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7 Ways to Stay Professional as You Dump a Toxic Job

Follow these tips for professionally leaving a toxic job.

You’ve made up your mind: your workplace is toxic, and you are ready to get out. Whether it’s bad bosses, workplace bullies, long hours, or feeling undervalued, recognizing that your job is damaging to your mental health and overall happiness is the first step to getting out. 

But what’s the next step? Unfortunately, many people decide to take the abuse and stay with a company because they think they might not find another job or that the new job will have the same environment. 

In the past five years, my husband and I — along with quite a few of our coworkers — have successfully left toxic work environments for better opportunities. Here’s what we learned about successfully navigating the switch.

Don’t quit yet!

At one place that I worked, a woman quit in a fiery storm of temper, bragging about her new job and telling everyone what was wrong with the boss and the company. The boss called the staffing agency that the woman was working for and reported her behavior. The agency said they would not be following through in placing her in the new job because of her unprofessional behavior. 

It may be tempting to quit and give your boss a piece of your mind in a dramatic scene worthy of Hollywood, but don’t give in to that temptation! Unleashing anger feels good for a minute, but it’s not professional behavior, and you could end up burning bridges. Dramatic behavior could cost you a reference or even a job. 

Even quitting in a professional manner is ill-advised. You are a more appealing candidate when you are employed. During an interview, having a current job on your resume also helps you avoid the awkward question around why you are unemployed. The new company may assume you are unreliable because you quit your last job without another one lined up. 

Document everything

If you are worried about being targeted or fired before you can find another job, document everything that happens with dates and particulars. When documenting, it is important to be objective and describe what happened and what was said without emotional commentary. If it comes down to a “he said, she said” situation, having a list of the other party’s offenses can turn the tide in your favor, particularly if that person is in a position of authority. Remember to record this in a secure location — not on a work computer. 

Get references

Having references ready before applying is extremely important when leaving a bad work environment. In my experience, some bosses act vindictively when they see an employee trying to escape from their grasp and will make life even more trying. 

I had a colleague drop out of a final round interview because the new company wanted to speak with her current supervisor. She was afraid that the current boss would not only give a terrible review but would also make her life even more difficult. She decided trying for the new job wasn’t worth the risk.  

Before starting your job search, ask a trusted supervisor, HR personnel, or colleague to be a reference and ask them to exercise discretion. Make sure it is someone who sees your value as an employee. 

Interviewing professionally

Don’t brag to coworkers about going to an interview for a new position. Once again, you want to avoid burning bridges or aggravating the current situation. 

During the interview, it may be tempting to criticize your current workplace, boss, or other employees, but don’t bad-mouth your current employer. It only makes you look unprofessional. 

Before the interview, practice how you will describe the reasons why you are leaving. It may be helpful to write out what you will say, or do a practice interview with a friend. Here are some suggestions on how to professionally phrase what might actually be a raw and emotional experience:

  • My boss is a total jerk → My boss is a difficult person to please and doesn’t communicate expectations clearly. 
  • My boss is a control freak → Projects are micromanaged, which limits my ability to creatively contribute.
  • My boss is vindictive → I want to feel comfortable voicing concerns without fear of retaliation.
  • No one listened to me → I feel that my contributions are undervalued. I want to be an active participant in projects.
  • I got an unfair evaluation → Expectations are not clearly communicated
  • I get reamed out for every little mistake I make → Feedback and criticisms are not constructive and don’t contribute to the improvement of the project
  • Everyone stabs each other in the back → The environment is extremely competitive and I’m looking for a more cooperative workplace.
  • I didn’t get the promotion I deserved → I want a workplace where there is room to grow and advance.
  • I hate working overtime and weekends → I’m looking for a better work-life balance. What are the expectations for working overtime and weekends?

Asking questions

Remember, the company is interviewing you, but you are also interviewing the company to see if they are a good fit for you. Most interviews end with an opportunity to ask questions. Come with a list ready to go. Make sure you address the concerns of your current work environment. Some questions might include:

  • What is your work environment like?
  • Is the atmosphere at the company more competitive or cooperative?
  • How are employees evaluated? Do you have key performance Indicators? Do the evaluations determine salary, bonuses, or promotions?
  • How is conflict dealt with? 
  • Is there room for promotion? If so, how is that determined?
  • Will I be working mostly alone or with a team? 

Do your research before accepting a new position

If you know someone who works at the company where you are interviewing, get their opinion. My husband turned down a job because a friend who worked there warned him not to take the job. The friend was looking for new jobs himself because of the toxic work environment.

If you don’t know anyone at the company, talk to the receptionist or secretary before or after the interview. They are often a wealth of information. Ask how long they have been with the company and what their honest opinion is of the work environment. 

Check job satisfaction sites. Places like Glassdoor and Indeed allow current and former employees to anonymously post reviews of the company. If the company has low scores, you can come into the interview and ask about the reviews. Keep in mind that one bad score may not be indicative of the company as a whole. Repeated negative comments and a large number of bad scores are a definite warning sign. 

Leave on a professional note

Once you secure your new job, you still want to leave your current workplace on a professional note: give two weeks notice if possible. If you are given an exit interview, this is the time to report why you are leaving and air your grievances. Your documentation of the toxic behavior you encountered will help you remain objective and ensure that you say all you want to say.

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You don’t have to be miserable at work or endure unjust abuse from your employer! Finding a non-toxic work environment is possible. When you don’t dread going to work, your overall health and happiness will improve greatly! 

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