How to Identify and Navigate a Toxic Work Environment

Mental Health


by HarSimran Kaur

Every job comes with some level of stress and competition. This is fine so far it serves as a motivating factor for you to keep getting better.  But if a single Slack alert sends chills up and down your spine, you are most likely in a company with a toxic work culture.

Some jobs, such as sales and finance, are so fast-paced that navigating a toxic work environment becomes almost impossible. When your work, however, follows you to your dining table and burnout starts to set in, it is time to rethink.

Before joining any company, you need to understand the difference between a positive and toxic work culture. This will help you in gaining clarity on whether your company of interest has a positive work culture or not.

Signs of a Toxic Work Environment

Resistance to experiments

Experiments are stepping stones for innovation and change. Thankfully, there is a long list of companies that reward their employees for their creativity.

On the other side of the spectrum, there is an even longer list of corporations where employees are scared to experiment.

If you or your colleague never share your ideas even when you know that they will work, this is a red flag. And that tendency often happens when employees feel that they would be demoted or, even worse, fired if their experiments go wrong. It signifies a lack of psychological safety in the team.

So if you don't feel psychologically safe, your company culture is not favorable.

Weak relationships

Another significant difference between companies with positive and toxic work cultures is how they cultivate the relationships between team members.

Employees in positivity-oriented companies have a stronger bond with each other.

However, in a business where the only means of communication is unnecessarily long email threads and unfriendly exchanges, you are in the wrong place.

Unhealthy competition

Competition is essential for personal development. But when your workplace forces you and your colleagues to constantly outdo each other through unhealthy means, that's a sign of a toxic work culture.

Management is the hero

Humans are conditioned in a way that we love to showcase our achievements. Otherwise, trophy showcases wouldn't be a thing. And nothing turns most people off more than others stealing their limelight.

Therefore, it is not rare when a manager or team leader gets all the credits for wins while ignoring team members' contributions. If this is the case in your workplace, you're in a dysfunctional company.

Not getting credits for your work will eventually drain your energy and motivation.

It is all about numbers

Companies are in business to make money. You also do your job, for getting paid. But when the value of numbers exceeds the value of humans, it is a negative sign. This is the case for corporations with a toxic work culture. They care about quota and revenue only.

In such companies, even if you are a top achiever for years, your efforts and years of hard work go to waste once you perform below par or miss a deadline.

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5 tips to navigate a Toxic Work Environment

While the best way to tackle a dysfunctional work environment is to quit, this is impossible in all cases. Sometimes you might have to do a job because your financial condition doesn't allow you to move away. If that is your situation, keep reading to discover the different ways to navigate a toxic work culture.

Be friendly

If your work environment feels like a daily soap opera, a bad reaction will only add to the drama and set you on management's radar. You become an easy target when you react.

As a better alternative, be friendly with everyone even if you can't be friends with them. Be good to even those who are not good to you. When you are good to everyone, it gives you an advantage as you're involved in less drama and far away from management's radar.

Define your limits

While this may sound almost impossible in a place where your opinion doesn't matter, setting limits is easier than you imagine. Also, it is the best solution when your company constantly ignites unsaid competition.

As a human, you have the right to say "no" to things that are far beyond your capabilities due to unimaginable deadlines or expectations. Moreover, if your manager insists you do extra work only because someone else is doing it, calmly explain that you have completed your targets. Then, make sure you did.

Defining limits works effectively when you respect your work and do it on time.

Stay focused

If you want to navigate a toxic work culture, be ready to meet deadlines and hit your quotas. In toxic work environments, targeting and retargeting employees who lagged is normal. And if by chance, you come under this list, things will be more difficult for you.

So stay focused on your targets. Staying focused altogether with being friendly makes survival easy in a hostile work environment.

Say no to gossip

It may seem self-evident advice, but gossip is one of the significant factors that drive negativity to a workplace. Backbiting makes situations worse for the person whom you or any other person has been talking about. It makes that person feel inferior and doubts their capabilities whenever they discover what you've said about them. Apart from damaging self-worth, gossiping disrupts communication in the workplace. In any office where people incessantly gossip, people will eventually clash.

The reason is they believe whatever they will say will be used against them and also passed on to all corners of the workplace in an exaggerated form.

Gossip can negatively impact the company culture both individually and collectively. Avoid it completely.

Create and execute an exit plan

Yes, this is part of the plan. You need to start planning your exit if you can't handle the toxicity at your work any longer.

But while planning your exit, ensure you don't burn bridges. You never know when you will need help from somebody. Also, a smooth exit allows you to nurture your connections even when you leave.

The first step of planning your exit is to start applying to potential employers and keep an eye on the opportunities that come your way. You can also visit here to find the best resources to help you find the perfect job you desire.

While interviewing for new opportunities, never mention your real reason for leaving your company (Ex. I left XYZ because it is too toxic). Instead, say that you are exploring new horizons to polish your professional skills with a new company.

Once you get a handful of interviews and one or two offers coming your way, you can notify your employer. Because in any condition, if you provide information before getting interviews or offers, it will be impossible for you to stay there.

To avoid the case mentioned earlier, check this Wonsulting guide to land your dream job in 2021.

Wrapping Up

Always remember that nothing is more important than your peace of mind and physical wellbeing. You can probably spend more time in a toxic job by following the above tips, but for how long? So if you feel you are working in a toxic work environment, please take the bold step: QUIT.

If this article resonated with you, kindly share your experience in the comment. Feel free to share this article with someone who needs the motivation to handle a toxic work environment.

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About Writer

Harsimran Kaur is a Conversion Copywriter and SEO content writer. She specializes in writing copy that converts and engaging SEO content. Harsimarn primarily works with start-ups, small businesses, and entrepreneurs.


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