Surviving a toxic work environment
Surviving a toxic work environment

Surviving a toxic work environment

I went for drinks recently with some coworkers and had a pretty amazing chat about work loads and when to switch your mind off after work. We work in a pretty fast-paced office and we absolutely love our jobs but knowing when not to take work home; when not to spend 15 hours at work; when not to respond to every single email; and when not to say yes to everything is key. 

During this conversation though, we also talked about how work can literally rob us of our social lives. One coworker told stories of people she knew in Europe that worked 12-hour days, then headed to the bars to drink and do drugs, crashed at their work-provided apartments and then did it all over again the next day. 


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What does a toxic environment feel like

You may be reading this and saying “well that’s not me”, but being chained to work/ working in a toxic environment is not only limited to this kind of extreme behaviour. 

According to our trusted friend – Wikipedia – a toxic workplace environment is : 

is a workplace that is marked by significant drama and infighting, where personal battles often harm productivity. Toxic workplaces are often considered the result of toxic employers and/or toxic employees who are motivated by personal gain (power, money, fame or special status), use unethical, mean-spirited and sometimes illegal means to manipulate and annoy those around them; and whose motives are to maintain or increase power, money or special status or divert attention away from their performance shortfalls and misdeeds.

But to be fair, we don’t really need to define what a toxic workplace is. If your workplace is toxic, you’ll feel it. You will know when this work situation is no longer working for you. The definition of the word toxic is : acting as or having the effect of poison; poisonous. You will know when you’re being drained/ poisoned by your work environment. However, it is sometimes a hard choice to decide what to do with that information. When you realize that this workspace is toxic, then what do you do? Or, how many boxes does it have to check to really be toxic? 

Are you working in a toxic environment?

I’ve worked in a few “weird” workplace environments before – my first full-time job was in a very male-dominated workplace rife with nepotism, RIFE ! I had amazing co-workers who made the poor pay palatable and we enjoyed our misery. Eventually, I realized that even if I looked beyond this underpaying, nepotic, “bro” environment there was still no room for growth. Decisions were made by management at the flash of a hand and after really evaluating this, I realized this was not sustainable in any way. 

If you’re confused about whether your environment is toxic, ask yourself “is this sustainable”? Your workload, your current position, your ability to be promoted, your passion/ lack thereof for your work, your day-to-day tasks. Is this all sustainable? 

You don’t have to quit

In another work setting, as soon as I stepped in I felt like there was a dark cloud over my head. I felt the doom, gloom and despair, But, it was good money and the people were mostly nice, so I decided to give it the good ol’ college try. I would roll out of bed, excited about my commute, greet the security guards at the desk and take the elevator to the 4th floor. As the elevator dinged to signal each floor my heart sank a little. To avoid that feeling, I started taking the stairs – so by the time I got to the top I was winded enough to be happy to sit at my desk. 

A few months in, I realized I couldn’t live like this and started looking for jobs. I didn’t want to quit cold turkey because I felt like I owed them some kind of explanation and I wanted to finish up a few projects so I wouldn’t leave them in the lurch when I left. 


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Listen, I am not telling you to slack off and stop being professional at work but if you don’t feel like this job is working for you then do not think about how they will survive without you. Think about how much longer you can survive in this place. How much of your time are you going to give to this job? Wasting away your most productive years. 

Your workplace could be killing you

Do you know what will happen when you resign? They will take a look back at your job description, maybe tweak a few things and then start the process to hire your replacement. Ensure that you’re putting your own well-being ahead of that of the organization. You are in charge of your own sanity, mental wellness, personal development and happiness.

This study noted that  the workplace is now the 5th leading cause of death in the United States. LIKE…. Did you read that? THE WORKPLACE IS THE FIFTH LEADING CAUSE OF DEATH IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA. When I read the article I was shook…SHOOK!

An unhealthy or stressful workplace can make you sick (physically and otherwise); however, the article’s author, Marcel, outlined the top ten stressors in the workplace: 

  • No health insurance
  • Exposure to shift work
  • Long hours/overtime
  • Job insecurity
  • Work-family conflict
  • Low job control
  • High job demands
  • Low social support at work
  • Organizational injustice

“While workplaces have dramatically lowered physical accidents and safety issues…the health impacts of social or stress-related work conditions have remained unaddressed”. So essentially, our workplaces are physically safer but have become a mental wellness deathtrap. This has been exacerbated, I think, because of this hyperconnection that technology has created. We live on our phones, laptops and tablets and our idea of an efficient worker means someone that is always connected. 


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Figuring out work/life priorities

Work-life balance is real and we need to ensure that we are able to leave work at work and actually have our own lives away from the desk. Overtime/ working long hours and low organizational justice were among the highest stressors for mental and physical health respectively. I’ve heard stories of video game programmers literally living in their office – moving in cots to sleep for a few hours in between working. 

Your work situation may or may not be that intense but how can you survive a toxic work environment?  You may want to leave, but those bills may say otherwise; so maybe the following can help:

  • Focus on your own development – why did you apply for the job in the first place? Is there something unique that you were hoping to achieve, some sort of employment goal?
  • Take what you can, then go – as soon as you’ve expanded your knowledge potential and learned what you went there to learn, then it’s time to go. If it’s not serving you in any other way then that’s the end of the rope.
  • Remain professional – you may be dying on the inside, and going to work everyday may literally suck all your energy but keep that professionalism up. Despite how horrible the environment is and how much you dislike the place you never know whether you may need a recommendation from them in the future or whether someone there may have connections to your future employer. Never let them have anything negative to say about you.
  • Take on only what you can manage – saying “no” is harder than it seems, but you still have to maintain some kind of boundaries. You are only able to do what you can in the time that you can, so manage your workload within that time.
  • Be civil with your co-workers – you don’t have to be best friends but go through the rounds of the pleasantries in the morning, ask them about their weekend, those small things. If they brush you off – don’t snap. Plaster that fake smile on and get on with the day.
  • Take your lunch time away from your desk ! – even if everybody else eats at their desk.
  • Do small things during the work day that you enjoy – I really like R&B and alternative music so I usually have an alternative playlist to listen to in the morning and R&B in the afternoon. Maybe you like to listen to podcasts (just gonna shamelessly put the link to the podcast here). Find something – that’s not too disruptive, and you can do at your desk – that will brighten your day. Going for walks on your lunch-time may be good too.
  • Remember, nothing lasts forever – remember when I asked you to ask yourself is this is sustainable? Now that we know it’s not – focus on that and repeat this mantra to yourself when the going gets tough, it will all end soon enough.

A better job, whether you believe it or not, is on the horizon. For whatever reason, you may need to stay in this shitty job for longer than you anticipated but while you’re there make the best of it…and then get the f*ck out! 

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