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Every week I receive emails from professionals who ask me how to survive a toxic workplace. As a toxic workplace survivor, I understand the impacts of a toxic workplace. As a Career Coach, I now help professionals identify the signs of a toxic work environment, create next steps for coping while working in a toxic culture, and create an exit strategy.
Working in an unhealthy work environment with toxic coworkers and bosses is one of the most difficult situations to be in. When asked how to survive a toxic workplace, there is never a black and white answer. It often depends on the level of toxic behaviors you are dealing with and how it is impacting your physical health. Before diving into more details, I want to make it clear that working in a toxic work culture should not be a long-term plan. I never recommend working in a toxic job for the majority of your career.
You’re probably wondering why I’m against working in toxic work environments for a long time. It is because, working with toxic team members with negative energy on a regular basis can begin to affect your emotional, physical, and mental health. A toxic work environment is the breeding ground for negative side effects. Workplace toxicity can lead to mental health problems, an increased level of stress including emotional stress, sleepless nights, weight gain, depression, anxiety, and so much more. If you’re interested in learning more about the signs of a toxic workplace, check out my recent articles, Toxic Workplace Checklist (50 signs) and Is my Work Environment Toxic. These articles are also beneficial and packed with tips on how to survive a toxic workplace.
In this article, I’m going to give you my top 13 tips on how to survive a toxic workplace. As stated earlier, these are meant to be temporary coping strategies until you find a new job.
The best way to get through the initial shock of a toxic working environment is accepting that you are in one. I meet many professionals who refuse to admit that their environment is toxic. If you’re tempted to offer an excuse for the company or believe that a toxic environment won’t affect you, I need you to take a moment to breath. Accept the situation for what it is. Also, just because you may have coworkers who are thriving in a toxic environment doesn’t mean you have to as well.
Those who thrive in unhealthy environments often have unresolved trauma of their own. Do not let anyone else’s experience define yours. It is easy to be gaslighted my toxic bosses and colleagues in these situations. I’ve even had professionals tell me that they often questioned their reality and whether or not their concerns were valid. Trust yourself and trust your gut. The sooner you recognize and accept that you’re in a toxic workplace, the quicker you can begin to put together a plan to leave.
Working in a toxic workplace can have a negative impact on your attitude and outlook on life. Do not fall into this trap. When I worked in toxic environments, I had to be intentional about keeping a positive attitude. How did I do this? I made positive changes in daily routines. On my way to work, I would listen to motivational podcast, my favorite music, or even talk to a family member or friend. Doing these things helped put me in a great mood before entering the workplace.
Once at work, I often kept my headphones in (whenever I could). I’d listen to music, TED talks, and motivational speeches to keep me afloat. During my lunch break, I ALWAYS left the office to go walk or do breathing exercises in my car. I made sure to take little breaks throughout the day to center and calm myself. I promise, these practices will help keep your vibrations high, your spirits lifted, and your attitude positive.
Toxic work environments are emotionally and physically draining. They often lead to depression, isolation, and social anxiety. It is tempting to want to come home and just crash on the couch after work. It is even more tempting to stay in the house during the weekend and sit in sorrow while you dread Sunday night.
When working in an unhealthy environment, it is absolutely essential that you invest and put positive energy into your personal life. To make sure you have the energy to devote to your personal life, avoid working long hours, taking on additional projects, and thinking about work after hours. Instead prioritize having a social life and participating in projects and activities that bring you joy outside of work. Take up a new hobby, travel, use your PTO, volunteer! Do whatever it is you need to do in order create balance in your life.
Working with toxic colleagues and poor leadership is exhausting. It’s easy to believe that you’re the only one going through this. I promise more people can relate to what you’re going through. Every time I launch a survey on LinkedIn or my other social media channels and ask about who has worked in toxic environments, I get thousands of “YES” responses.
This is not a time to isolate. Lean on your support system for encouragement, words of wisdom, resources, and job referrals. People cannot help you if they don’t know what you’re going through. Speak up, your people want to be there for you. They want to help and they want to get you out of any slump or depressive episode that you could fall into.
Toxic team members are always in recruitment mode. What do I mean by this? I mean they are constantly looking for a listening ear and someone they can partner with to create drama. Gossip, bullying, silos, and rumors are often the main characteristics of a toxic work environment.
You do not want a toxic environment to change who you are. Keep your integrity and values. To do this I recommend you avoid work problems. Do not respond to or listen to gossip or drama when it approaches you. Everyone has those coworkers who come baring bad or unnecessary news. It is ok to cut them short, let them know you’re busy, or simply walk away.
Other characteristics of a toxic workplace include a lack of respect and a lack of communication from colleagues, supervisors, and leadership. In these environments it is often best to keep a paper trail of all of your communication. I also recommend taking notes of conversations that you can refer to if the need arises.
Poor communication is often the norm in these environments. This means you need to be clear and direct at all times. Say what you mean and mean what you say. Do not leave room for interpretation. The follow-up drama is not worth it, trust me!
Negative people are constantly recruiting others to join them in their shenanigans. Do not, I repeat do not, align yourself with toxic coworkers. You do not need the negative influence or to be categorized by others in the company. Sitting around and participating in gossip during the day is not how you should want to spend your time at the company.
Dysfunctional colleagues can also get you in trouble (guilt by association). Also remember that people who gossip or throw others under the bus, will do the same to you if the opportunity presents itself. Also, we are often influenced by those we surround ourselves with on a consistent basis. Look at the colleagues that you are aligning yourself with. Do you want to be like them?
Working in an unhealthy work culture should not be a long-term plan. Begin brainstorming your career goals and the changes you want to make moving forward. Take time to think about what characteristics your ideal company has. The easiest way to do this is to think about the environments that you thrive in. What do they have in common? What do they provide?
Brainstorm the role that you want to play in the company along with the relationships you’d like to have. Writing down a list of your needs and desires will help identify companies that naturally provide these types of environments.
Leaving a toxic environment and carrying out a meaningful job search takes time. The average job search can take anywhere from 4 to 6 months. It can take longer when you’re looking for a company that meets your needs. Do not lose motivation. Set realistic expectations and block out specific times for certain tasks (i.e. networking, applying, searching).
Ask for help when you need it and if you find that you need professional support, invest in yourself. You will not regret it.
When working in a stressful environment, your patience usually decreases significantly. It is easy to become upset or irritated over any inconvenience or challenge you encounter. Save your energy. I recommend incorporating meditation, breathwork, or fitness into your daily routine. Have an outlet so that you’re not getting worked up and wasting your energy on the little things.
It is extremely tempting to accept the first job offer that comes your way. Why? Because you want to get out now. Remember that your job search should be intentional. Avoid rage applying and submitting an application to every opening that you come across. When you are in a rush, serious mistakes are made.
Most professionals keep landing in toxic environments because they were quick to say “yes.” Often red flags during the interview process and hiring process were ignored due to needing a job now. Give yourself time. You do not want to make the same mistake twice. Your goal is to avoid landing in another toxic environment. If this means saying no to a few roles, or taking extra time to do research, do it!
This is one of the most important tips on how to survive a toxic workplace. Don’t lose hope and do not give up. Your current circumstance will not last forever. One day you’ll be able to sit back, reflect, and pay yourself on the back for enduring and escaping. Keep putting in the work to move forward.
If you find yourself frequently landing in unhealthy work environments, it could be because you are overlooking red flags. Check out another one of my articles that addresses red flags in interviews. Going forward, my goal for you is to be able to identify toxic behaviors, poor communication, poor leadership, and any toxic situation during the interview and recruitment process.
As a potential candidate for a job the best thing you can do is become comfortable with asking tough questions and reaching out to current (and previous) staff during your job search. There are different ways to avoid landing in unnecessary stressful situations. Like I always say, life is too short to work and stay in a toxic environment.
As a talented professional, you deserve a safe space, work life balance, respect, and kindness on a consistent basis. I understand that this can be a tough time during your career, but I want to remind you that better things are in the future for you! If you need a boost of motivation and encouragement, I recommend viewing my on-demand Breakthrough to Break Free webinar.
Every single attendee told me that they left the webinar feeling empowered and inspired to take the first step needed to make positive changes in their career. I want you to remember one thing, it’s probably the most important thing that you’ll read in this article. Here it is: it is not your fault that you landed in a negative work atmosphere. You did nothing to deserve it. This is just a chapter in your career and you have the power to move on and move forward. You are valuable, talented, and incredibly capable of landing a role you love at a company that treats you the way you deserve.
You’ve got this. Don’t doubt yourself.
Cheers to your success!