Finding positivity in a toxic work environment

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If you have made it any length of time in your career and never found yourself in that unfortunate “stuck” place of a toxic work environment, consider yourself lucky. Most of us have been in this position at least once.

It is extremely difficult to stay positive in these situations. When you are surrounded by negativity, being led by a leadership team that does not have anyone’s best interest at heart, and feeling like you’re failing on a daily basis. Toxic work environments can have lasting impacts on us and not in a good way.

Things that make an environment toxic can be anything from poor management, gossip, unreasonable expectations, disrespect, dishonesty, lack of boundaries, favoritism or even just lack of transparency.

These are things that drain you, so even if you wake up excited to perform your actual job duties, by lunch you’re run down by these other factors. If you find yourself in this space though, how do you manage to keep your head above water?

Don’t get caught up in it. I know it sounds easy and coming from someone who has experienced this environment, it’s very difficult to do. Create a sounding board for yourself. Find someone at work or someone you trust outside of work to keep you grounded.

Be careful here, this is not a place for you to come and complain, further perpetuating gossip or negativity. Whoever you confide in should be someone who can help you focus on the things you still need to grow.

My most recent experience with this was a coach I had who asked me, “What do I need for me?” when I would get caught up in complaining about my frustrations. She would allow me a few minutes to get things off my chest and then she would redirect back to what I needed to be able to be working on my goals.

The best thing you can do for your own sanity, as well as contribute to a more positive work environment in the future, is not to play it.

If my personal and professional focus for myself was developing my team, she would ask me what specifically I had done that week to that end and what my action steps were going to be in the week coming up as well. That redirect kept my attention pointed in the right direction.

Instead of succumbing to everything I felt was awful around me, she kept me focused on:

  1. The things I could control.
  2. The things I had actually stated that I wanted for my own personal growth.

This redirect is something you will need to practice as well. In a toxic work environment, typically everyone is prone to gossip and negativity. You will undoubtedly be approached at some point by someone who is looking to spread more of that toxicity around all in the name of just “getting things off their chest.” Toxicity is contagious in that way.

The best thing you can do for your own sanity, as well as contribute to a more positive work environment in the future, is not to play it. It is easy to just slip in conversation because we want to feel liked and included and not create more opportunities for someone to feel combative with us. 

But, you can use the redirect yourself. If someone approaches you with negativity and gossip, one of the best things you can do is simply ask how they plan to handle the situation themselves. Be kind, don’t play into derogatory comments about anyone else, or even the company you work for.

If someone refuses to look at potential positive solutions to their complaints, just simply let them know that you’re not interested in talking about it further but you’re happy to help them brainstorm some positive next steps when they’re ready.

Ultimately, you have to maintain your boundaries. Keep a close eye on maintaining your own work-life balance. The worst thing you can do in a toxic environment is spend more time than is necessary.

You will be expending extra energy during work hours to maintain your sense of peace, you will need time to “refill your cup” outside of work. And don’t feel guilty about starting your job search. If there isn’t light at the end of the tunnel, it is time to brush the dust off your resume and consider what’s best for you long term.

Our work lives are meant to be fulfilling, not necessarily cupcakes and butterflies every day, but certainly not meant to drain us of passion and commitment.

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