When you find yourself trapped in a toxic work environment, your number one priority should be to protect your mental health. If you end up depressed or sick due to the way things are run, fixing things or making your escape will become much more difficult.
The ongoing distress of a work environment where the pervading attitude is overwhelmingly negative, the management is self-interested and incompetent, and/or bullying and cliques are rife, makes you more likely to experience depression. It can leave you physically and emotionally drained in your work and personal life. And all that stress and depression can take its toll on your body.
Once you’ve identified your workplace as toxic, it will be beneficial for you to find some free time to make a plan. Deciding how to cope with things in advance, putting them on paper, makes you feel more in control when under fire.
Your free time is your own, and it’s important to separate it from your work time, especially if your job is getting you down. The simplest way to do this is to literally disconnect: sign-out of email and Slack so that you only see work messages when you’re on the clock. Otherwise, you just end up being drawn in emotionally or even by responding when you should be enjoying your breakfast (and your family if they’re around).
At the very least, leave your smartphone in another room overnight so it’s not the first thing you look at when you wake up.
Getting a positive start to the day will better equip you to handle what work throws at you, too. As the appropriately named productivity expert and coach Ellen Goodwin says, it’s all about getting some ‘wins’ behind you.
“If you wake up [energised], you’re going to carry that energy through the rest of the day,” she says.
A win might be making your bed or making time to read a chapter of a novel before you leave the house. Or it might be doing something nice for your other half. Anything that illustrates that you have control over your life will strengthen your mind before you head to work.
At the workplace
A toxic workplace is primarily caused by one thing: people. Negative people or those that default to conflict can very quickly bring down an entire room. If there’s someone in particular like this, slowly begin distancing them from you.
And don’t forget the positive counterpoint to this: people are also good. Amazing, even. So put even more work into getting to know the positive, supportive workers around you, and they will give you the strength to prevail against the emotional vampires.
Do what you can to be the kind of colleague you’d like to have. Be supportive of those who deserve your support, and work towards developing your own skills and experience to build your confidence and your prospects.
Okay, so it’s a relief to be back in the personal zone, but that doesn’t mean relax! It can be all too easy for your mind to get drawn back into the toxic workplace if you don’t give it something else to work on. See friends, get some exercise, try some hobbies, and don’t forget to look after your body by eating well and pampering yourself. Your body will repay your mind with endorphins and maybe even a little clarity.
And once you’re feeling stronger and clearer, you can start working on the next stage: how to escape or how to improve your toxic workplace.