How to Survive a Toxic Workplace
Have you ever walked into a workplace and felt as if all of the atmosphere has been sucked out? Do you censor what you say for fear of the consequences of speaking openly and honestly? Do you dread your performance review for fear that negative feedback will be levelled at you, catching you off guard and leaving you bewildered? Are you worried that your boss, or a colleague will belittle you (again) in front of your colleagues?
Working in a business that is toxic is exhausting, destroys your confidence and the negative impacts often leak into home life too. I once worked in a place so toxic I literally left one Thursday afternoon and never went back (I did put a resignation note through the door) and I worked in another business where a new employee went to lunch one day and never returned – it was only when he had been gone more than two hours that colleagues started to look on his desk only to find a note tucked under his keypad, saying he would not be returning!
Hopefully you never have and never will experience a truly toxic workplace, but should you ever fear you have stumbled into one, here are a few of the signs to look out for:
Lack of respect
Respect is a basic – if colleagues are disrespectful to each other at any level (especially from leadership levels down the organisation) this could be a sign that the organisation is toxic. How disrespect is handled is another clue – if it is challenged and stopped and seems like an isolated incident there is a good chance the organisation is on the right path. If it is condoned and seems more commonplace, there is a good chance you need to be planning your exit fast.
Lack of trust
Closely linked to respect, trust is vital in a high performing organisation. Where trust is lacking you will often see blame culture, gossip, back biting and most worryingly people hiding when things go wrong for fear of the consequences. It can be as simple as feeling like you can’t speak openly and honestly for fear of the response you get, but lack of trust can leave you feeling anxious, insecure and questioning your own integrity.
If you often find yourself feeling unwell and notice that colleagues complain of the same, or are often off sick, this is another indicator that a workplace is not healthy. When we feel good our immune system is boosted and we are less likely to pick up bugs and suffer aches and pains. A toxic workplace will undermine our immune system and leave us feeling fatigued and unwell.
Lack of clarity
If you find your work is often ill defined, the goal posts are constantly moving and you are having conflicting demands made on your time, the organisation is not in a good place. A positive organisation has a vision and values aligned to that vision and all activity should, at some level, contribute to achieving the vision. If the vision and values are ill defined, or people have not signed up to them, confusion will be rife and the environment will quickly turn toxic.
How to survive a toxic organisation
In short, the best way to survive is to get out with as much confidence intact as you possibly can. In a large organisation with many sites you may find that you can move elsewhere to an area with a more positive culture, but often it is the whole organisation that is toxic and your best bet is to remove yourself from it completely. In the meantime, focus on getting as much work-life balance as you can, spend time with friends who are supportive and positive, eat well, exercise and sleep well. This might seem like minor stuff, but it will help you stay resilient until you can find the right workplace for you.