Are you ready for an alarming statistic? Over 75%. of US workers and more than half of UK workers have experienced bullying in the workplace. That means that we all know someone who is dealing with the emotional, physical, and mental stress that often accompanies working in a toxic environment.
I have been so lucky for the better part of my career in that I have worked for highly successful people who let me earn their trust and allowed me the space to create strategies, materials, and content that honored the brand but also had my own thumbprint on them.
Working for these leaders wasn’t always perfect, but it was always respectful and was part of the reason I would wake up and face the day inspired and with an enthusiastic spirit.
Looking back, I remember working on weekends and staying late at Preston Bailey’s Manhattan office because I found my work so much fun and my team so collaborative and friendly. There was a family-feel in the PB offices that, I believe, had Preston’s belief to “hire people who are smarter than you at something and let them do their jobs.” We all felt as though our expertise was valued and nurtured, which helped us to avoid toxic competition and encouraged real collaboration without having our egos rear their ugly heads.
That said, I have also worked in environments where the opposite was true. Bosses who micromanaged and pitted employees against one another, bullies who undermined others, chaos due to lack of process, attention-seeking colleagues who had convinced themselves they needed to execute Gordon Gekko-style strategies to “get ahead.” This kind of energy infects the whole team, and even the hardest working and kindest in the company would eventually collapse in submission. You can’t force your soul to drink poison every day and expect to remain healthy.
Not only are these environments toxic, but they are also needlessly exhausting, and they infect all areas of your life. Suddenly, your well-rested mornings are a thing of the past, and days begin with a moan and end with the misery of knowing you have to wake up and do it all again tomorrow. I once worked for a boss and with a team so negative that I would wake up dreading Monday on Saturday mornings.
While many articles will tell you to leave (and this one will too), that’s not always possible to do immediately. If this sounds familiar, I want to remind you that your value and skills are not defined by others, and no one has the right to demean or disrespect you, especially at work. Here are a few things to help you navigate until you can make your move.
1. Keep Notes
If your workplace turns a blind eye to a condescending boss, bullying, or blatant mistreatment, that doesn’t mean that you need to. Write everything down with dates and times and stick up for yourself every single time someone crosses the line. When someone makes an inappropriate comment or speaks to you in an unprofessional tone, ask “What do you mean by that?” and “Why are you speaking to me this way? We are colleagues and you are at work.”
2. Depersonalize The Situation
While it’s nice to be friends (or even just friendly) with colleagues and your boss, the reality is that you’re not going to vibe with every person you work with. This can be a good thing when you work in a toxic environment. The more you steer clear of personal chat and recognize that your boss is just a person who is paid to manage you (and not your parent or someone who has authority anywhere else in your life), the more you’ll be able to keep things in perspective.
3. Stay Close To Your Values
Trying to maintain your dignity and do the right thing while working with sneaky, lazy, or otherwise unsavory people can be stressful, and it’s tempting to throw in the towel and start behaving badly yourself. Don’t.
The one thing that will pull you through any situation is an ironclad reputation and grace, intelligence, respect (for yourself and others), and a commitment to excellent work are all virtues that make you untouchable.
4. Remember Who You Are
This one is a biggie. Working in an environment where you are constantly devalued can wreak havoc on your self-esteem, leaving you with a warped sense of your abilities and skills. Make sure that you protect yourself as much as possible by investing in your skills and reinforcing your expertise outside of the office. Whether volunteering, taking classes, speaking on panels, attending workshops, or joining a local industry-related meet-up, engage in behaviors that consistently remind you of the fierce, smart, creative, and capable person you are. This will ensure you’re polished when you get that dream job interview that will be your key out of where you are!
Signs Of A Toxic Workplace
You feel bullied or belittle
There’s no sense of structure
Anyone in the office is yelled at or spoken to in a disrespectful tone
There is a lack of transparency and a high level of secrecy
You feel you are being “set up to fail”
Everyone seems miserable or has a bad attitude
People are pitted against one another
Your deliverables are unreasonable
The goal post is constantly changing
Your company does not follow through on promises
You’re not given room to grow or develop
You constantly feel you need to defend your work/position
You feel run-down, sick or depressed as a result of your work environment