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How to survive a toxic workplace

Unless it’s your job, you shouldn’t have to wear a Hazmat suit to work. Use these strategies to manage working at a toxic workplace until you move onto something better.

How to survive a toxic workplace

Toxic workplaces are harmful to an employee's wellbeing.

Is your workplace toxic?

If going to work makes you feel stressed or depressed—especially to the point of having suicidal thoughts—and/or you experience loss of focus, decreased confidence, stomach pain, headaches, and/or an impaired immune system, then you’re likely working in a bad environment.

Deb Falzoi founder of Dignity Together, a Massachusetts-based organization that provides coping services and resources for workplace bullying targets and for managers to learn how to lead without bullying, says these are all symptoms of a toxic workplace. She says the most effective cure is to “get out of the toxic situation sooner rather than later.”

There is a scientific reason that you feel like you are about to burst into tears at your desk every day. “A toxic environment keeps people in a fight or flight mindset—the constant pump of cortisol, testosterone, and norepinephrine generates physical, emotional, and mental stress,” says Cheri Torres, an Asheville, North Carolina-based business leadership coach and author of Conversations Worth Having: Using Appreciative Inquiry to Fuel Productive and Meaningful Engagement. She says you can’t do your best work when you work in a toxic workplace, and your health and well-being is at risk.

Monster spoke to experts for some tips on how to cope with working in different types of toxic work environments until you can finally give your two weeks’ notice.

Build a network of trusted co-workers

Toxic workplaces are filled with people who are selfish, judgmental, and manipulative. It’s easy to feel like there isn’t anyone who is drama-free, but finding your tribe can help you deal with a horrible boss or a co-worker who won’t listen to any of your ideas because they are “always right.”

How to deal: “One important way you can weather a toxic work environment is to find one or two good friends you can trust in your workplace and offer each other support and a place to vent,” says Raffi Bilek, a director at The Baltimore Therapy Center. “Being able to commiserate and understand each other's frustrations can offer a significant uplift and help you make it through the difficult situation,” he says. Just make sure to choose your friends wisely and only speak candidly with people you trust. That being said, you still don’t want to share certain things at work—even to your work BFF.)

Stay focused on important goals

Walking into a toxic workplace can feel like you’re back in high school, where rumors would run faster than the track team and cliques were more exclusive than the varsity cheerleading squad. People love to gossip about everything, whether it’s about the CEO having an affair, how incompetent James from marketing is, or if the impending restructuring will result in layoffs. There may even be entire group texts or Slack channels exclusively dedicated to talking badly about co-workers and pointing fingers.

How to deal: Don’t let workplace gossip keep you from focusing on your work, and definitely don’t join the conversation. “One of the quickest ways to destroy trust among your co-workers is by spreading gossip. Nobody in that kind of environment is willing to be vulnerable and open because everyone’s worried about how that information will be leaked and used against them down the road,” says Piyush Patel, an Oklahoma City-based workplace culture expert and author of Lead Your Tribe, Love Your Work. He recommends shutting down unhealthy gossip when you can or simply refusing to participate in it.

Be nice to everyone (even toxic co-workers)

Toxic workplaces are often very competitive, making people feel like they have to climb over their co-workers to get to the top. They will lie, cheat, and steal ideas to look better and advance up the corporate ladder. In this type of environment, you always have to be on the lookout for backstabbing behavior, which can be stressful and distracting.

How to deal: Don’t stoop to their level. Instead, kill them with kindness.Look for ways to do things for other people and add value to them, even the people who are toxic,” says Connelly Hayward, a Louisiana-based career coach. It might seem counterintuitive to aid your enemies, so to speak, but it can be beneficial. “Eventually, others will value what you provide, which leads to them valuing you. It may take a while, and they still may be toxic toward others, but their interaction with you will change, and that will change your work environment,” he says. Adopt the mantra: “Work hard, be nice.” (Even when other people aren’t.)

Strive for strong work-life balance

Your 9-5 feels more like a 24/7 because work has become all-consuming. When you aren’t at work, you’re still working or thinking about work. You just want to throw your phone out the window, so you can catch a break from your co-workers’ incessant string of emails, texts, and calls that are all “urgent.” You usually have to work through lunch, having to cram bites in between filing reports at your desk, or are constantly cancelling after-work plans to stay late at the office and finish up assignments.

How to deal: Set some boundaries, so you can have a job and a life. Having healthy boundaries can reduce the impact that work can have on other areas of your life,” says Tamara D'Anjou Turner, an Atlanta-based psychologist. She suggests always taking a lunch break, not bringing work home, setting clear expectations, having friendships outside of work, and not sharing too many personal details at work.

Know that nothing is permanent

It seems like there’s nothing you can do to stop the angry after-hours emails from your boss or relieve the anxiety of being thrown under the bus by your co-workers. Your confidence is shot, you dread going to work, and you start feeling lousy, both physically and mentally. Luckily there is something you can do: Get on a bus that takes you far away from your office and into a new and better job

How to deal: “Understand that the situation is temporary. Proactively look for opportunities to move on. If you are having difficulty believing the situation is temporary, the action of seeking other opportunities will help you change your belief system,” says Katy Caselli, a Raleigh, North Carolina–based organizational psychologist with her own practice, Building Giants.

Find better

Ultimately, the best way to deal with a toxic workplace is to find a new one altogether. Want some help with that? Join Monster for free today. As a member, you’ll get job alerts emailed right to your inbox, so you spend less time searching. Not to mention, you can upload up to five versions of your resume, tailored to different jobs that interest you. Recruiters search Monster every day look to hire quality candidates, just like you. Say goodbye to your toxic boss and co-workers, and move on to something better today.


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