How Do You Survive a Toxic Workplace?

In last week’s blog, we discussed the impact of toxic workplaces on the health of their employees. But what can you do if you find yourself in one of these toxic situations?

The key, really, is to not only identify how bad your work environment is but to take action steps to limit its negative impact on your life. Here are some practical steps we found are necessary when a person works in a truly toxic workplace.

  1. Protect Yourself

Remember a toxic workplace is dangerous, so you have to proactively take steps to protect yourself from the various risks that are present:

  • Do your job. Don’t get so distracted by all of the chaos that you don’t complete your basic work tasks.
  • Document what you’ve done, and document (by emails, even to yourself) meetings, phone conversations.
  • When necessary, have a third-party present for meetings with a toxic leader or colleague.
  • Don’t sacrifice yourself and your well-being to try to save the organization.

2. Keep from becoming a helpless victim

Yes, you may work in a negative, unhealthy environment.  But you are not a passive victim.  There are actions you can take to make a difference in the interactions around you:

  • Avoid engaging in the negative conversations and behaviors. Walk away. Disengage.
  • When possible, draw attention to positives. They don’t have to be work related. Could be about the weather or how the local sports team is doing.
  • Take steps to develop a long-term exit strategy. Avoid becoming trapped in a desperate situation. Start to explore options. Get additional training.

3. When You Get “Fogged” from the Dysfunction around You, What Should You Do?

First, and foremost, employees must take care of themselves. If you don’t take care of yourself, no one else will. (The organization won’t.) When individuals work in a toxic environment, they put themselves at risk for physical problems (loss of sleep, weight gain, high blood pressure, medical problems), emotional problems (depression, anxiety, anger), and relational difficulties (withdrawal, irritability, loss of friendships). So keep important health-maintaining activities in your life – exercise, sleep, friendships, and hobbies that renew you.

Secondly, make sure you surround yourself with supportive friends and family who can give you objective feedback on your work circumstances. We need others who can help us cope with the stress from work, and who can honestly tell us when we need to consider looking for another job.

Finally, determine how much longer you want to work in this setting and begin to explore other options. For guidelines, see a couple of pamphlets on our website entitled, “How to Know When It is Time to Quit Your Job” and “How to Avoid Being Hired by a Toxic Workplace”. You don’t want to jump from the frying pan into the fire!

Don’t forget to check out my book, Rising Above a Toxic Workplace, in which I share numerous stories of individuals who worked in nasty places and what they did to survive.

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