How To Thrive In A Toxic Work Environment


Thrive In A Toxic Workplace

One of the things that I do in the course of my work is to restructure Human Resources departments, upgrade the performance of Employee Relations and Compliance professionals, Resolve Conflicts, review and use HR analytics, and do all that is required to make these (and related) departments provide measurable financial returns and growth for the organization and employees.

In the course of my job, I am sometimes hired in to work with very toxic executives, and/or within incredibly toxic environments. I thrive on the challenge of making these organizations become healthy and profitable for all, so it is a great fit for me. Within the toxic organizations, some employees, despite the chaos and unhealthy culture, thrive and remain happy and optimistic. Conversely, some employees fall apart in such environments. In some instances they fall ill, get depressed and are perennially sad. It is important to note that over time, toxic environments, for the most part, have a very negative effect on most employees, and affect the organization as a whole, negatively.

Over the past 15-years, we have documented many of the methods used by individuals that continue to thrive despite the utter toxicity in their workplace. We have listed three successful guidelines for thriving in a toxic environment:

1. Create an Exit Plan first. Keep learning new courses, participating in different projects, and staying current and engaged in your profession. Continue to bolster your resume, and stay active in professional organizations within your field. In addition, stay connected virtually and in person with individuals within your area of expertise as you continue to work on your exit plan. Your exit plan is needed for your psychological health. The knowledge that you created, and continue to create strategies and viable options to enable you leave the toxic environment reduces your anxiety, and provides you with confidence even as you work within such toxicity.

2. Whether you are an executive or not, you can be a part of the solution. Being a part of the solution will enable you feel less helpless and more in control. Create your safe zone in which you can craft your work to the best extent that you can, in a manner that works for you. Seek out interesting projects to work on, and take care of your physical and mental health. Avoid the naysayers and those that constantly remind you of the “horror” you are enduring. If the conversations about a toxic manager or your toxic environment are not solution based, do not participate in it. You are doing yourself no favors being a part of such discussions, as they create a greater feeling of desperation and helplessness. Discuss solutions and not the problem.

3. Determine if you are a part of the problem, and if your are, change your attitude. I once worked with a very senior executive, a Chief Operations Officer, who spent a lot of her time sharing intimate information about her supervisors and subordinates with us. She was very saddened, at least according to her, that the organization was full of disengaged staff, and was failing financially. Yet she was a major contributor to the continued chaos and instability within the company. She worked with us on some projects and discussed employees lives with disregard, shared damaging, defamatory and destructive information, and all the time when cautioned, insisted that she was just giving us a “heads up”– she was not.

This very senior executive promoted and encouraged an environment of gossiping and infighting within her rank and below. The executive team was a mirror of her conduct; gossiping, maligning and undervaluing employees was an integral part of their mode of operation. They were destroying the very employees they sought to engage. Once we identified this executive was the primary driver of this toxic and odoriferous culture, we set about changing her conduct, and that of the other senior executives. The good news is that with coaching and training, today, she has limited her gossiping, and the culture of virulent backbiting, gossiping and disengagement has been largely limited, as the organization continues to try to build its trust among its employees.

There are many other ways of surviving in a toxic environment. However, the most critical of these methods lie within YOU. You must daily resolve not to become a part of that culture. Once you recognize that you have been hired within a toxic and damaging organization, accelerate all your self awareness and self efficacy abilities. You have to be true to yourself, and preserve your mind so it does not become sullied by the stench and ravages of corporate dysfunction.

Do not subject yourself to more than two years of working within such environments, if nothing changes for the better.¬† After two years, we have found that employees begin to accept this very low quality of their work life as their new normal, and many become despondent, or full of loathing for their jobs. You deserve a good and happy work life. Over the years, I have lost count of people whose health and lives improved “magically” once they left the toxic environments and started work in more functional environments.

Your life and time should be spent in an environment in which you are valued, and with people with whom you share similar professional goals. A functional environment should be paramount on your mind when interviewing for a job. You deserve the best life you can possibly get for you. Don’t waste too much of your life fighting toxicity. If things change, be a part of it. If things don’t change despite your efforts, and you have tried your best, be courageous, make plans and leave. You can live a happy life. Do it.

I wish you well.


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