7 Ways to Cope with Toxic Workplaces

Toxic work places – it’s pretty clear isn’t it, a place of work that poisons you for a multitude of reasons. In a lifetime of work it’s a safe bet you’ll end up in at least one along the way. But the smart person only makes the mistake once.

One man’s freedom fighter is another man’s terrorist, and so one man’s meat is another’s poison. Thus it follows that what may be toxic for you at work may not be for others. Just as we, as workers, come in varied shapes, attitudes, experiences, ethical beliefs, so do work places. Yes, it’s obvious but worth stating. You may be suffering at work, find it poisonous but your colleagues may not.

Before you lose your cool entirely, it’s worth doing a reality check. Do others feel like you about the boss, the structures, the ethos and management? If so, it tells you it’s not just you, but that fact may not make any difference in the end. That will depend on the size of your work-place and/or its willingness to change.

If it is just you, then you must radically re-think your future. Staying in a toxic environment is no good to your health, your wellbeing, your friends or family or anything in your wider life. It also impairs your ability to work effectively and eventually you will be fired.

Even if it’s not just you, a toxic work place is corrosive and we all have different levels of resilience. Some people thrive in antagonistic places, seeming to grow and glimmer in the light of the latest idiocy from up the food chain, moving from (and often causing) one near disaster to another without attracting a spec of dirt. You, on the other hand, suffer. You can’t cope with the idiocy, the hypocrisy, the incompetence: the blame game and the lies.

What can you do? Your options are limited and will depend on your wider circumstances and obligations.

1.Shift your headspace. Stop taking it seriously; still do your job to the best of your ability but stop taking to heart, or personally a lot of what goes on.

2.Spend time with like-minded colleagues laughing at the idiocy. Have lunch together, a drink after work Not being isolated will help you cope.

3.Think about why you are at work – is it your whole life, is there nothing else of meaning? If so, you must get out as soon as you can because you will go insane. If work is just a part of your life, and there are good things in your life then you can cope for a while, have some perspective, but still have an exit strategy.

4.Accept that you can’t change the ethos and culture of your work-place unless you are in a senior position and supported to do so. This acceptance will help your head-space too.

5.Move on. But do so sensibly; it’s no good doing some grand theatrics that leave you sacked or quitting with nowhere to go. It’s a brutal world out there and you need to keep the wolf from the door as the winds howl and the rain buckets from the sky. Be strategic, look for work, get a new job and then resign.

6.If you can’t move (for family or financial reasons) then cover all your bases: keep notes, keep on top of all aspects of your job; find safe ways of coping, make sure you have a release elsewhere – take up boxing or long distance swimming to exhume the stress and tension. Don’t turn to alcohol and drugs – they’ll just make matters far worse.

7.Don’t badmouth your employer too often or in public (and definitely not on FB). It will come back to haunt you and remember the work place may be toxic but not everyone in it is. You don’t want to tar them all with the same disdain and contempt you feel for the overall organisation. And you might want a reference (one day…)

Work is a part of life and the trick is to make it look easy, to find a job that fills your heart with joy and meaning. Failing that, you want to wake up in the morning without feelings of dread or fear. We spend a lot of time at work, so we can’t afford to spend the greater part of our life being poisoned.

Look after yourself, know your own value and find a place where you can fulfil your vast potential. Know that the only power you have is over yourself and the only person who can rescue you, is you. Refuse to be poisoned, move on wisely and expeditiously.


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