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Workplace Survivor: Toxic Work Environments

toxic workplace, workplace, career, career management, toxic environment, bad boss, cultureThis is a guest post by Dawn Rasmussen.

It’s an all-to-common condition: people suffering from toxic work environments.  We’re not talking about hazardous materials… but instead: hazardous people.

A horrible boss or co-worker might have their own agenda, is experiencing mental issues, is power-hungry and thrives on stomping on people, or is just downright evil.

But the end result is the same: You feel sick.  Right down to your bones, in your gut, and in your head. 

Oftentimes, the hardest part of these situations is that many people feel stuck. They don’t have a job offer waiting in the wings and need the money to pay the bills.

But there are ways you can survive and get past these hazardous workplaces.  Here are 8 tips that will help you get through the poisonous office and move on:

  1. Get help.  It’s not all in your head… but toxic workplaces affect people’s self-esteem, confidence, outlook, and even approach to life. Talking to a counselor can help you process any anger you might hold against someone else…or yourself as a result of this situation.
  2. Nourish yourself. Think of the toxic work environment as the harsh, parched desert.  So carve out time doing things that recharge your batteries and are reaffirming… you will end up being an oasis in that desert, fed by cool, eternally gushing springs.
  3. Don’t invite toxicity into your personal life. This is the hardest thing to avoid… you come home, slam the door, sink into the couch, and say, “You wouldn’t believe what ____ did to me today!”  While it feels great to let it out, bringing home your work baggage means that you are unpacking the toxicity and hanging it around the house for everyone else to see.  Be very careful to set boundaries, share only the necessary things to get family support, but avoid making your arrival home after work the scene of a daily download.
  4. Look for a new job.  Getting away from toxicity also means getting out.  The fantasy most people have that are in a toxic work environment is to find their dream job, walk into their bad boss’ office, tell them what a bad person they are, and walk out in a blaze of light and justice.  Life doesn’t happen that way, as we know, but a quietly managed job search and continuous networking can start to pave the way for an escape. 
  5. If the mental cost is too great, quit.  Most job search advisers always say it is better to only leave a job once you have another one lined up. It takes careful consideration of your financial options to determine whether you have the ability to survive without work. Sometimes, the mental cost is so great that by leaving now, you’ve actually stopped your losses. 
  6. Focus on the position, not the people. Sometimes, being a deserted island in the midst of a raging sea can be your safe shelter. Doing your work, staying under the radar, and concentrating your efforts on your work rather than the human storm surrounding you is a way to create a tunnel-vision focus that helps you shed toxicity so it rolls away versus soaking you.
  7. Address it directly. Not for the faint of heart, but some people choose to address toxicity head on. They start documenting the incidents, address it with supervisors and human resource departments, and if senior management is responsive, act as an advocate for the removal of the hazardous people who are sickening the work environment.
  8. Get out of the office.  Staying involved in professional industry organizations can also be a lifeline to help you maintain your sanity outside of the office and remind you that not every company is this toxic.

Experiencing a toxic work environment is more common than you think; as you feel more comfortable sharing your story, you’ll be amazed to hear that almost everyone you know has lived through such a horrific experience and are happy to provide you emotional support during such a tough time.

You will survive, and get through this!

Photo via WikiCommons

Written by: Dawn Rasmussen
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Categories: Work and Life
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  • Amen! This is the main reason that anyone voluntarily leaves a job! You feel sorry for those who can’t. And, upper management is usally completely clueless because these people are very good at managing up.

  • A great post and a great topic to discuss. The best thing to do is move on to another company. There are some great companies and great people out there. Make sure on your weekends to do at least 6 job applications. Consistency is key. If you can sweat it out it’s generally best to make a move while you are employed, but if you have a nest egg don’t be afraid to resign if it’s just too toxic (point #5). Despite the fantasy of quitting in a huff, don’t do this. Give professional notice and make a graceful exit. You never know when you’ll be asked for a reference.

  • Dan

    Eric, I have always given professional notice and buttoned my lip when I leave a position and I live by the “never burn bridges” motto. Now that I’m in the most toxic work environment in my 30+ years of work experience, I feel there has never been a bridge here to burn. Why not go out in blazes?
    When the time comes, I will button my lip again, but the fantasies are sooooo gooood.

  • Eric Olavson

    I think the reason we feel a need to lash out is because a toxic work environment makes you feel powerless. I know that’s how I felt when I worked in that kind of environment.

    The major problem with lashing out is that people talk, and you’d be surprised who-knows-whom. Plus . . . you’ll never know when you need a reference.

    Additionally, read your employment contract carefully. Oftentimes a contract will state that you will not get paid for accrued vacation time if you don’t give notice two weeks notice. That’s money that you earned, and you lose it if you leave without sweating out two more weeks.

    But yes, it’s still extremely tempting :).

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