Keeping Your Sanity Amid a Toxic Work Environment

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Let’s face it. The notion of “working in a toxic environment” could pretty much apply to anyone – to some extent or another. We all have irritating coworkers, clients, or bosses – possibly all three – that add unneeded stress to our daily lives. We have little control over that. But we can control our reactions. We can control to what extent we allow these negative forces to influence us, our mood, our decision, and our overall well-being.

In this short article, we will take a look at some common factors that contribute to a toxic work and environment and some common sense practices we can incorporate into our daily life that will help us survive a toxic workplace.

When Work Intrudes on Your Personal Space

Going from “unpleasant” to “toxic” is often a matter of containment. If the work environment is not a pleasure to be in but we are able to leave it behind us once we leave, then this work situation could be called unpleasant. However, once the unpleasantness follows us home – it seeps into our lives when we’re not at work – then we can say that the situation has turned toxic. Now, we have a problem.

Set Reasonable Boundaries, and Enforce Them

With a few exceptions, it is not reasonable for an employer to be able to contact their employee at any given hour on any given day. Some companies that provide their workers with company phones and company notepads or laptops might be under the false impression that this means they can contact their employees through those devices at any time. 

It is a good idea to clarify when and how you can be contacted when you are not at work. Set boundaries, make them clear and reasonable, make them known, and insist they be respected.

Don’t Bring it Home

One good way to bring your work home is by bringing home your workplace devices, such as a phone, notepad, or laptop. Ideally, anything that is work-related you will want to keep, physically, at work. 

The temptation to log in and do a little bit of work – the finishing touches on a project – might be too great to resist. While this may not be a bad thing when looked at as an isolated occurrence, once it’s happened, the tendency is for upper management to develop an expectation that the positive occurrence is repeated. It doesn’t take more than 1 breach in your boundaries for them to come crumbling down.

Beyond the temptation to get a bit of work done at home when you bring home your work devices, the simple sight of them will make it more difficult for you to make a mental separation between your work and non-work environments.

When They Get Under Your Skin

Of course, the expression “bring your work home with you” doesn’t have to pertain exclusively to the work itself. In many instances that expression is used to bring home the negative or toxic influences, you are confronted with at work – bad coworkers, a narcissistic boss, rude customers, or clients.

To avoid these negative influences from following you home, you will need to find a healthy coping mechanism. Physical exercise or sports has been shown to relieve stress. It’s not only good for the body but also for the mind.

Talking things out – or venting – with a supportive friend or significant other can be helpful at times. But be careful with this as a coping mechanism. When you talk about work outside of work that is a good way of bringing the work and its influences with you. Keep your venting session as short as possible. It’s best, when venting, that you get it all out of your system, move on, and never look back.

When the Workspace Itself Becomes Unbearable

You may very well be great at keeping your work and your private life separate. That’s important and not all that easy to achieve. However, it may not be enough if the workspace itself becomes too toxic to manage even in short doses.

Kow Your Limits… and Your Options

image by Michael Dziedzic

We need to be honest. In most instances, our limits of what we can tolerate are largely based on the options available to us. We’re far less likely to tolerate poor quality and poor service from a restaurant when there are dozens of other restaurants nearby for us to choose from. Beggars can’t be choosers. And likewise, if you’re not begging, be as choosy as you want to be.

There are things you should not tolerate – racism, sexism, dishonesty, etc. – however, often reality does not respect this right of ours. When a work environment begins showing signs of toxicity, it’s best to take preemptive actions. One of these actions should be to explore your options of finding a new and better workplace. A job search can take time. So, it is better to er on the side of caution and explore what job options you have even before you are sure you need to leave your current situation.

The Takeaway

We may not have complete control over what others decide to do to us. But we can control to what extent we allow this to bother us. Set boundaries. Try not to bring your work home with you – both in its physical or literal form and in the negative influences from work you allow to permeate your private or social life.

Keep your options open. Don’t wait until it’s too late. At an early stage, explore what other jobs may be available to you and set the limits of what you’re willing to tolerate accordingly.


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