Although the term “toxic work environment” is common-place in conversations these days, trying to nail down a concrete definition of what that means is next to impossible.
A toxic work environment can make you feel less motivated, depressed, and even physically sick. This can be caused by many different combinations of harmful conditions like unsupportive or unreliable coworkers, dictator-like leadership, soul-crushing expectations, or even highschool-esque gossip mills.
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Does the thought of work stress you out?
Do you feel depressed or overwhelmed while you're there?
Do you have a hard time disconnecting yourself from your job when at home?
Answering yes to any of these questions might be a sign that you are, in fact, in a toxic work environment.
Distinguishing whether you are actually in a toxic work environment or if you are just unhappy with your job in general may not be easy. Being dissatisfied with your job doesn’t necessarily mean the company itself is toxic; it may just be a poor fit for you.
And what if it’s not you and it’s the company itself? You have two basic options. Deal with it, or get yourself the heck out of dodge.
How to cope with a toxic work environment
“Just deal with it” may not sound like the best advice, but it may not always be an option to up and leave your job.
Fortunately, there are ways you can make the best of a bad situation.
You may be able to make it comfortable for you to stay by making some simple changes or maybe you just make it comfortable enough until you have your exit strategy in place.
Work-life balance separation
When you work in a toxic environment, it tends to bring itself home with you (this can be even worse if you work from home).
Setting distinct boundaries between working hours and personal time can help you reclaim some much needed space from your job.
Here are some quick ways to disengage from work when you need to:
Do NOT check your email - This goes for all forms of communication. Checking in on work pulls your head right back into the workplace. Let your team know your boundaries that you will be available during working time and will be offline outside of that.
Take a shower or bath when you get home - Wash the day off you —literally. Not only is this a symbolic and relaxing act of self care to help you unwind, but it can also help you lower your blood pressure!
Exercise or do some other hobby after work - Getting active or physically doing something is a great way to change your focus. It’s hard to stay fixated on work problems when your concentrated on a physical activity.
Meditate - Spending even as little as 5 minutes a day meditating is a great way to reset your focus and let you enjoy the rest of your day without ruminating on stressors from work.
Reframing your workspace
So your work environment may not be all you envisioned it to be, but there are still some ways you can adjust to make it a bit better for yourself.
Here are some ways you can reshape the space around you:
Create space from toxic coworkers - Sometimes a toxic work space stems from bad coworkers. Distancing yourself from those people (when appropriate) can help you remove some of the negativity around you.
Seek out positive coworkers - Finding people who are actively making the best of a situation or regularly look to bring positivity to a situation is a sure fire way to help bring your own mood up.
Spark joy in your workspace - Take a page from Marie Kondo’s book and declutter your office or desk and bring in more of what makes you smile. Maybe it’s a live plant or a picture of your dog, but just having something there that makes you happier can help elevate your mood.
Focus on YOU - Working on improving yourself and your skills not only will help you feel better, but will also help you if the time comes for a graceful exit.
If you’ve tried to make the best of the situation and things still don’t seem to be shaping up, it’s probably time to move on.
Focus some of your energy to work on your resume and interview skills. Even the process of doing this will relieve some of your stress with the promise of what brighter and better things might be on the horizon.