How to Survive a Toxic Workplace
We’ve all had to work with them. Colleagues who gossip and back-stab, micro-managers and bullies. Everyone who has ever been part of any group will find those kind of elements to varying degrees. A toxic work environment really boils down to three key elements:
- Problematic leadership
- Unclear job roles
- Dysfunctional rules and norms governing acceptable behaviours.
I had a manager several years ago who I can only describe as toxic. She would get angry quickly and then ignore me for weeks, dismissing comments I made in meetings and not inviting me to certain events. She would openly criticise her team, lie, insult and if you objected, she would find a way to punish you. There were no boundaries, no constructive communication and everyone wanted to leave. I eventually did because I had that option but not everyone does.
Sometimes, you can’t pinpoint exactly what is toxic but the effects on your mental health and emotional well-being can include anxiety, low self-esteem, exhaustion, anger, tension and depression. These are classic signs of stress and whilst it may seem hopeless, here are some strategies that you can put in place to cope if you can’t find alternative employment, for whatever reason.
Tips to Survive
- Self – Care I’m not talking about bubble baths and face creams. Get the self-care that you need to build your self-esteem and put things into perspective. A counsellor can work wonders to do just that. Try meditation or yoga to relax, clear your mind and love your body.
- Learn to be assertive You can calmly and respectfully say no (or yes!). You can address offensive behaviour with politeness and firmness so that the other person knows that you will not be treated in this way. This is not the same as aggression which is a destructive, and often unsuccessful way to express oneself. Even worse, it can give a narcissistic colleague emotional fuel and power which is best avoided.
- Find non-work related hobbies that give you joy. Whether that’s a creative pursuit, physical exercise or socialising with friends, find something healthy and joyful to get your mind off the toxicity, and give importance to those activities.
- Adopt a growth mindset this means looking at your job and putting it into perspective. If nothing else, this job is giving you valuable lessons you will take to your next employer when you leave. You could focus on managing those challenging behaviours and perhaps find a company sponsored course on valuable management skills. You could fine tune your assertiveness skills or develop a new passion or self-care practice that allows you to grow beyond the toxicity in the workplace.
- Define your goals and value Ask yourself, what is the next step in my life and career and how is this job helping me to get there? What do I value and how is this job aligned with it? Give yourself time to ask yourself these crucial questions so that you can consider next steps.
- Work on your exit strategy Has this experience pushed you to start your own business, move country or look for a job that suits your values or interests more? Start working on a plan to do that by doing what you need to make it a reality. Whether that is researching companies or opportunities, getting the right training or networking, doing something positive to help you move on will build your self-worth and allow you to feel in control of your own future.
It’s not fair and it’s not acceptable but the sad reality is that we are sometimes forced to work for and with people who display challenging behaviour. You can’t change them but you can change how you respond to them and if you can master that, the world really is your oyster.
Please feel free to leave your comments and advice below!