There’s not many things that suck worse that showing up every day to a job you hate. Few things can cause you stress like having to show up every day to a soul crushing, dead-end job with coworkers you can’t stand and a boss you wish you could hit with a brick. During your off time you may feel physically and mentally and even spiritually drained. On your days off all you can think about is work and the thought of going back is filling you with a sense of absolute dread and despair. If you can relate to this, then perhaps you work in a toxic work environment.
One part of your mind may be telling you to walk away, say “fck this bullsht,” give your boss the middle finger and walkout while you still have some semblance of your sanity intact. On the other hand, another part of your mind is saying, “oh no you don’t! You can’t leave because you got kids to feed, bills to pay and a mortgage.” So what do you do?
As with anything in life you have to arm yourself with knowledge, a game plan and strategies in order to make this thing we call work, work for you. You need to know how to keep your mental health intact, stay positive and survive at your workplace long enough for either things to change for the better or, if not, until you find another job.
Below are 23 strategies to survive and stay positive in a toxic, negative work environment, I sincerely hope they are helpful for you:
1.) Do your job
First and foremost, the most essential piece of advice for surviving in any workplace, toxic or not is this; DO. YOUR. JOB! All the other advice in this blog post doesn’t much matter if you’re not doing what you’re supposed to – getting stuff done. Do what you’re supposed to, when you are supposed to and how they want you to do it.
I know performing your job can be tough in a toxic, negative work environment, but if you want to survive, and make things at least a little less toxic for yourself, then show up on time, do what you’re supposed to and shut up. If a large part of your toxic workplace is due to a bad boss, doing your job should keep him/her off your back (at least a little bit) and it will make it harder for them to get rid of you. Don’t give them any rope to hang you.
You can’t look at it from the perspective of, “oh, this place stinks. My boss is a real live asshole and besides, I see many of my co-workers slacking off, so why not me?” Wrong attitude! Keep in mind that one benefit of doing your job and doing it well is that perhaps your hard work could get noticed by your boss’s boss or someone else in the company, and you my even get a promotion and a chance to leave that department or area of the company that’s toxic – or maybe not. Still, just do you job.
Remember, doing your job and doing it well buys you time because, if the crappy workplace does not get any better, you have to survive long enough move on to a better job.
2.) Keep your boss in the loop as much as you can
Bosses like being kept informed. Your boss may be a jerk, not worthy of the job but be that as it may you should let him know what you’re up to, what, if any, problems you’re experiencing and any questions you might have. Depending on what kind of boss you have, it might be wise to limit your contact with him or her, but it might take some time to know when you should or shouldn’t be bothered.
You may have a boss that doesn’t want to be bothered and will view any interruption as an annoyance and he may even lash out at you in which case you need to set your boundaries (see #3 below). If that’s the type manager or supervisor you answer to then make sure you only contact them unless absolutely necessary. On the other hand, you might have a different kind of boss and keeping them in the loop may cause them to view you as a great employee, one less employee for them to worry about and therefore he or she might not come by your office or work station as much, and not having that toxic boss breathing down your neck will mean less stress for you.
Another thing you have to consider, should you be doubtful about whether or not to keep your boss informed is that by doing so, it will help protect you from future blame. If something at job goes south, your manager may be looking for someone’s head to put on a platter and if you can say to the boss, “I sent you an email a few days ago about the problems we are experiencing with X, Y and Z. . .” then your boss may very well think twice about hanging the blame on you and then look for someone else to make an example out of.
3.) Set your boundaries
Setting boundaries at the job means two things; a) What kind of behavior you won’t put up with, no matter what, and b) How far you’re willing to go, or sacrifice, for the job.
a) Early on if possible, you have to establish with your co-workers, and especially with your boss, what type of treatment you will accept from them. If you have a boss that frequently yells at you, demeans and degrades you then it is time to call it out and demand that they treat you with respect. If he won’t then escalate it to his boss and/or the Human Resource (HR) department.
Escalating this might put a target on your back but on the other hand, the boss might think twice about treating you poorly again. Remember, if you are not assertive (see #4 below) and don’t stand up for yourself and stop abusive behavior, you’re telling your boss and your co-workers that this OK and it will only continue and maybe get worse.
b) You have to set boundaries on how far your will go for the company. Some companies will push you or guilt trip you into working your days off. Or, your manager might call you at home to bother you with stupid questions or demand that you work from home, or come to the office at the last minute, even though if it is your day off. If it’s established, mandatory company policy to do so, then you don’t have a choice but to do it, but if it’s just your manager being pushy, then say “no” and don’t feel bad about it.
Don’t let the job make your feel guilty. Don’t feel sorry for them. Businesses are in business to make money. At the end of the day they really don’t feel guilty about how they are treating you and they would just as soon fire you for some stupid reason or lay you off as soon as they aren’t making quite enough profit for that quarter, even if it’s the day before Christmas – they don’t care. You’re just a cog in the machine that can easily be replaced. So don’t feel guilty about not sacrificing yourself for the company and your boss. Say NO when the company is crossing the line into your personal life.
4.) Learn to be assertive when necessary
Being assertive is absolutely essential for workplace survival, especially in a toxic, negative work environment. I know being assertive can be difficult for some people because they have a mild manner, low key personality, so speaking up in any kind of aggressive manner doesn’t come naturally. In fact, for such personalities to do so makes them feel very uncomfortable to the point of causing anxiety and stress for them.
Having said all that, if you’re one of these meek, mild manner people who doesn’t like to rock the boat, just remember that any skill, any personality trait or behavior can be learned if you’re really willing to do so. Your career survival, and sanity, may depend on it.
So, in dealing with the asshole boss or that annoying or backstabbing co-worker, learn how to speak up, raise you voice without yelling and without anger. Tell that boss of yours who is yelling at you that you don’t appreciate being talked to like that and you will not tolerate that behavior from him or her. Tell him that if it continues you will escalate the matter to higher management or human resources (HR). I’m not saying it will be quite that easy but the point is, be ready to get out of your comfort zone. Be ready to put aside your go-along-to-get-along mentality and be ready to speak your mind and possibly do verbal combat. If you don’t lookout for yourself then who will? In some places of work (as with a lot areas of life), if you don’t stand up for yourself, speak your peace assertively you’ll get ran over. It’s a sad fact of life unfortunately.
Anyhow, there are much better authorities than me who can give you better instructions on being assertive, such as this great book on Amazon; How to Stand Up for Yourself and Still Win the Respect of Others (and No, I am not making any money off the sale of this book in case you’re wondering)
5.) Learn a new skill, get new training
Since you’re going to be at the workplace, toxic or not, why not take advantage of any training and job skills the company has available. You will make yourself more valuable to both the company and the boss. Also, those skills help boost your resume and will come in handy in case you get let go and have to look for new work.
Don’t let the fact of your workplace being a dumpster fire keep you from doing what’s best for you. One of the things ways to do what’s best for you is to be always be learning and gaining knowledge, both on and off the job. You never know where or how that training can help you later down the road.
6.) Don’t worry yourself with what others are doing
You’re going to have to learn to tend to your own garden and keep to yourself otherwise you’ll cause more stress and anxiety for yourself by overly concerning yourself with what your peers are doing. In a toxic workplace you’ll likely see and hear about petty office politics, workplace romance, people flat out not doing their job and possibly some who are stealing or defrauding the company. That last one you don’t want to turn a blind eye to but just about everything else is basically a distraction from you doing your job, so don’t spend too much time focusing on it.
I am not saying to totally stick your head in the sand, but it’s like I read somewhere that part of wisdom is knowing what to ignore. The goal is to survive your toxic work environment by
a) not getting fired or being forced to quite,
b) not being driven insane and
c) not be taken advantage of by management and/or co-workers.
So, make it part of your workplace survival toolkit to Keep Calm and Mind Your Business.
7.) Be nice to everyone
Be it warfare or the workplace, having allies is almost always a good idea for survival and winning. Be that gal or guy in the work space that people are happy to see and generally brightens their day. Just because the workplace sucks doesn’t mean you have to contribute to that atmosphere by being mean, hateful and generally difficult to deal with. You want to be the model employee and co-work to the best extent you can by being knowledgeable, helpful and pleasant. It’s bad enough the boss is an ass-hat and most of your co-workers are worthless so for the few good souls who also feel beaten down and crushed by the toxic work environment, at least they can feel comfort in their dealings with you. Being nice may even encourage, at least a few of your fellow employees, to be nice as well, thus making the workplace a little less toxic. Also, you’ll make a few allies who will become your advocates and maybe watch your back later on.
One caution I want to point out about being Mr. Nice Guy, or Gal, is that if you’re not careful it can work against you. Some people might take your niceness for weakness so make sure they don’t misunderstand by trying to take advantage of you – that’s where standing up for yourself and being assertive comes in handy that I spoke about in #4 earlier in this blog post.
8.) Avoid office gossip & negative personalities
The more employees in at a workplace the more cliques and destructive personality types you’ll see. There will be plenty of personalities who like to run their mouth by spreading false and malicious gossip. You will see the negative types (the glass is always half empty, everything is screwed) type personalities. Avoid them and avoid them like the plague if possible.
Companies, or departments within the company, with lots of workers and have poor communication and a crappy boss tend to foster environments with allot of gossip. There is always that one or two employees that spread false information around to anyone that will listen. Their gossip is usually untrue, largely counterproductive and contributes to the toxic workplace.
For example, if you have an employee spreading rumors that the company is not doing well and will not be giving out pay raises or will be laying people off, it will create a work environment of fear and animosity. And because management is terrible at communicating, there will be nothing to counter the lies so as a result workplace moral goes down.
Then you have your negative co-workers who suck the life out the job, and you, with their negative view on damn near everything. He’s that guy who is always complaining; everybody sucks, nobody knows what they’re doing but them, the boss sucks, the company sucks, everything sucks, etc. That guy. He’ll suck the oxygen out of the room because they’re so negative.
My advice for both the gossipy and negative workers in your toxic workspace is; STAY AWAY FROM THEM! Seriously, if it’s possible to avoid them, then avoid them. If your work situation is such where you can’t avoid them, then make sure they’re clear that you don’t want to hear it. But if somehow you do find yourself having to suffer through hearing their crap then don’t buy into it. Don’t buy into their garbage because your wellbeing is your responsibility and listening to them will kill your mood, your vibe and it will make it hard for you to stay positive.
9.) Avoid office politics
If you work for any large organization or company you’re going to see office politics to some degree or another. In a toxic work environment the office politics is at an even more nasty level. It can and will affect workplace morale and productivity of nearly everyone.
For example you’ll see the ass kissing employee who not only puts up with the boss’s bull shit, but overly compliments the boss and hangs out with him on weekends. This sycophant is doing everything he or she can to gain favor with the boss. As a result, they’ve gotten advance knowledge of a new position that is opening up and then becomes the boss’s first pick for the job – much to the chagrin of the employee that is harder working and more qualified.
Naturally this situation creates resentment with everyone else in the company or department and not to mention it will lower morale. If you’re not careful everyone else’s resentment about what’s taking place will become yours. Don’t let it, at least to the best extent you can. And this is where avoiding the office gossips and negative personalities I spoke about earlier come into play. Although the situation above is disheartening and your co-workers may be right to be less than pleased, you have to take care to keep yourself from being stressed so ignore the chatter, tend your own garden and do your job, because more likely there’s nothing much you can do about it anyway.
10.) Guard your words & your actions
You must be sure to take care about what you say and what you do at work and around your co-workers because you can’t always know what could come back to bite you later down the line. In a toxic workplace especially, you don’t always know who you can trust and some who you might have otherwise have trusted might be more likely to throw you under the bus because the environment encourages it. I’m not saying you can’t trust anyone, it just that with most who you deal with you have to be careful.
For example, if you have an especially despicable manager who you and your peers hate more than anything, be careful about what you say about him or her. Just because you’re surround by others who seemly hate the guy it doesn’t mean you should be free to bad mouth the person. In a toxic workplace backstabbing is likely to occur and you should expect it. If you’re at a company Christmas party or some other function, take care not to drink too much alcohol if you’re likely to make a fool of yourself and/or say something regrettable that will be the talk of the office later. It’s all about keeping your stress level under control so saying and doing things in the workspace that can be used against you later is not going to help you stay stress free. So follow my earlier advice and stay away from the office gossips and the negative types, and when you do have to be around them, guard your words and actions at all times.
11.) Make a new work friend(s)/buddy you can trust
Like I said in my earlier blog post, 22 New Year Resolution Ideas and My Thoughts, no man or woman is an island. And what I mean by that is that no one can truly function and exist in isolation alone indefinitely. If you follow my earlier advice in this blog, it should pretty much help you survive in a toxic workplace and eliminate your stress up to a point, but you’ll need an ally. You are going to need someone you can vent to a little bit, bounce ideas off of and watch your back.
When you work in a place long enough you will likely find someone of like mind who is, more or less, trying to do the same things you are to survive. If you haven’t found a work buddy, keep your eyes out and you will. Personally, I wouldn’t have survived as long as I have at past jobs had I not have had a friend or two who I can trust at the workplace.
12.) Don’t take things personally
Not taking things personal is a necessary survival strategy in a toxic, negative workplace. Not taking things personal should be part of your overall mental toughness arsenal which I will do a separate blog post about in the near future.
Anyhow, just so you’re not caught off guard and feel like you’re mentally and emotionally bludgeoned at the end of your workday, you should expect a certain amount of bullshit and fuckery at your work. In addition to that, you should promise yourself you’re not going to resent or hate whatever it is that takes place during you workday. You should promise yourself that you won’t be resentful about it and you forgive them in advance.
This is not to say you’re going to be a pushover and purposely take abuse, but whatever takes place you are not going to take personally. I know this can sometimes be easier said than done, but it is possible. Meditation (see #22 below) can help with being aware of your mental and emotional state enough to deal with the anger and stress your work may be putting upon you.
13.) Know your enemy
There was a part of me that didn’t want to include a section titled Know Your Enemy a part of this blog post. It seems very adversarial, like something you’d read in The Art of War (great book by the way). It doesn’t seem very positive for “The Positive Chi,” but it is important that you do know your “enemy” as it pertains to your workplace. When I say enemy I mean that one (or maybe 2 or 3) people in your workplace that are only out for themselves at the expense of all others. Every workplace with allot of workers always has at least a few. They’re the person that will throw you under the bus at the first opportunity to score points with the boss. If it suits them and makes them look good, then so be it.
I know I wrote earlier about staying away from certain workplace personalities such as the office gossips, negative types, mind your own business BUT, as in life and in the workplace, sticking your head in the sand and putting your blinders on to everything going on, not knowing who could potentially have it out for you is extremely dangerous. It won’t take you long to identify these types in your workplace and when you do, conduct yourself accordingly.
14.) Keep a dossier/documentation
In case, despite your best efforts, nothing much is working and things start going south on you at your work you’re going to need an insurance policy to protect yourself. You will need ammunition. When you’re dealing with shady co-workers and an authoritarian boss it’s a good idea to privately document their abuse because you might, just might, have to go to a higher authority such the boss’s boss or the human resource department and drop the bomb on them.
It’s not a pretty thought, you want to stay positive and keep things peaceful for yourself in a toxic workplace to the extent you’re able, but you must protect yourself. Any incidents of harassment or discrimination against you or others should be documented – dates, times, who was there, what was said and any evidence you may have to support your claim such as an email, pictures or whatever. Just keep your dossier secret. Don’t breathe a word about it, even to your workplace buddy and ally.
Remember that not everything is worthy of being documented. Some stuff is just bad, but not quite a violation of HR and company policy. On the other hand, if something is really, really out of line and despicable like blatant sexual harassment, discrimination or fraud against the company, you shouldn’t wait till the said individuals pissed you off enough. It’s a good idea report it right away.
I know keeping a dossier it is not a very positive, feel good piece of advice, but a smart one in my opinion. You have to protect yourself just like wearing a seatbelt or locking the doors.
15.) Look for what is positive and nice about the workplace
If you want to see more good and positive outcomes in your life and in the workplace you have to focus on the good. No matter how dire things are going on the job, remind yourself about what is good about the job and those you work with. For example, focus on the people in the office that are the hard workers, who are honest and generally pretty nice. Remind yourself about what product or service your department and your company provides to the public and how it makes their life’s better. Remind yourself about how you’ve made it this far at the job, despite the circumstances, and how you handled yourself so far.
Don’t totally ignore the negative, but certainly your focus should be on the positive aspects of the job. You might consider keeping a list of all the good people and things you like about your work and what your grateful for. Staying positive will help alleviate your stress and physical health as well.
16.) Learn to enjoy life outside of work to reduce stress
All work and no play will result in job burnout. Having no life or leisure time activities outside of work will damage your mental, physical and emotional health. You have to have something to look forward to outside of work otherwise what’s the point of working? Yes, I know there’s also being able to pay the rent or mortgage, having food to eat, etc, but besides that, if you don’t have any life and activities outside of work that the money from work helps pay for, then why are you working?
If you have no kids, especially, you need to find a hobby or leisure time activity to help you unwind and take you mind off the crap you’re dealing with at work. If your work schedule is such that it doesn’t allow for time to have a healthy work and life balance, no time for leisure time activities then you need to be assertive enough to tell your manager that you want to enjoy your off time. As I said earlier, don’t buy into the guilt trip they’ll try to lay on you about being a good employee, the companies’ goals and priorities come first, etc – it’s mostly crap. Enjoy your days off. Don’t feel sorry for them because they won’t feel sorry for you, if or when, they lay you off, believe me.
So play a sport, go hiking, biking, go on that short day trip out of town or whatever. Enjoy yourself. You do you!
17.) Don’t take your work home with you
Work should remain at work and not be taken home. I don’t mean literally taking work home, I mean mentally and emotionally. It can be tough when work is stressful to not mentally take the job home with you but doing so will only disturb your place of solitude and joy that is your home. It will interfere with your personal life outside of work. If you continue to dwell on what happened at work while you’re at home, on your free time, it will eat away at you emotionally and affect your personal relationships with those you care about.
So, what can you do to keep this from happening? First off, if you are following all the other steps in this blog post, you shouldn’t have too much stress in the first place. Second, always remind yourself that whatever happens at work will stay at work because once you are on your days off, there’s nothing really you can do about that thing that happened at work anyway. Third, learn to relax so that’s where your leisure time activities come in handy. Also, you should learn to take advantage of self-care opportunities to help alleviate your stress and meditation help as well.
18.) Remind yourself that This Too Shall Pass
From my own, personal experience at places I have worked, some of which were very toxic, soul sucking places indeed I can absolutely say that everything changes eventually. That difficult boss who once made your existence unbearable will get fired or quite, or he move on to another department or he may have health issues and quite, etc. Your colleagues who you didn’t care for will get fired or move on or change their act. Or another scenario could be that the company gets bought out and as a result the corporate culture changes the toxic work environment for the better. You never know. The point is, things change, even shitty situations, sooner or later. The world, as well as your workplace, is always in a state of flux.
When you’re having a particularly tough day at work be sure to remind yourself of this fact. I know it helped me. No matter how difficult the situation at work, I can assure you that something has got to give eventually or perhaps sooner. The people you work with will change or leave the company or you’ll find a better job – like I said, something will change.
19.) Maintain your health & get plenty of sleep
Don’t let the stress of the job get to you so much that you escape into food. Stress can induce unnecessary and unhealthy eating habits. According to research, weight gain is linked to being stressed out. The adrenal gland releases cortisol and cortisol will increase your appetite which triggers the overeating, particularly of so-called comfort foods (think high fat, sugary foods). So, be aware of the body’s tendency to do this and find other ways to relieve stress such as self-care, meditation and taking time off from work as much as possible.
Make sleep, and plenty of it, a priority. There are numerous health benefits of getting lots of sleep and it helps relieve stress. I know it can be hard to get sleep when you work in a toxic workplace because of the constant worry of crap that goes on at the company will constantly weigh on the mind, if you let it. It won’t be easy at first but learn to leave work at work and develop other techniques to reduce your stress that I spoke about. There’s nothing more important that your health and two major keys to your good health lie in you eating habits and getting plenty of sleep.
20.) Take that vacation time
No job is worth sacrificing your health, your well being and your relationships with those you care about. Most companies view you as a tool, a means to help them be more profitable and increase their bottom line. If, God forbid, you drop dead, they’ll likely have you replaced within days, so don’t kill yourself for them. Take vacation time whenever you can for the sake of you mental and physical health. If money is an issue, then perhaps you may consider taking a shorter vacation of only a few days instead of several weeks. Another possibility is to do a “staycation,” meaning you don’t go anywhere, just stay home and relax. The important thing is to take the time away from work from time to time.
As I talked about in 22 New Year’s Resolution Ideas and My Thoughts, travel (if money is not an issue) can be therapeutic and help get you out of your rut. Seeing a new place, meeting new people and tasting new food can often be good to get your mind off the stress of work, clear you head, at least a little bit, and make you more refreshed to carry on longer at work. Coming home to the same house or apartment, after a stressful day at work, day after day, is never good for the mental health in the long run.
21.) Daily work & career affirmations
I talked about the power of positive affirmations in two of my earlier blog posts, 22 New Year’s Resolution Ideas and My Thoughts as well as 13 Tips To Achieve Your Goals and Life Success because it is worth repeating so I’ll say again here because positive, daily affirmations are very powerful.
How you talk to yourself can have an impact on your life. Negative self-talk can be very destructive if not controlled and counteracted with positive self-talk. A positive affirmation is an affirmative, positive declaration of something to be true, a mantra, and a positive affirmation can be of great benefit to you in a toxic, negative, depressing work environment. Below are some examples of positive daily affirmations you can use to counteract the negativity of your workplace:
1) I am a strong and confident person who is always happy and secure in my abilities
2) I am not affected by the negative surrounding me because I am an island of self confidence and happiness
3) No matter what takes place in my life and in the workplace, I know I will have the wisdom to make the right decisions
4) I have the strength and courage to assert myself in a positive manner when dealing with people in my life
5) Money is no problem for me. I have financial security and abundance in my life.
6) Saving money and paying my bills on time is no problem for me. I have more than enough money for my family and me.
Those are just some affirmations you my want to pick and choose which ones to use or come up with your own. Repeat your positive daily affirmation privately to yourself in the morning before you leave for work, in the afternoon and at night before you go to bed. In a toxic work environment, you need every edge you can get to not only to survive, but to thrive.
Related: What are Daily Positive Affirmations and Why You Want To Use Them (What are positive daily affirmations, who uses them and why you should too. . .)
Meditation has numerous benefits for both the body and mind and in a toxic workplace you’re really going to need it to maintain your mental and emotional health as well as helping with being able to sleep. Meditation is a great, if not the best way, for relieving stress and anxiety caused by the workplace. In addition to reducing stress, meditation can help your mental clarity and focus which can definitely help you at the job. So learn how to do it (there’s plenty of material out there on how to meditate), do it 2 or 3 times a day and reap the positive benefits from it.
23.) Know when to cut your losses and have an exit strategy
As I heard it said once, “you should always plan for the worse but hope and pray for the best.” Having an exit strategy for your toxic workplace is your planning for the worse. You have to.
If despite all the advice in this blog post, nothing is working for you, then you better have an escape hatch you can utilize. Don’t wait till you get fired or things get so bad that you have no choice but to leave to figure out what you’re going to do. You should take advantage of some of your free time, now while you still have a job, to preparing your escape plan.
Utilize your free time for networking for job hunting and/or a side hustle you can develop into possible a full-time hustle to replace your current toxic job. Also, if you’re not doing this already, it is a good idea to be setting aside money to live off and pay your expenses, for at least a 2 – 3 months until you find another job. Another piece of advice; in a toxic workplace there are probably several other employees who left already or getting ready to leave. Stay in touch with them and be sure to find out where they are going. It is likely they found work already in the same field. It doesn’t hurt to ask them about it.
Know the signs of a toxic workplace
• High call off rate
• Shitty leadership
• Employees are not motivated
• Poor to no communication
• High turnover rate
• Little to No positive reinforcement/praise
• Too much gossip, cliques, etc.
• Little to no opportunities for advancement
• The day drags on
• The works feels tedious
• Stupid policies that make it hard to have life outside of work
Know the signs of a bad boss
• Anger issues
• Verbally abusive
• Doesn’t respect boundaries
• Shows favoritism
• Criticizes in front of others
• Takes credit for other people’s ideas and hard work
• Blames others for their own mistakes
Always remember you are bigger than this. Stronger than this and somehow or another you will get past this and for the better. I sincerely hope at least some of the advice in this blog post will have helped you out and survive whatever toxic environment you find yourself in. Feel free to like and share this blog post and let me know in the comments your workplace experiences and anything you would add to this list to help you survive a toxic workplace.