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How to Survive in a Toxic Work Environment

Tip # 1. Just leave. Alright everyone, thanks for coming to my Ted Talk. Goodnight!

But seriously, I say that to remind anyone reading that you do have that option. If you’re in an environment that doesn’t respect you, doesn’t value you, doesn’t treat you well, you can and should leave. While in these environments, it can be hard to see a light at the end of the tunnel. The anxiety and fear at the foundation of these workplaces can make you question your self-worth. But I can’t say it enough you don’t have to deal with mistreatment. 

Identifying that you’re in a toxic environment is an important first step before addressing the situation you're in. So, if you've come to that point, you are well on your way. However, for a significant portion of us, being able to leave immediately isn’t always an easy option. 

In the real world, we have a livelihood to maintain. We have responsibilities to ourselves and our loved ones. Searching for and landing a job is time-consuming and emotionally taxing. So, with all of those factors in mind, let’s discuss how we can survive in a toxic culture until we can get out of it. 

Manage Your Expectations

First and foremost, in surviving a toxic environment is adjusting your mindset when you go into work every day. Think about where you are going to work. Are there organizational dysfunctions? Lack of or even worse, abusive communication? No support? Contentiousness? If you're checking off boxes in your head and adding more to the list then, you know what to expect when you go into work every day. 

Therefore, acknowledge and own that this is the environment that you're working in. Don't have the expectation, that this time will be different. Don't have the expectation that out of the blue respect is going to be given, hard work is going to be rewarded and all the toxicity will just melt away. Know your surroundings, set your expectations and mentally reinforce yourself for what you're walking into every day. This way, you won't be surprised and you won't have to deal with the discrepancy between your desire and reality. 

Get Clarity on Your Role and Responsibilities 

A lot of the anxiety in these environments come from blame being unfairly thrown across the room. A hallmark of a toxic culture is when everyone is more interested in assigning blame than actually getting work done. In this scenario where you're just trying to survive the toxic workplace apocalypse, you need to get as much clarity about your role, what you're responsible for and how you're expected to get your work done. 

Avoid ambiguity as much as possible, because often these gray areas are kept active to be used as scapegoats. Your well-being will be greatly improved when you have a focused clarity on what you are meant to deliver. Prioritize getting your manager and their manager aligned on your objectives and the scope of your work and get this in writing. Ensure that you have regular check-ins and status updates of your progress and where you're heading next, always referencing what was agreed on, in writing, for your roles and responsibilities. 

Identify the Landmines and Avoid Them

In a toxic environment, there are areas of the business that are just the worst. These are the stress-inducing, anxiety triggering, definitely going to be a bad day parts of the job. These landmines come in the form of people, processes, and things. 

The employee that has a bad day, every day with the mission of ruining your day. That person is a landmine who should be avoided wherever possible. The same goes for broken processes, often held up by the employee we just chatted about, unless they are functional or mandatory avoid processes that only exist to fuel the fires of conflict. Lastly, things, I remember in a previous job where the free coffee became such an issue, it was nothing short of a sign of rebellion. Make it your goal to actively avoid landmines that don't serve you but are hot buttoned items that will stress you out and waste your time. 

Leverage What You Care About 

Mmmmm, saving the best for last. One of the best parts about knowing you're ultimately going to leave a job is deciding where you will intentionally spend your time. Finding the aspect of your job that you care about, even in a toxic workplace, can provide you with enough engagement to have a developmental experience. 

If flowers can grow in concrete, you are more than capable of finding a handful of aspects to your job that can help to improve your character as a person and your career as an employee. Despite being in a less than ideal environment, it is a behavior and a mindset that is unlikely to go unnoticed. It's also, the kind of mindset that will allow you to survive, if not thrive in the grueling, cold tundra of the toxic working environment. 

Bonus Section 

Like I mentioned in the outset, your best bet is to leave a toxic working environment. I know that one of the hardest parts of leaving any job is taking those first steps. Here is a good place to start, update your cv/resume, reach out to recruiters on LinkedIn and check out Chris Jone's articles. The job-hunting process can be tedious and stressful, but Chris gives practical, useful advice on how to tackle the job market. 

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