We spend at least half our waking hours at work. When that environment is toxic, it can make your whole life miserable. Whether it is bullying coworkers, incompetent or cruel bosses, or an unreasonable workload, a toxic work environment can wear down your health and happiness.
I spent two years under a tyrannical boss, and this unfortunate experience inspired me to interview a wide range of friends and family members who have dealt with similarly toxic work environments. Their answers helped me craft the following tips on how to survive and thrive in such difficult settings.
Leave work at work
With cellphones and laptops, it’s easy to stay plugged into work after you leave. Work can then encroach on your home life, interrupting your relaxation and your time with loved ones. Unless you are paid to be always available, it’s unreasonable for your boss to think that you will be constantly on call. Remove your work email from your phone or turn off the notifications. Even if you are required to be in contact, set boundaries such as only checking notifications until a certain time at night or turning off your phone at dinner.
Don’t relive your negative experiences
We all talk shop, but when work is miserable, complaining about it just makes you relive those unhappy moments. Griping doesn’t fix the problem, and it only allows the negative feelings you had throughout the day to encroach on time that should be free from work’s stress. Instead of complaining to everyone who will listen, report what happened at work to a trusted confidant. Then, don’t talk about work the rest of the night.
Replace griping with gratitude
Negativity about work can creep into the way you talk about everything else in your life. Combat complaining with gratitude. While I was in my toxic work environment, I started a gratitude journal. Thinking about the good things in my life helped me maintain a positive attitude outside of work. I had a coworker at the time who took a similar approach. Back home after work, she would begin dinner by asking everyone to list three things they were grateful for. This helped her get work off of her mind while setting a positive tone for the rest of the evening.
Strengthen relationships at work and home
Rely on your support system to get you through the situation. Strong relationships with coworkers can give you allies throughout the day. At home, family and friends can provide reassurance and help you see the situation objectively. Investing in relationships with friends and family members also reminds us that there are far more important things in life than work.
Get an outside assessment of your skill and worth as a worker
If your skill is in question or if you received bad reviews from a supervisor, get a second opinion. My husband was told multiple times that he was a “low performer” despite his diligent efforts and numerous completed projects. As a computer programmer, he could see that he was completing the same number of points — programmer speak for workload — as his coworkers. He took a skill assessment separate from his workplace and scored well above average, confirming our suspicions that his boss was being unfair to him. If you aren’t in a field where an objective test can be taken, ask HR for another assessment or ask your coworkers for their honest opinion of your skills.
Turning to God in difficult times can not only provide comfort and hope, but can strengthen your faith. The people creating the toxic environment are using their free will to do so, and God does not impinge on our free will even when it is misused. He won’t erase all the difficulties and sufferings that others impose on you, but He can give you the strength and courage to get through the day if you offer your suffering up to him. God can also use a toxic work environment to lead you somewhere new in your life. I didn’t want to leave my previous job where I loved my students and coworkers, but the toxic environment was making me miserable. God provided me with a new job where I am respected and valued.
Take care of your mental health
Toxic work environments can get in your head, making you think that you are the problem. It’s hard to see things clearly when you are emotionally involved in the situation. Consider joining a support group or seeing a professional counselor who can help you process the situation and give you strategies for coping. Home remedies for mental health are also important: exercise, meditation, prayer, or “me time” are other ways to stay mentally healthy.
If all else fails, change jobs
If the situation does not improve, consider changing jobs. If you are in a big enough company, ask to transfer to another department or team. If that is not an option, start looking for employment elsewhere. Although changing jobs is never fun, you should ask yourself, “Is this job worth my health and happiness? Do I want to be miserable every day?” When you put it in perspective, no job is worth it.