Even with a nation still recovering emotionally, physically, and financially from a pandemic, some people feel empowered to act in inappropriate ways. And when those toxic individuals end up in your workplace, it can disrupt your career path and possibly your mental health.
The experiences of a toxic work environment can impact your mental health in ways that could cause depression or anxiety. And that can lead to sleepless nights, excessive drinking, becoming addicted to prescription medications, or illegal drug use. The root cause may be unprocessed anger, emotions, and pain from working in a toxic environment. But you aren’t powerless. Discover how to recognize a toxic work environment and what to do if you find yourself in one.
What Is a Toxic Work Environment?
A toxic work environment is marked by a culture rooted in constant negativity. Typically, there is low morale, low accountability, and dysfunction. The root cause of this negative work culture varies. Perhaps it’s because employees view themselves as unappreciated or disrespected. On the other hand, it could be unrealistic working conditions or poor leadership that allows the mistreatment of others with little to no consequences. In other words, the reasons are complex. They vary, depending on the underlying issue that allowed it to develop in the first place.
Signs of being in a toxic work environment include:
- Lack of enthusiasm and excitement
- Persistent fear of failure
- Often being accused of wrongdoing without cause
- Dysfunction and mistrust between associates and leadership
- Constant drama, gossip and infighting among associates
- High employee turnover
- Feelings of being burned out
- Low quality of work
- Decreased interest in daily responsibilities
- Frequent absenteeism
- Feeling inferior or intimidated
While you might identify with one or a few of these signs, it doesn’t necessarily mean your work environment is toxic or negatively affecting your mental health. All work environments have a unique culture. Bad days happen and misunderstandings occur. But when the environment affects your mental health to such a degree that your job seems unbearable, it’s time to assess the situation and perhaps look for employment elsewhere.
Regain Your Power
For most people, the workplace is an extension of their family life. Relationships and friendships develop, and they keep in close contact with colleagues for years. So, when the workplace becomes toxic and disruptive, it can be upsetting in the same way it is with friends and family. Have you been the victim of verbal abuse in the workplace? Has someone shown blatant disrespect to you, despite your history of treating them with kindness and respect?
You could be interacting with a narcissist. Unfortunately, treating that person with more kindness may backfire. Narcissists seek people who they believe will look the other way and forgive over and over again for the blatant disrespect. Instead of continuing with that strategy, it’s best to stand firm against them. Try the below methods to take your power back, and you will soon see those types of individuals steering clear of you or at least know that you’re fully aware of their toxic behavior.
Stay in Control
Toxic people strive to cause conflict everywhere they go. A seemingly small misunderstanding often gets turned into a lot of unnecessary drama. You’ve heard it before: Misery loves company. Typically, they will blow things way out of proportion. Don’t take the bait. Gaslighting in the workplace is common. It is a tactic used to gain control over people.
Remember this key phrase when dealing with conflict in a toxic work environment: “The weakest one is always the loudest one.” Remain calm, and keep your emotions in check. They want you to get upset, and they’ll throw every rude, insensitive, unprofessional, or inappropriate comment your way to get you to take the bait.
Instead of matching their tone, look the person straight in the eye and let them know in a confident voice that you’re ending the conversation. A non-threatening professional statement that won’t be disruptive to the workplace should sound something like this: “You seem upset for some reason, and I prefer not to engage with you right now. We should discuss this at another time.” Walk away, and don’t say another word, regardless of their response.
Resist Explaining Yourself
A common trick of a toxic person is an attempt to get you to become defensive about your actions. Have you ever made the mistake of explaining your actions or a decision to someone in the workplace, only to have it go nowhere? After the conversation, you’re more confused about what transpired than about the work issue itself. Toxic people are highly skilled at manipulation, and before you know it, you’re lost in a downward spiral of negative talk and eventually arguing. Constant negativity and engaging with toxic people can affect your mental health and lead to substance abuse.
Rather than explaining yourself or defending your actions, let them know that you would like to take more time to consider their viewpoint. Always say it professionally and in a non-threatening way. You’ve just taken away their attempt to control you and prevented an argument from ensuing.
A thumbs-up, handshake, or even a non-patronizing comment about how well they perform their duties can be helpful in these situations. Removing the perceived threat allows them to stop and reflect upon a common goal. And if they want to resolve things, the person will come back with a better way of handling the situation (perhaps even an apology). If not, then you still have prevented becoming their next victim.
Don’t Sweat It
If someone cuts you off on the road, how would you react? More than likely, you’d ignore it and move on. After all, the likelihood of seeing the person again is slim-to-none. Use the same strategy in a toxic workplace. Although you will likely interact with the same person again and again, by not taking it personally, you’re defusing the issue and not becoming invested in their negativity.
Remember, happy people rarely spend time investing in negative issues. It’s a common trait they all have that helps them stay empowered. Taking things personally is simply out of the question for them.
Detach yourself from the incident and keep your mind focused on what you can control – your actions. In a toxic work environment, not sweating the small stuff is key to keeping your integrity in place. If you show any sign of weakness or vulnerability, the toxic person will exploit it. Don’t allow that to happen!
Staying empowered is crucial if your job is hurting your mental health. So think about your current work environment and ask yourself if there might be something better suited to you out there. Today could be the day you take your power back.
Betterup.com – When Gaslighting at Work Has You Doubting, How to Reclaim Your Calm
BBC.com – Why Some Work Environments Breed Toxic Cultures
Forbes.com – Three Signs You’re In A Toxic Work Environment And Need To Escape
Thehealthy.com – 12 Clues to Spot a Narcissist