How To Master A Toxic Workplace
Whether you’ve been working for a company for a while or are a new-hire, the signs of being in a toxic work environment can be anywhere. Being observant, staying objective, and realizing you’re the captain of your own ship in life are necessary not just to come through the experience without major damage to your health and well-being but to allow yourself to grow through handling the situation with grace and ease. These skills will also help keep you safer in a world where workplace violence is often, unfortunately, a reality.
The first step in dealing with toxic workplaces is recognizing them. It’s perhaps especially easy to choose to ignore the red flags if the job is well paid or if there are other perks. Symptoms of a chronically stressful organization include:
- An overly dogmatic or demanding CEO
- Little laughter or comradery in the office
- Considerable gossip or negativity
- Excessive staff absences
- Unreasonable deadlines or expectations
- A high turnover rate
- Lack of communication, internally and/or externally
Personally, you’ll want to ask yourself some questions about how your job may be affecting your overall lifestyle, relationships, and health.
- Are you unable to sleep at night?
- Are you eating more or less than usual?
- Are you getting headaches or indulging in “escape behaviors” more often?
- Do you dread getting up for work or often feel a sense of being overwhelmed, angry, or unsettled?
- Are frustrations at work all that you seem to be thinking of?
Look for both the physical and emotional aspects of toxicity. When many people within an organization are highly stressed and frustration levels approach a breaking point, there’s a greater chance for verbal (or even physical) abuse.
To protect yourself and others, here are some tips to keep in mind in order to deal with toxic workplaces:
1. Keep tabs on how you’re feeling. Be proactive and positive in addressing the situation. If unnecessary conflicts or confrontations become frequent, initiate an open-minded discussion with your supervisor regarding the issues you’re facing along with possible solutions. Go to Human Resources if you’ve exhausted diplomatic means or if you feel unsafe in your workplace. In extreme situations, leave the premises if necessary.
2. Avoid allowing yourself to slip into a victim mentality. You’re a grown professional. Only you can set your personal and professional boundaries, and only you can decide when you’ve had enough. Focus on what you can do that aligns with your values, rather than talking or obsessing about what the other people are doing “wrong.”
3. If repeated personal or professional violations occur, make an action plan to exit the company or organization. It’s always a good idea to document the situation if you need to use that data later for legal action or an unemployment compensation claim. Better safe than sorry. Emailing such documentation to yourself is a good way to time-stamp the information.
4. Be good to yourself. While you’re implementing your exit plan, introduce other positives into your life. Is there a class you want to take? Are there activities that you love that you can add to your weeknight or weekend schedule to keep you positive and personally motivated? Can you let off steam through exercise and/or meditation? You are the only one who determines your approach, mood, and responses.
5. Be the witness. Consider the valuable skills you are taking with you if you decide to leave. These include being better able to control your emotions, practicing nonviolent communication and dialogue skills, and improving your self-esteem by speaking and acting clearly in challenging situations.
Always remember that you can handle any situation in life. You can rise to the occasion.
In summary, do all you can to recognize and address a toxic work environment early on and to protect yourself. However, if you’re already in knee-deep or you’ve already been harmed, there are professionals who are trained to help, including workplace violence lawyers.
The bottom line: know yourself, care for yourself, and know your rights.