No one likes to come to work to feeling jittery and anxious all the time. Unfortunately, this is often the effect that toxic work environments have on employees. Here, people feel like they have to be constantly vigilant against sudden ambushes. There is no psychological safety, little to no sense of trust amongst team members, and a sense of every-man-for-himself that is counter-productive to effective collaboration.
The solution isn’t always as simple as finding a new job. Unstable job markets and other unfortunate circumstances can force employees in toxic work cultures to bite the bullet and stick it out no matter how bad it gets, or at least until they can find a better job. This, however, can be extremely exhausting without implementing some rules of engagement. To that end, here’s how you can survive a toxic workplace culture.
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Negative work environments have a way of putting you in perpetual fight-or-flight mode. More often than not, they deplete your mental and emotional reserves, leaving little room for you to apply yourself productively to your work. In such cases, instead of working towards something, you remain rooted to the ground in favour of protecting yourself. While it’s important to protect yourself, directing all your attention to this end will make you feel constantly jittery, paranoid, and distracted.
The more distracted you allow yourself to get with the hostility around you, though, the less your focus on your goals, and the slower your career growth will be.
While such environments do have a way of making everything more complicated, it doesn’t render productivity and growth impossible. The key is making a conscious choice every day to focus on what you want to achieve, instead of just what you want to protect. By directing your attention, mental, and emotional energy towards specific personal growth goals, you’re giving yourself a potent source of daily intrinsic motivation: purpose. As Nietzsche once said, “He who has a why will endure any how.”
Revenge isn’t always sweet, and tit for tat strategies never pay off in the long run. As tempting as it may be to give a toxic co-worker a taste of their own medicine, doing this just adds fuel to the fire. Not only will that fire start to spread and grow, it may harm you and others around you as well.
In other words, retaliating in equal measure to toxic co-workers may allow you to feel temporarily vindicated, but it never pays off in the end. Ultimately, doing this will only contribute to escalating tensions, fever-pitch animosities and a rapidly dissatisfying work environment.
Inevitably, there will be moments when you’re forced to butt heads with toxic co-workers. It can play out in two ways; sometimes, you’ll need to assert yourself, and other times, you’ll need to disengage.
Knowing how to react in each situation is critical, and this is where good emotional intelligence comes to play. To help yourself practice good emotional self-control in a toxic work environment, recognise your triggers:
Understanding your triggers this way helps you to know when to stand your ground in toxic situations, and when to pull away to calm down and “regroup” yourself. This way, you avoid accidentally providing toxic co-workers with ammunition to use against you when you find yourself over-reacting in highly emotional situations.
There are limits to everything, including toxic work environments. Having manipulative and backstabbing co-workers is one thing, but if your co-workers are consistently guilty of abuse, office bullying, or workplace harassment, it may be time to draw a line in the sand. In these cases, resilience isn’t about strategically enduring toxicity; it’s about putting your foot down against unacceptable and mentally harmful behaviour.