How to Survive a Toxic Workplace


As pressures on jobs grows, the positive team culture that once existed at many workplaces has long since evaporated. Automation, off-shoring, hiring freezes and longer hours are all having a negative impact and creating a toxic workplace at many firms. How do you survive a toxic workplace and how do management create a better work culture?

By Angus Wright

Now, more than ever, mental health issues are being spoken about publicly within the same realm as physical problems – a huge step for mental health advocates and sufferers. The two major factors of stress in the US have been identified as money and work, these go hand in hand when it comes to toxic workplaces.

A workplace can be come toxic when negative elements of the culture are ignored and left to get worse, affecting the productivity of the organization from within. There is no one cause for a toxic workplace but many, sometimes subtle, signs can identify it. Some things can be spotted in the behaviour of the workforce while others are identified through the employer’s actions.

A few signs among the organization’s employees of workplace toxicity can be hard to spot but are identifiable when you look closer. Employee’s may not speak their mind during meetings, waiting until after the conclusion to discuss their thoughts amongst themselves, showing that they are intimidated by the management who may be using bullying tactics or do not take criticism well. Another sign is the same type of employee is always in line for promotions, this shows that there may be bias and a lack of consideration when it comes to diversity.

Toxix WorkplaceManagement may not deal with employees who consistently underperform or are not trained properly showing a lack of care for their workforce and also putting pressure on the rest of the team to pick up the slack creating a drain on morale. If your employer is only interested in hitting targets, this can put huge pressure on the employee’s, creating a culture of fear of failure and demand to deliver. Not living up to these expectations can cause high levels of anxiety and stress.

Signs of a toxic workplace

Other indicators you can spot within yourself of a toxic workplace can be;

  • Dreading going to work, feeling ill/tired/stressed when you think of work.
  • A lack of work/life balance even at weekends and on holiday’s or annual leave being expected to drop everything for work.
  • You don’t feel supported or respected.
  • You’re not being allowed to progress.

People go to work in toxic environments every day, oblivious to the signs mentioned above or they convince themselves that this negative work culture is normal. While a high turnover of staff is a big indicator of a poor work environment, people normalising the toxic workplace reduces the number of workers leaving – this creates an illusion of harmony when negativity is bubbling away in the background. The lack of people leaving may even be used by management and HR departments to dismiss any notion of unhappiness amongst employees.

How to survive a toxic workplace

10 signs from your body that you work in a toxic workplace

If you feel you may be in a toxic workplace but the signs don’t seem to be there, listen to your body. There are many physiological signs that can be brought on by negativity at work. If just thinking about work or being at work causes any of the following then it may be time for you to take action;

  • Sweaty palms.
  • Racing heart.
  • Sleepless nights.
  • Feeling anxious or ill.
  • Loss of sex drive.
  • Muscle tension and headaches.
  • Depression and irritability.
  • Trouble concentrating.
  • Social withdrawal.
  • Using drugs & alcohol to cope day to day or to get you through work.

To help reduce the effects of workplace toxicity on your physical and mental health there are many things which you can do in your personal time. Paying attention to your daily habits is a good place to start, ensure you’re eating proper, nutritious meals through the day and leaving yourself enough time to get a good night’s sleep.

Hobbies are also a great way to reduce stress, try exercising or relaxation techniques to help you switch off from work and regroup mentally. Having friends or family there to talk to can make a huge difference and are definitely an outlet you should use.

There may even be co-workers feeling the same as you who you can reach out to for mutual support. The main thing is to ensure you maintain a clear work/life balance, defining boundaries so you can enjoy your time away from work without worries hanging over you.

Coping strategies at work

There are also ways to deal with a toxic workplace while you are there. Little things like planning regular breaks can help reduce stress and leaving the office for lunch can also provide some much-needed mental space.

Make sure you create boundaries, don’t commit to more than you can handle or make yourself available 24/7 to reduce the pressure on you. If you can find colleagues who feel the same as you about the environment , not only does this give you someone to open up to an breed potential friendships, you can also go together to put a complaint in to HR who will be more likely to listen to a group rather than an individual.

If you ever do plan on making a formal complaint, make sure you create a paper trail; save emails, write down issues or comments, anything which can help make your case when making your complaint.

Finally, ensure you have an exit plan if you do not think you will be able to resolve your issues and feel the need to move on. Search for jobs in your spare time, however, while it’s good to have a job to move to, don’t put leaving off if you really cannot be there anymore.

How to survive a toxic workplace

How management can help

Now we are going to shift focus to the other side of the fence, here are some things which employers can do to avoid or improve a toxic workplace. Focus on solutions rather than problems, if something goes wrong don’t look to place blame, help your employees sort things out.

Encourage employees to give their ideas and opinions, this will make them feel valued and respected, levelling the field and creating less of a rift between management and the staff. Make sure to identify lazy or lagging employees and give them the chance to be responsible but if the issues persist do not be afraid to let them go – in the long run this will help to maintain morale. Team building exercises, coaching and training can all help to improve the office culture.

In the end, the main thing for both employers and employees to avoid a toxic workplace is to create a positive culture which encourages open communication and leaves work at work, allowing everyone to decompress and regroup in their own time. Not only will this increase the company’s productivity, it will also enhance the home lives and health of all involved.