Recently, I had the occasion to observe a group of employees who were working in a toxic work environment. I witnessed the decline of self-esteem in each one of them as they endured month after month of poor leadership and dysfunction in their workplace. I was truly amazed at the change to the countenance of each of these employees as their situation continually grew worse. If one could have taken a before photo of these employees prior to their being in a toxic environment and then an after photo when they were months into it, the physical manifestations of the negativity they endured would be staggering. Slowly, I observed each of these employees reach their breaking point and one by one resign from the company. Each of them had good paying jobs with fabulous benefits, but the toxicity they dealt with each day was so unbearable that no amount of money would have made it worth the cost to their own self-worth.
They left their jobs without having new jobs lined up because they recognized that the toll the toxic environment was taking had become far too great to stay another day.
Many of you may not be in such an extreme toxic work environment that you are willing to quit your job before having secured a new one, but most will have the occasion to deal with some level of toxicity in the workplace and could benefit from a few tips on how to cope with it when it occurs.
I believe the most important thing is to recognize when working in a toxic environment is that it is NOT a reflection of who you truly are. Often times in a toxic workplace there is an abundance of tearing others down, passive aggressive leadership, destructive gossip, conniving politics, and abundant negativity. When you are surrounded by this daily it can really start to affect your own self-worth. It is imperative that you learn to separate the negativity you are swimming in daily from the reality of who you truly are. I personally think this demoralizing effect is the biggest danger to staying long-term in any toxic environment, and to combat this you will have to find ways to daily remind yourself that you are not a reflection of your current surroundings. Placing positive and uplifting quotes on the wall of your office or cubicle that will help keep your spirits lifted can be very helpful in these circumstances. Also, taking time out each workday to take a short walk by yourself is a great way to detach and allow for positive self-talk to remind yourself of the qualities you possess that make you amazing. Find ways to remind yourself of who you truly are.
Another important coping step is to realize that you cannot control what other people say and do, you can only control your own actions and reactions. The sooner you accept that the better for your own mental well-being. This realization allows you to let go of owning other people’s negative behavior and it empowers you to focus on improving yourself. The more you can focus on improving yourself in a negative environment the better, because when you finally get the opportunity to escape the situation you are in, you will get to take all the personal growth you have made along with you. No doubt that growth will help you to be even more successful as you move forward.
Finally, try to focus on turning your bad situation into a good learning experience. Most often our strongest personal growth comes from living through our most difficult situations. When you are working in a toxic environment, try to pay close attention to the lessons you can take away from the experience. Perhaps you can learn the qualities in a leader that you never want to emulate. Perhaps you can learn the management mistakes that you would not want to repeat if the opportunity for management ever comes your way. In every bad situation there is something you can learn that will help you become a better person, so focus on each lesson you are learning.
As difficult as a toxic work environment may be, never allow yourself to become less than who you are meant to be out of anger or spite for your current employer. Always conduct yourself with integrity and always put in your very best effort toward the job you were hired to do. It is easy to fall into the trap of giving up on the job, but the bottom line is that as long as you are taking a paycheck you have an obligation to give an honest day’s work. Don’t allow yourself to justify personal bad behavior on the failures that exist your company’s leadership. I realize that at times it feels like the only way is to fight back in a toxic situation, but the reality is that doing so only hurts your own integrity. Know that your reputation will continue far beyond the company you are with today, and nothing is worth trading your integrity over. Do your absolute best every day at your job and the word will get out to other companies of your incredible character and work ethic. People talk far more in the business world than you may realize, and the word of your positive or negative behavior will spread farther and wider than you may think, so never do anything that you need to be ashamed of.
Continue to search diligently for a better work environment to switch to, and be sure to let others know that you are interested in new opportunities for work. Then give your very best at work up to the very day when you can joyfully hand in your resignation letter and move on to bigger, better, and happier things.
This article originally appeared in Forbes