Setting the circumstances aside, for many working from home is a welcome break from the endless commuting, offices politics, and workplace gossips. With some normality coming back to 2020 – it looks like for most of us – we will be expected to return to the workplace. For lovers of the workspaces, this can be a welcome relief as it means no more zoom meetings at 9am, but for people who work in a toxic environment the thought of returning may be filling you with dread. A survey conducted by TopResume found that out of 1,229 professionals, 71% of them felt bullied by a boss or supervisor, and a minor 4% claim to have never felt bullied. Working in a toxic work environment is a recipe for disaster, for both your career and wellbeing, and it’s not just bullying that effects our metal health. Gossiping, unrealistic goals set by managers or negative personalities all play a part in reducing your happiness at work; so how can you combat this?
Here, HR Director Lauren Wolfer at LastVerdict breaks down a selection of problems we can face in a toxic work environment, as well as how to tackle them. ‘Having to continuously return to a location or place of work that damages our mental well-being can whittle our confidence down and make us question our career choice. From experience, you should never hide your feelings and say ‘well, this just the industry, I’ll get on with it’. Look to make changes, tackle the issues and make your life better’.
We tend to think of difficult co-workers as either bullies, or toxic, but as Wolfer states, they are not mutually exclusive. ‘They’re the same thing usually. Whether it’s a co-worker subtly digging away behind you back, or another correcting non-existent mistakes the outcome is always the same – your mental health suffers. Typically, negative people who bring the workspace down tend to do it for the same reasons a school bully does; they thrive on the power they have to manipulate others and/or they’re insecure about their position. Unfortunately, toxic environments can sometimes produce success by enforcing fear or a negative workspace, but staff tend to not stick around to see (or care) about the results.’
‘Toxic co-workers can be your friends also, as there’s such a thing as ‘blowing off too much steam’ with a colleague. Ranting about work is an important and natural part of life (and has proven to be healthy for team moral), but it should be kept in check, and it’s essential to know if there’s a line that’s been crossed. If not kept under control, complaining at work can turn an already negative and toxic workplace into a hostile one, leaving you focused on the bad qualities and blind to the good ones. If you find yourself being dragged into a situation that might be negative, it’s best to put a stop to it as soon as possible. When you walk away from the conversations you have and think ‘do I feel positive or negative right now’? If it tends to be more negative than positive, then it might be time for a change.’
Can a toxic workplace effect my health?
It is not the most helpful thing to ‘grin and bear it’ or ‘keep a stiff upper lip’, as -and who would have guessed it – ignoring the causes of stress result in more stress. ‘Obviously there are clear reasons to try and remove a toxic environment – work efficiency suffers greatly, as does team moral and respect for the company, but the effects on your mind have real ramifications. Scientifically, there’s a reason you dread sitting down at your desk on Monday morning, as a toxic environment keeps your mind endlessly on edge. The constant flow of cortisol, testosterone, and norepinephrine produces physical, emotional, and mental stress on the body and makes it almost impossible to maintain a healthy work rate’.
Making the change
Making a change in your social life when you have complete control can feel like a herculean task in itself, so how do you change your situation at work when aspects are totally out of your hands? ‘Because it’s common to feel down about your work, don’t think that you’re alone fighting this battle. Try to establish a network of work colleagues you trust and consider honest. It doesn’t even have to be a big network, just one or two close people will provide the guidance you need when questioning things that seem unfair. In all likelihood, they will have experienced relatable circumstances in some way or another. Getting advice that helps you see things from another point of view can provide a different understanding of the situation, and you may start to understand (if not agree with) the other person’s intentions. Ask yourself what’s making them act this way to you? What actions are they expecting from you? What can I do to make them less hostile? Just remember to choose your friends wisely, as you’re probably going to be speaking candidly about you concerns, and the last thing you need is to be spilling your heart out to the office gossip.’
‘It’s a bit tacky sounding, but if you’re looking for change, then it doesn’t hurt to ‘be the change’. Toxic workplaces tend to be very competitive, making the atmosphere tense and unwelcoming. In these types of environments, it can feel that you’re always on high alert and ready for a new attack, but you don’t have to lower yourself to their level. Look for way to improve yourself, and in turn the place you work, from being nice to everyone (even the problem people) to giving a helping hand to people you would normally stay a million miles away from. ‘Work hard, be nice’, and stay as far away from drama as possible. The effects of this won’t be immediate, and in no way am I suggesting you’re become best friends with everyone, but it will change their intentions towards you, though probably not to others. Combine this new attitude with staying focused on work and steering away from office gossip, and although you maybe won’t change the entire office dynamic, you will focus on it less, and hopefully become happier outside the workplace too.’
‘Toxic environments have a knock-on effect on your social life too, and it can become an all-consuming 24/7 void. Aim to cement a perfect work balance of only focusing on the people from work when you’re at work, which can be done by setting boundaries to ensure you have a job and a social life. Going into work after spending a whole weekend thinking about how much you hate it is only going to create a cycle of distress.’
‘If all else fails, and you just can’t seem to escape the bitching and infighting of the workplace, and it’s making you feel worthless, both physically and mentally, then take a deep breath, reevaluate the situation and make the leap into looking for somewhere else. Never be rash, try to think things through, and remember that all situations are temporary. Spend an hour or so a night seeking out different opportunities, because ultimately the best way to overcome a toxic environment that will never change is to move on from it’.