Toxic Workplaces on Channel 9 Today Extra

Toxic Workplaces Channel 9 Today Extra Channel 9 David Campbell Belinda Russell Sue Ellson

Toxic Workplaces on Channel 9 Today Extra

By Sue Ellson

Date: 19 September 2023 10:47am
Media: Channel 9’s Today Extra Show, National Australian Television
Story: Toxic Workplaces
Hosts: David Campbell and Belinda Russell
Guest: Sue Ellson
Video Links:
Time: 00:03:30

On 19 September 2023, I appeared on Channel 9’s Today Extra show to talk about Toxic Workplaces, a topic that had gained some recent media coverage as a result of a story about a talk show host Jimmy Fallon who had recently apologised to his staff about his toxic behaviours.

David Campbell, Belinda Russell and Sue Ellson on the topic of Toxic Workplaces on Channel 9’s Today Extra


Well as we reported last week late night talk show host Jimmy Fallon is the latest high profile figure to come under fire for allegedly fostering a toxic workplace with employees revealing his behavior had negative impact on their mental health here to give us some advice on this issue is career expert Sue Ellson good morning Sue firstly how do you tell if you’re in a toxic workplace or you’re just dealing with a tough boss

Well a toxic workplace is going to have multiple bad behaviors from multiple different people now a tough boss is somebody who’s likely to be hyper focused on tasks and productivity but the scary part about a toxic workplace is it can actually lead to high turnover low, productivity and if you make a formal complaint an unfair dismissal and scarily about 38% of the reports lodged with the Fair Work Commission are related to unfair dismissals so yeah it can be quite tricky if you are in that toxic space

Scary though if you’re an employee so what’s the first step that they should do if they do find themselves in an unhealthy work environment

Well they really need to identify what they’re anxious about and think about how they’re going to manage that ideally discuss it with their direct manager and then work out what’s going to happen keep a written record of everything date time what happened how you’re trying to resolve it and then the organization will probably have some sort of policy around what to do next whether it’s going to HR internal or external supports but try and look after your well-being through that process because it can be tricky

But you bring up there speaking to your direct manager but that can be intimidating and really scary for some employees so what’s your advice there

Well yes it can be and the Fair Work Ombudsman has a great online course about managing difficult conversations at work so you could definitely look at doing that the Fair Work Commission has a lot of resources there that will tell you the next steps that you can take if you need to do something outside of the workplace is another website that has resources so you might be able to access an employee assistance program and speak to somebody externally and you can also call Lifeline they have an amazing database of resources that are suitable for people who are in crisis and need to find some some local help

I mean looking at Jimmy Fallon and it’s the same as Ellen DeGeneres a couple years back Elon Musk is all but destroyed the workforce at Twitter that can they create these unstable work environments you know it’s chaos so what can employers do to improve culture at work

Well they need to encourage leaders to be authentic and transparent and be having leaders who are willing to walk towards a problem rather than away from it they need to be willing to respond to act to make changes and they possibly might need to do a risk assessment because some industries are obviously more likely to be toxic than others

What if you’ve tried everything Sue and you still don’t feel comfortable when do you know that you should just walk away from that job

Well if it’s got to the point where you really can’t cope with it anymore you’re going to have to consider your options and you still need to have that written record of everything ideally it would be great if you can resolve it because obviously it’s going to be better for the organization you’re in but also for skills for where you go to next and but please just look after your well-being talk to friends and family trusted people outside of work don’t ruminate with your co-workers that can cause problems but if you can develop these skills of having difficult conversations it could improve your life in many different ways

Sue some great advice again great to see you mate we’ll see you soon


Firstly – how can you tell if you’re in a toxic workplace or just dealing with a tough boss?

In a toxic workplace, you are likely to feel uncomfortable as the result of bad behaviour from a number of people in a variety of ways.

If you are just dealing with a tough boss, they can be hyper-focused on tasks and productivity, but hopefully they will still make sure that there is a culture of safety and respect amongst all workers.

Sadly, a toxic workplace is often the tip of larger iceberg that leads to high turnover, a loss of productivity and even unfair dismissal if you make a formal complaint. Interestingly, 38% of the applications lodged with the Fair Work Commission are for unfair dismissal.

The most recent Job Mobility Data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics is showing that 32% of people who left a job up until February this year did so to obtain a better job or just wanted a change which is nearly a 10% increase since February 2021

So what’s the first step employees should take if they find themselves in an unhealthy work environment?

You can start by identifying what feels uncomfortable, take some time out to think about how you will manage it and then privately discuss it with a manager. It is also important to keep a written record of what happened, including the date and time and how you tried to resolve it. Most organisations will have a policy about what to do if that doesn’t work and that may include going to human resources or another representative either within the organisation or externally. I would also add that you need to make sure that you look after your own health and make sure you have some personal support outside of work during this process.

What happens if an employee doesn’t feel comfortable talking to anyone at work? Are there any external options they can explore?
Yes. You may wish to start by talking to a trusted family member or friend, but if it is a bit more involved, you might like to look at the Fair Work Ombudsman website as there is an online course in how to have difficult conversations at work but it also goes through the next steps if you need to lodge a report or seek the support of a union, the Fair Work Ombudsman, the Fair Work Commission, a solicitor or court. The website also has some resources that may be helpful. You may also be able to access an Employee Assistance Program through your employer or even contact Lifeline as they have access to a huge database of local supports you can access. Individual states and territories also have a range of online resources you can access.


Jimmy Fallon, Ellen DeGeneres and Elon Musk were all accused of creating an unstable work environment… what can employers do to improve culture?

Yes, and Jeremy Clarkson actually physically attacked someone before being dismissed from Top Gear. Employers need to make sure that their leaders behave authentically and transparently and that they are willing to understand, prevent and respond to any difficulties – walking towards any issues rather than away from them.

Naturally, the workplace should feel safe and respectful at all times and there will be gaps that can be covered with extra training and policy development or a risk assessment. For many employees, it will be about being courageous enough to have those difficult conversations.


  • encourage authentic leadership
  • understand, prevent and respond to difficulties
  • create a safe and respectful environment
  • provide ongoing training and policy development
  • complete a Risk Assessment

Sometimes you just have to draw a line… at what point should you walk away for your job?

Yes, it can definitely get to that, but before you do draw that line, you need to have a full written record of what has happened and how you have tried to resolve it. Ideally, you would have looked at all of the internal and external supports available to you and explored all of those options whilst doing your best to maintain your wellbeing. I know that this can be stressful, but if it is beyond your ability to cope and you feel extremely challenged beyond your capability, you may need to make a difficult decision and leave. However, if you can learn to overcome this type of challenge, it can actually make things better for everyone at work in the future.


  • have a written record
  • tried all forms of resolution
  • sourced internal and external support
  • personal wellbeing is extremely challenged


Fair Work Ombudsman – Online Learning Centre

Raising your problem in the workplace

Communication in the workplace

Related sites in individual states and territories in Australia

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