How to Cope in a Toxic Workplace and Win

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Do you dread going to work? Is it becoming harder to stay motivated? Do you find yourself checking the clock a little too often hoping that home time will hurry up?

Sadly, this is an all too familiar scenario for many people who are unhappy with their current jobs. Many organizations foster unhealthy work environments that make going to work a very unpleasant experience.

Here are 11 tell-tale signs of a toxic work environment:

1) Lack of organizational structure

One of the main signs of a toxic workplace is the absence of any real structure. Internal processes are heavily flawed or not in place. Employees are often left with a lot more questions than answers. Performance reviews are sparse or non-existent so you have no idea where you stand within an organization and have no real goals or objectives to achieve.

There is also a lack of accountability for your actions. While it might be nice to sometimes get away with just a slap on the wrist, having that be the norm is not only detrimental to your organization’s reputation, but to you as an individual since it advocates a sloppy work ethic. You are not being taught to learn from your mistakes but instead are being encouraged to continuously make them, because of the lack of consequences.

2) Unhealthy relationship with your boss

You are often butting heads with your manager and rarely see eye to eye which makes working together quite the challenge.

3) No opportunity for growth

Are you stuck doing the same type of work you did when you first started? Have your cries for growth fallen on deaf ears? Has your boss reassured you in each performance review that you will be able to move into a different role or that changes will be made to your current role to allow you to evolve but nothing ever changes? Not prioritizing employee advancement is another sign of an unhealthy work environment. In all fairness, sometimes managers have their own hands tied due to bureaucratic red tape when it comes to promoting a dedicated employee. They may genuinely want to but lack the support from their own management to make it happen.

4) Lack of acknowledgement

You’ve gone above and beyond your job duties but no one seems to notice. Have you made a suggestion about a new process that would save the company time and money but no real importance was being given to actually pursuing the idea? A toxic work environment shows little to no real appreciation for its colleagues efforts and contributions. You are called out for your mistakes but rarely recognized for a job well done – whether it be in the form of a simple thank you, team-wide recognition, or just any kind of incentive or reward that makes you feel good about your accomplishments.

5) Lack of communication

Has it been a while since you had a staff meeting? Do you get the sense that management has suddenly just gone quiet on certain things and when you ask about something, you just get brushed off? The lack of dialogue only heightens the sense of distrust and suspicion between management and employees. This shroud of secrecy also leads to a lingering, unsettled feeling of tension in the air at all times.

6) There is a constant tug of war

Your productivity is shot because you are surrounded by workplace bullies who constantly pull you in a dozen different directions. You are frequently intimidated into prioritizing their tasks, with little to no respect for your time and your own workload.

7) Favouritism is rampant

Favouritism is apparent with certain employees. Were you passed over for a promotion that was given to a seemingly less qualified colleague? When you addressed it, were your concerns dismissed? In some cases, this could also be a sign that you are being pushed out.

8) No real sense of camaraderie

You are approaching the 10-year mark at your company and are no closer with your colleagues than you were when you first started. It’s the same awkward, above-the-surface small talk every day. Cliques are also apparent. When it comes to more personal interactions that go beyond the occasional chit-chat, like going for lunch or taking an afternoon walk outside, you are never asked to tag along.

Ask yourself: if you were to leave tomorrow, is there anyone on your team that you could foresee yourself keeping in contact with? (I’m not referring to simply connecting on LinkedIn but more about sustaining a strong, long-term relationship.) If the answer is no, then that should tell you something. Feeling a general, lingering sense of disconnection with your team is another sign of a troubled work environment.

9) Employee morale is low

We all occasionally need an escape from the regular routine to keep us happy. If a company has no concept of this nor is there any attempt made to encourage team activities, then it can become increasingly difficult to stay motivated and happy. The theme in the office quickly becomes ‘No One Cares’.

10) The buck keeps getting passed

Has a problem gone unsolved for months now because no one wants to hold themselves responsible to get it resolved? Are your requests for help going into a black hole? Have you followed up so many times with the people who should be helping you that you can’t even remember what the original issue was? This lack of team effort is another sign of a flawed workplace.

11) Frequent turnover

Last, but certainly not least, an outward and obvious sign of workplace toxicity is frequent turnover. Is your office a revolving door? Are people basically coming and going? If you are having a hard time seeing yourself retiring from your company one day, then it’s probably time to rethink your career plan.

Do some or all of these points reflect your current work environment?

If the answer is yes, don’t start fixing up your resume just yet.

Here are six suggestions of what you can do to make the best of a tough work situation before jumping to any conclusions.

If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude. – Maya Angelou

1) Change your attitude

Maya Angelou said it best: If you can’t change something, change the way you look at it. Finding a decent job is not easy so before you decide to throw in the towel, try to change your perception of your current situation.

Choose not to be miserable when you come into work every morning. Postive thinking can go a long way. Remind yourself that stress is a choice, and YOU are in control of how you are treated. Be kind, professional and direct, no matter how difficult the situation. The positive energy you carry yourself with will rub off on your unpleasant peers – and maybe even make them nicer people to work with.

2) Speak up

If there is a problem of any kind, don’t let it fester. It’s always easier to put out a smaller fire than a larger one. I’ve learned from my own experience, that once you let the cat out of the bag, things can change pretty rapidly in your favour. So don’t be afraid to voice your concerns. If you haven’t had a performance review ever, or in a very long time, then proactively schedule a one-on-one with your boss, urging its importance. Address your concerns diplomatically without letting your emotions get in the way. Come to the meeting prepared with a plan and goal in mind so the time is well spent. Show them you mean business.

3) Learn to say NO

No amount of money is worth sacrificing your self-respect, so don’t ever let yourself become a doormat at your job. Being jerked around like a puppet not only negatively impacts your productivity, but kills your overall motivation. People trying to manipulate or bully you, do so because they think they can, so once you break that cycle by pushing back, not only will you feel better, but they will immediately lose that sense of power and hopefully start giving you the respect you deserve. You could even be doing your company a favour: If they are short-staffed, then your resistance might open up the discussion to hire more resources to balance the excessive workload.

4) Make the first move

Workplace friendships don’t typically develop out of thin air – someone needs to break the ice. So be the bigger person and ask Mr. or Mrs. Standoffish to go for a coffee or lunch some time. The worst they could do is decline, but at least you would have tried. However, if they are genuinely willing, then awesome – it could spark the beginning of a blossoming friendship, or at the very least the building of some real professional rapport.

This approach could also help in your attempt to have a better relationship with your boss. Try getting to know them on a more personal level by creating an opportunity to engage in conversation with them outside of the office. Offer to go to lunch with them one day. It could be the first step in easing some of the tension and developing a better relationship.

5) Initiate some fun

If you work with a bunch of party poopers, then take it upon yourself to form a ‘fun team’  within your organization. Send an email out and see who is on board, then work collaboratively to have a series of activities to help boost the team spirit and strengthen morale. Organize a team pot luck, coordinate an Escape Room activity, or a game of trivia surrounding a major sporting event that might be going on. The options are endless. If you are having trouble getting others to help you, then be bold enough to organize an activity on your own. Your ambition and drive is sure to impress your peers. If you proactively get the social ball rolling, you might be surprised at how many people will follow along.

6) If all else fails – leave

If you truly feel that you have given your ultimate best but still feel like you’ve ‘checked out’, then it’s probably time to move on. A new job, new people, and overall fresh new start could be exactly what you need to get that joy and enthusiasm back. Just keep in mind that the grass is not always greener on the other side as each organization comes with its own set of imperfections. But at least through your experience, you would have found some clarify into what type of work environment would satisfy you in the long run.

Whatever job you do, just remember to try to maintain some semblance of a work/life balance. Never let the pendulum swing too far to one side. It’s not worth your well-being or your happiness.

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8 thoughts on “How to Cope in a Toxic Workplace and Win

    1. Thank you kindly! Yes, it’s so important to be truly appreciative of your workplace if it truly has a strong morale and you are really happy since that can be hard to find these days.

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