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Written by Rolf BaxRolf Bax

How to deal with a toxic work environment (according to science)

7 min read
How to deal with a toxic work environment
Does the thought of work stress you out? Do you feel depressed or overwhelmed while you're there? Do you have a hard time disconnecting yourself from your job when at home? If you answered "yes" to these questions, you may be working in a toxic environment.

A toxic work environment is one in which bad management and negative attitudes leave you tired, depressed, or ill.

Of course, some of us feel like this after a tough day at work anyway – particularly if you don’t like your job. But workplace toxicity is directly related to your professional surroundings rather than your individual circumstances. If your office is cliquey or gossipy, you witness bullying or a general lack of trust, or your colleagues’ ideas and good work tend to get disregarded, it’s fair to say your work environment is toxic.

While the word ‘toxic’ gets bandied around in all sorts of contexts these days, in the case of a harmful work environment its use is pretty accurate. A toxic workplace can make you sick. The stressful atmosphere can raise your cortisol levels, putting you in danger of a heart attack or stroke. It impairs your ability to work to your full potential. And over time, the daily attrition of battling to get by in a toxic workplace is likely to lead to depression.

First and foremost it may be time to consider whether or not you should quit your job. If you don’t have the luxury of being able to quit, you can at least make things more comfortable while you work on improving the situation. Start with your own mental health. Draw a clear line between work and personal time: keep yourself busy and active on your time off, and take note of the positives (achievements, friends, and opportunities) while in the office.

Then look around and see if you have any way of improving conditions at work. Gradually reduce your encounters with energy-suckers if you can, and try building friendships with those who seem more positive. You can become more positive by keeping a tidy, pleasant workspace – this will give you a sense of control and make it easier to reframe difficult moments as learning experiences.

Finally, while you may be able to see this troubled period through, or even improve conditions, there’s always the chance that things will come to a head with a professional dispute. Be prepared. Once you’ve identified your workplace as toxic, keep a private but objective diary of the negative and positive encounters that occur each day. It could prove to be essential evidence later on.

When the going gets tough, it’s not always easy to remain calm and figure out if the problem is with you or with your workplace. So we’ve created a new guide on how to deal with a toxic work environment – and it begins with a guide to analyzing the problem.

Some toxic work environments can’t be fixed. But figuring out how to prevent a bad work situation from disrupting the rest of your life makes all the difference until your escape plan comes through.

Expert tip

Once you've decided on your exit strategy don't forget to create a winning resume

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