Do you dread walking into work in the morning? You might not dislike your actual job, but the culture or environment of your workplace itself. Unfortunately, toxic work environments are all too common and they can be difficult to handle. You’ve got an inbox full of real work to do, and yet, you spend much of your time at work worrying about a negative boss or a colleague who always blames others.
If you’re stuck in a bad situation, there are some strategic ways to handle it. If you’re interviewing, it’s a good idea to stay on alert for toxic workplaces so you do your best to avoid getting roped in.
“Everybody has a terrible workplace story. May it be micro-managers or owners that are temperamental, the examples of poor business leaders are endless,” says Steve Farber, president of Extreme Leadership, Inc. While it may not be in your best interest to discuss the environment with colleagues while you are physically in the office, it can be helpful to talk to others who are experiencing similar situations. Find out how your friends and mentors utilize healthy coping strategies in their own workplaces, and evaluate which strategies work for your personality and situation. When it comes to talking to your own colleagues about employers and bosses, remember that it’s best to do it over coffee or a drink, and to leave the conversations outside the workplace. You don’t want to add fuel to the fire.
When you work in a toxic environment, your work may be called into question, you may feel like you are blindsided by sudden deadlines or expectations, or you may simply receive nasty or unprofessional emails. To combat this, begin to rely on written communications to back you up. If your boss says they want reports on their desk by 5 p.m. Friday, follow up with an email confirming when you’ll have the completed reports. This way, when Wednesday rolls around and suddenly the reports are “late,” you’ll have an email chain as opposed to an offhand remark to back you up. Further, you can jot down notes about toxic situations as they unfold. Farber encourages employees to “document what is happening, and try to meet in person with their boss or HR to go over any concerns, or continue on their path to professional growth and search for a healthier work environment elsewhere.”
When you’re interviewing for a job, remember that it’s not just about you – it’s about them too! It’s important to create a non-negotiable list of the things that are most important for you when it comes to your new job. Keep this list in mind while interviewing to evaluate before, after and during your interview. Emily Merrell, founder of Six Degrees Society, says, “How badly do you want to work from home on Fridays? Is this a culture where they offer training or are you thrown right in? I would also grab a coffee and talk to previous employees of the company and ask them about their experience there and why they left.” Former employees will be free to speak more candidly about their experiences, giving you a good indication of what the culture is like.
“A toxic workplace can bring teamwork to a grinding halt, jeopardizing goals, affecting employee retention, and potentially become an enormous liability,” says Farber. “Some clear signs include not listening to their employees, constantly blaming others when things go wrong, focusing on the negative, and not setting goals or providing enough instruction to their team.” If these things drive you crazy, it may be time to think about moving on, especially if your health is at stake. A toxic environment can hurt your morale but also your health, and if you’ve noticed that you’re grinding your teeth, clenching your jaw, or getting stress headaches at work, it’s probably not worth staying. Move on to a company or organization that values your contributions and treats you fairly.