How to Address a Toxic Work Environment

toxic work environment

All jobs carry some stress, and it’s not uncommon to feel overwhelmed or burned out every so often. But if the thought of going to work leads to anxiety or physical illness, it’s time to look more closely at your workplace and see if something larger is going on. 

You may be in a toxic work environment if you encounter any of the following on a regular basis:

  • Poor or negative communication
  • Cliques, gossip, rumors, and bullying
  • Poor leadership
  • Unmotivated coworkers
  • High turnover
  • Dysfunctional processes
  • Little to no career growth
  • Lack of work-life integration
  • Illegal or discriminatory practices

📖 Read Signs You’re in a Toxic Workplace to help decide if it’s your workplace or your outlook that needs a reset. 

How to address a toxic work environment

It’s unfortunate to have a job you love but dread going to work every day because of the general vibe of the workplace. If you find yourself in a toxic work environment, there are a few things you can do to try to address it (or its impact on you) before making a more drastic decision to change careers

Professional changes to make

Sometimes, a toxic work environment can be addressed simply by calling in some backup. Your manager or HR can be a great source of support in correcting some of the practices that are contributing to a toxic work environment.

  • Addressing the situation with your manager: Your first step in dealing with a toxic work environment is to bring it up to your manager. Instead of making accusations, share a couple of specific examples of the hostility you’re facing. Propose a solution, like adjusting the scope of your role or someone else’s.
  • Lean on HR: If your manager is part of the problem, or you haven’t made any progress working with your manager to address the toxic environment, it’s time to meet with your company’s HR department. If you’re in a small company with no HR department, set up a meeting with your manager’s manager to move your concerns up the ladder.
  • Switch to a new role: If the problem lies within your team or your direct reports or manager, consider moving to a new role within your company. If possible, switch departments completely to get away from the toxic environment you were a part of.
  • Make a career change: If you’re unable to address the toxic work environment by working with your manager, HR, or moving to a new team, it’s time to make a career change.   

Personal changes to make

Even if your manager and HR acknowledge the issues that are contributing to a toxic workplace, it may take some time to address them. Or, you may not be in the position to leave your current role. If this is the case, you can try to make some personal changes to help you avoid the negative side effects of a toxic workplace.

Check yourself

Do a quick self-assessment, and identify any toxic habits you may have fallen into. If you find yourself engaging in any of the toxic practices taking place in your workplace, course-correct immediately. 

Compartmentalize

Consciously leave work at work. At the end of your workday, set aside a few minutes to decompress and shift your focus to the rest of your day ahead. Whether it’s your commute home or simply a few quiet minutes in your home office before stepping out, this time can help you avoid bringing a negative attitude home with you. 

Take a time out

If you find yourself overwhelmed during your workday and your productivity is suffering, take a time out. Get some fresh air, take an early lunch break, or simply step away for a restroom break to reset. 

Focus on your goals

Your current job is helping you gain valuable experience and skills that will help you advance your career when you’re ready to make a change. Even in a toxic workplace, you can still write your resume to sell your story and share your accomplishments. Write down your short- and long-term career goals and refer to this list when you’re feeling overwhelmed.  

Set boundaries

As much as possible, keep work and life separate. Avoid responding to emails or calls after hours, set aside a dedicated lunch break for yourself during the day, and be realistic about your workload. These boundaries will support you in distancing yourself from a toxic workplace once the workday ends. 

You can also set boundaries about what you will and will not discuss with co-workers. Keeping your conversations with difficult co-workers both brief and professional can avoid stirring up any unnecessary drama. 

Start a hobby

Find a stress-relieving hobby. It could be something active or something you’ve always wanted to make time for but haven’t, like a book club or learning a new skill. Whatever it is, create a dedicated time for it and stick to it. Even if it’s just once every other week, this focused me-time is a great form of self-care that can give you something to feel good about. 

Find an ally

Connecting with other co-workers who feel the same way you do can be helpful. But be cautious of starting yet another clique in your workplace. Rather than spend your time together complaining about how bad things are, look for ways to support, encourage and create new opportunities for each other. Use your alliance for good. 

Document everything

The sad fact is, many toxic work environments simply can’t be fixed without a major overhaul. If the toxicity in your workplace is leaning toward discrimination in any way, it’s a good idea to begin documenting everything you are experiencing. 

Next steps

If you’ve done everything you can do to work well with others and create a positive work environment, but nothing is changing, it’s likely time to move. As a mom, you’re juggling a lot of different responsibilities, and feeling drained by your career can make it difficult to feel like you’re doing the best you can in other areas of life, too. 

Knowing the end is in sight can make your current role easier to navigate. Revisit your career goals, start working on your resume, and revive your networking efforts. Identify some non-negotiables when it comes to the company culture in your next workplace. Taking control of your job search can help you feel empowered to rise above the negativity at work as you work toward finding a position that’s a better fit for you. 


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