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How to Handle a Toxic Work Environment

Working in a toxic work environment can be difficult for any employee. In this blog post, we break down how you can handle it to make life easier in 7 simple steps!

Brigette Hyacinth, author of “Leading the Future Workforce,” published an article on her LinkedIn page titled “Toxic Work Cultures Make Best Employees Quit.” In this piece, Ms. Hyacinth highlights her concern about a toxic work environment/culture by quoting the above-mentioned quote. Because organizational culture and commitment are becoming increasingly important, this blog will look at the indications of a toxic work environment, how they are linked to organizational culture and commitment, and how we can deal with or address this rising issue.

“People don’t leave jobs, they leave toxic work cultures”

– Dr. Amina Aitsi-Selmi.

What is a Toxic Work Environment?

Toxic workplaces are described as any job in which the work, the environment, the people, or any combination of these factors causes major disruptions in your personal life. Work can feel like a second home for many individuals. Employees devote the majority of their waking hours to their occupation. After family and friends, coworkers and team are likely to be the individuals with whom employees interact the most in their lives. 

However, in a toxic workplace, it is impossible to be effective and fulfilled. Even if one works from home, a bad work environment can reach beyond physical boundaries. The intangible aspects that make a workplace healthy or unhealthy can have an impact on personal life, health, and self-esteem. “A toxic environment keeps people in a fight or flight mindset—the constant pump of cortisol, testosterone, and norepinephrine generates physical, emotional, and mental stress,” says Cheri Torres, an Asheville, North Carolina-based business leadership coach and author of Conversations Worth Having: Using Appreciative Inquiry to Fuel Productive and Meaningful Engagement. 

Statistics from various surveys confirm that: 

  • ​​25% of Americans dread going to work
  • 57% of people report leaving work feeling exhausted, and that a toxic atmosphere often compounds that stress.
  • 38% of employees say they decrease the quality of their work in a toxic work environment

This begs the question: How do employers or employees identify if there exists a toxic work environment? 

What are the signs of a toxic work environment?

Employees are quitting in droves because of terrible workplace culture, not inadequate compensation, according to a recent analysis from MIT Sloan Management Review. In fact, according to the survey, a toxic workplace culture is 10.4 times more likely to cause an employee to leave.

Graph explaining toxic work environment

A toxic work environment can manifest itself in a variety of ways. Knowing what to look for will help you spot negativity in the workplace and deal with it more effectively and successfully. Three elements of a toxic culture were found through data analysis:

  • Failure to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion
  • Workers feeling disrespected
  • Unethical behavior

While the above three elements have been common issues that have been historically difficult to deal with, Ms.Hyacinth shared 10 visible signs that your workplace is toxic. 

Common Issues of a Toxic Workplace

  • The organization’s core beliefs do not serve as the foundation for how it operates.
  • Suggestions from employees are ignored. People are hesitant to provide candid feedback.
  • Micromanagement – Employees are given little or no autonomy in their work.
  • The practice of management blaming and punishing employees is commonplace.
  • Absenteeism, illness, and significant employee turnover are all problems.
  • Overworking is anticipated and is a badge of honor.
  • Employees and management have little or strained interaction.
  • Social cliques and/or gossip.
  • Favoritism and office politics are two of the most common problems in the workplace.
  • Behavior that is aggressive or bullying.

Most of these mentioned may not occur in your workplace, nevertheless, are common worldwide and detrimental to employee health. Any employee that has to deal with a toxic work environment may suffer from various health issues in the short term, which can only worsen over the long term. Stress, Job Burnout, Physical fatigue, and illness are very common in various industries such as healthcare, security, hospitality, etc. The increase in these health issues can directly impact organizational culture and commitment, which would in the bigger picture impact the organizational behavior and productivity. For instance, social cliques and gossiping can often create a weak and differentiated culture, and such a subculture can often lead to creating instability within the organization as outed members would feel more like a misfit. 

In order to ensure that no employee is a victim of a toxic work environment, there must be some structural changes required at the organizational level. This might be an impossible task for an employee. However, as we will see in the next section, there are quite a few ways for an employee to handle a toxic environment. 

How to cope with and handle a toxic work environment

According to an American Psychological Association study, workplace toxicity is not only ubiquitous, but it is also extremely harmful to employees’ mental health. So, if you find yourself in an uncomfortable work scenario, here are some coping strategies.

1. Find a support system

If you’re dealing with a toxic work environment, you’re not alone. Finding helpful coworkers to lean on during this time is crucial. While you don’t want to be viewed as gossiping, you do want to surround yourself with nice individuals. You could also look for a support group outside of work. Having individuals to vent your frustrations to who aren’t your coworkers provides you with another safe outlet.

2. Seek out a coach

Burnout symptoms can be confused with those of a hazardous work environment. Seek the advice of a professional coach if you are unsure whether the issue is with you or with the corporate culture. Having an objective third-party sounding board can help you sort through your emotions and get to the bottom of the problem. They can also assist you in developing techniques for dealing with a hostile workplace and in setting realistic professional goals.

3. Implement mindfulness techniques

Mindfulness techniques can help you deal with work-related anxiety and stress. Begin with a brief guided meditation or some visualization exercises. Mindfulness in the workplace can help you focus on the present moment and be more mindful in your interactions with others.

4. Take some time to unwind

It’s critical to find methods to unwind after a long day at work. Find hobbies that will take your mind off of work. Engaging in a beloved pastime, journaling, or planning an outing with friends are some examples. Finding your identity outside of work will also assist in putting things into perspective.

5. Establish healthy boundaries

If you find yourself in a toxic work environment, it’s critical to establish appropriate boundaries. Consider shutting off your work phone after a specific time each day and only replying to emails during office hours. Practice communicating your boundaries to your manager and coworkers. If a boundary is crossed, handle it quickly so that it does not happen again. According to a Self Financial survey, nearly one in every eleven employees does not feel valued by their manager, and 11.6 percent feel disrespected by the firm as a whole. Document any instances of rudeness, abuse, or bullying at work. That way, you’ll be ready if you need to escalate the situation or resort to litigation.

6. Start planning your exit strategy

If you’ve determined that the status quo is worse than the prospect of change, it’s time to start looking for other jobs. Contact your network and keep your professional social media pages up to date. Take this opportunity to chronicle all of your accomplishments and plan your exit from your current position. Then create a plan of action with defined milestones to hold you accountable.

Finding oneself in a hazardous workplace does not necessarily indicate the end of your career. Instead, prioritize the implementation of coping methods. Therefore, if you do decide to leave, you’ll know you did your best to better your circumstances.

7. Stay focused on important goals

Walking into a toxic job can seem like you’re back in high school, where gossip spread faster than the track team and cliques were more exclusive than the varsity cheerleading squad. People love to gossip about everything, whether it’s about the CEO having an affair, how inept James from marketing is, or whether the impending restructure will result in layoffs. There could even be entire group messages or Slack channels dedicated to slandering coworkers and pointing fingers.

Don’t let office gossip distract you from your task, and especially don’t join the conversation.” Spreading gossip is one of the quickest ways to damage confidence among coworkers. Nobody wants to be vulnerable and open in that setting because everyone is afraid that information would be leaked and used against them later.


While toxic work environments can be the consequence of a variety of circumstances, they are typically the product of bad leadership and individuals who maintain the culture. It begins from the very top. Respect, Integrity, Authenticity, Appreciation, Empathy, and Trust must be demonstrated by leaders.

Toxicity in the workplace is expensive. Employees who are unhappy or disengaged cost businesses billions of dollars each year in lost revenue, settlements, and other losses. Once you’ve identified the primary issues through obtaining data. Make a plan and stick to it. It may entail training, relocation, or simply removing problematic bosses from the workplace. Demonstrate to employees that you care about them and are dedicated to making their workplace a better place to work. Employees might be your most valuable asset, but it all depends on how you treat them.

Unfortunately, if the cancer in the tree’s roots is not treated, not only will the branches and leaves die, but so will the tree.