You never think it will be a horrible decision when you accept a job. But, while it’s always the right decision to leave a toxic workplace, the experience can leave you feeling discouraged. No matter how great the interview process or how excited you were about a new role, sometimes, the environment is unhealthy once you’ve settled at a new company. Suddenly, you realize you need to remove yourself from it.
There are various ways a workplace can become toxic. Sometimes, culture can be positive and uplifting for years, only to shift with new leadership or a particularly negative new co-worker. Regardless of why your job has become toxic, the best thing you can do for yourself and your career is to get out of the situation and find something new. Unfortunately, the process can be messy, and you may struggle to leave a position that you once loved or part ways with co-workers who have become real friends. In this case, resigning from your job may feel less like an exciting career move and more like an unfortunate breakup.
Working in a toxic environment can have a significant impact on you, and the chances are high that you’ll need to cope with the situation in one way or another. Maybe you’re in a position where you cannot leave the job financially until you have another one lined up. Perhaps you stayed with the company for so long that it shattered your confidence or has left you wondering if you want to return to the workforce at all. Adverse experiences like these can take a while to recover from, and that’s okay, but no matter what, you can bounce back after leaving a toxic job.
Identifying a Toxic Work Environment
Most of us have worked in a job or at a company that just wasn’t a good fit for some reason or another–it could be that you ended up with a boss who micromanages, or maybe the job just isn’t as fulfilling as you’d hoped. These are all unfortunate circumstances, but they don’t fall into the category of toxic. A toxic environment is one where morale is extremely low. There is constant competition. The company has questionable ethics or where you feel unsafe, whether it’s mentally, emotionally, or physically. Here are some ways an environment may be toxic:
Poor communication to the point where it impacts your day-to-day responsibilities
Disregard for employees’ well-being
Inaction or tolerance of racism, harassment, xenophobia, etc.
Frequent employee burnout and or chronic stress
Poor or dysfunctional leadership
Little work-life balance (if any)
Persistent fear of failure or punishment
Cliquey coworkers / significant gossip
High employee turnover
Little or no growth (whether it’s individually or as a company)
Lack of value in employee perspectives/input
Unfair policies and or unequal policy enforcement
Insufficient workforce (resulting in overworked employees)
Lack of empathy from leadership
Little to no diversity
Even if you can’t pinpoint what it is, that’s wrong in your job. Instead, you may be able to tell it’s a toxic situation based on how you’re feeling. Are you constantly anxious? Do you find it difficult to get out of bed and show up daily? Are you crying a lot at work (whether it’s out of anger, frustration, sadness, or as a reaction to constant criticism)? Do you feel like you don’t fit in the culture? Are you being excluded? Are you calling in sick regularly—even when you’re not ill? If you’re coming home from work every day feeling unsettled, chances are high you’re dealing with toxicity at work somehow.
Leaving a Toxic Job & Coping
Once you’ve established that you are, in fact, in a toxic work environment, you’ll need to take action to get out of the situation. If you are physically unsafe at work, resigning as quickly as possible is in your best interest. Whether you have a new job lined up or not (this can understandably be more difficult for someone without the financial means to go unemployed.) But it’s essential to do anything you can to remove yourself from danger–assuming there’s no risk of harm. However, if you can’t just up and quit your job, you’ll need to put as much focus and attention as possible on landing a new position as quickly as possible.
The realization that you’re in a toxic situation can be challenging. You may find yourself mourning the loss of a job you once loved, struggling to process your experience, or potentially even suffering from Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) if you experienced harassment, hate, threats, or violence. Some things you can do to help you cope include:
Keeping a clear perspective; remembering that there is nothing you did to end up in this situation–it is not your fault
Reminding yourself that you are not your job, especially if you’re unemployed and feeling a bit lost in the interim
Connecting with other people who’ve left toxic jobs and sharing your experience
Taking some time off before searching for a new position; allowing yourself to process what happened and use what you learned to help you decide what you need in your next position
Seeking professional help, especially if you’re suffering from depression, anxiety, or PTSD as a result of your experience
Doing activities that will help you rebuild your confidence (whatever that looks like for you)
If at all possible, take a little time off between ending your toxic job and starting your new one, even if it’s just a few days or a week, to allow yourself some time to come down from the experience so that you can start fresh in your new role.
At some point, you’ll probably be asked why you left your previous job—whether it’s by a hiring manager during an interview or a casual coworker in a new job. No matter how bad your experience was, it’s critical to remain professional when answering this question. Here are some possible responses to consider:
“I am/was looking for a different kind of culture.”
“I want to work for an organization that’s more aligned with my values.”
“Growth opportunities are/were very limited, and I’d like to take the next step in my career.”
“I am/was looking for a company with more transparency and communication from leadership.”
“I want to work for a company that prioritizes diversity, inclusion, and culture.”
The stress of working in a toxic environment can take a toll on your wellbeing, and it can even leave you feeling a little tired and skeptical of new experiences. As understandable as this is, it’s in your best interest to keep a positive outlook. Not only will it help you stay motivated, but you’ll also perform better in interviews if you genuinely believe that your next experience will be a good one. Remember, a toxic work environment is an exception, not the rule, and there is something better out there for you.
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