is not working right in the organization. Addressed with compassion, pain can become a force for change, a basis for improving the quality of life in an organization and a boost to performance.”

I found the above quote on Peter’s website in 2004. The site is no longer active which is a shame because Peter was in the process of creating an on-line community. A community where people could share stories and celebrate their own and others efforts to create healthier workplaces.

Thank-you Peter Frost!




  1. I would have liked to check out Peter’s site. Does he have any books in print?

    Emotional Intelligence, I believe, is the most important quality any person can have to succeed in the workplace. If there is someone to help move problems along, such as a compassionate manager, it can improve any workplace.

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