Top 5 Things to Do in a Toxic Workplace

By Marcelo Rodríguez

No one deserves to work in a toxic environment. No one deserves to work in an invalidating, gaslighting, and disrespectful environment. I believe these are statements which we can all agree on. However, toxic working environments are quite common and a significant amount of people go through them sometimes not only once or twice, but multiple times in their careers. And yet, despite the fact that there are prevalent, we never really seem to learn and even worse we move on to other positions or places and we might even replicate the same toxic patterns.

If you have found yourself in a toxic working environment, let me give you my top 5 tips on how to survive and eventually thrive into your true self. Hopefully, these five tips will help you lift yourself up from the same old “it is what it is” and help you find the tools you need to survive and eventually thrive.

  • Pay attention and closely observe the patterns in these toxic environments. When and where are the invalidations happening? Is it a group of people or one person in particular surrounded by a group of enablers? What events trigger the pervasive environment? You need to become a detective or anthropologist and closely observe what’s happening around you. This will help you spot the patterns around the most toxic elements and events in your environment. Most importantly, you want to pay attention at where you are located in this chain. Are you the only target of the toxic environment? Are you sometimes also one of the enablers? Do you also contribute to the toxic environments in how you treat your subordinates or others around you? How do you react to these patterns? These observations will help you have a clear picture of what is really happening and where are you in that dynamic.
Photo by Chirag Saini on Unsplash
  • Do not forget to do your work to the best of your abilities. Despite the immense psychological and emotional pressure you might be going through, you need to keep track of the work you are producing. Unfortunately, a lot of human resources and talent departments only rely on tangible and quantifiable elements to deal with any situation. If you stop doing your work, you might end up being the problem at the end of the day, instead of the toxic environment which was never conducive to work in the first place. Practice mindfulness, yoga and being kind to yourself in different and multiple ways, specially when you’re not at work. This will help you recharge and regain the energy you need to do the work you are tasked with.  
  • Look for external resources and allies. Nowadays, a lot of institutions, companies and groups have had to come up with resources related to toxicity at work. Some places even allow for confidential sessions, in case it’s needed. However, the most important part of this tip is the word “external”. Think outside the box and look for resources and allies in professional organizations, local groups in your community or even previous work/academic circles. These groups will help you strategize your next steps, network with new colleagues and potential recruiters and imagine a way out. Please also consider getting mental help in the form of a therapist or counselor to help you navigate these toxic environments.
  • Start looking for a new job based on what you have just learned. The reality is that sooner or later you might have to consider leaving your current toxic environment. You might hesitate because you’re probably thinking that you will have to start from scratch all over again. Let me tell you something, that is simply NOT true. Not only it’s not true, it’s also what your current toxic environment wants you to believe. When you are looking for a new job, think about what you are currently going through. Write down two lists, one column for things you won’t accept in a working environment and another column for the things you seek in your ideal working scenario. This list will help you visualize exactly what you’re looking for and evaluate the new opportunities that will show up. Once you begin interviewing, consider asking questions related to your list, and also reach out to people who have worked in this place before. Paying attention to patterns and red flags begins at the interview.
  • Learn from the trauma and lift other people up. This is a crucial step if you want thrive after surviving a toxic working environment. Build on that same list you wrote before, and think about how you can impact in your new working environment. Do not ruminate or become vindictive, but neither ignore or discard the valuable lessons of the experience you just went through. Learn to face your trauma and reframe the narrative of what happened. The facts don’t change. However, you can grow and thrive when you learn to be kind to yourself, and see the value and power in lifting other people up.

Notes Between Us (NBU) is a blog about conversations and topics of interest to the writers. The writers are expressing their personal opinions solely. Their essays represent their personal beliefs and not that of their workplaces or any organization they are associated with.