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What can you do when you find yourself in a toxic workplace?

A healthy work environment is crucial for your long-term career prospects. If you want to develop your skills, find motivation, and enjoy your day-to-day work, then you’ll need to find a company that fosters a supportive atmosphere and values psychological safety.

Unfortunately, not every workplace will provide you with this kind of experience.

In fact, toxic workplaces are probably more common than you think - almost a third of UK employees have taken time off due to toxic work conditions, while 42% of workers experiencing bullying or discrimination have left their roles permanently.

A toxic work environment isn’t always easy to spot, which means that it’s easy to find yourself stuck in a negative workspace. This can be hugely detrimental to your professional development and job satisfaction, but it can also take a massive toll on your mental health.

Here’s how you can identify a toxic workplace - and more importantly, how you can successfully escape these situations once you’ve spotted the warning signs.

What causes a toxic work environment?

First things first, let’s examine the common causes of a toxic work environment, and highlight some of the biggest red flags that usually appear.

There are many different factors that can cause a toxic workplace to develop. It could be a sudden transition (i.e. a quick change of management) or a gradual issue caused by poor leadership, unhealthy communication, a lack of accountability, or a negative culture.

Many different variables may be behind a toxic workplace, and equally, this toxicity can present itself in several different ways, including:

  • Offensive/aggressive leadership
  • Frequent harassment, bullying, or discrimination
  • Harmful gossip
  • Passive-aggressive behaviour
  • Microaggressions
  • Unsafe or unhealthy working conditions
  • Excessive workloads or unrealistic expectations
  • Lack of development opportunities
  • Unclear, rude, or insulting feedback
  • A clear lack of accountability/disciplinary action

If you feel like you’ve identified any of these telltale signs in your workplace, it’s time to think about making a career move and finding a more positive business environment.

What can you do if you find yourself in a toxic workplace?

1. Don’t blame yourself for the situation

The first thing to remember is that a negative work environment is not your fault.

Although toxic colleagues and managers may make you feel as if you’ve caused a bad situation, this isn’t the case. There’s no excuse for aggression, bullying, or manipulation in the workplace, so make sure to remind yourself that you’re not to blame in any capacity.

2. Set clear work boundaries

Establishing firm personal & professional boundaries within the workplace is key for protecting yourself from a toxic atmosphere. Although it can be difficult, don’t allow yourself to be forced into working excessive hours, putting up with unprofessional behaviours, or skipping your lunch break.

If you feel like these boundaries are being crossed, speak with your manager and let them know that the situation is unacceptable - and if your manager isn’t receptive, don’t be afraid to escalate these discussions to the HR department.

(And if HR or senior business leaders aren’t willing to acknowledge these issues, you’ll know that it’s time to seek out job opportunities elsewhere.)

The quicker you establish your boundaries, the better it will be for your mental health.

3. Look for support internally/externally

When you’re surrounded by negative influences, it’s critically important that you find sources of positivity and enjoyment in your professional life.

For example, if you have friends in the workplace that understand the issues you’re facing, try to spend as much time with them as possible - go for a coffee run, sit down at lunch together, or meet up after work to enjoy some quality social time. While it’s important to avoid gossiping, finding one or two supportive co-workers can be incredibly beneficial.

Venting your frustrations can be hugely helpful if you’re struggling with a toxic environment, so don’t be afraid to lean on friends or colleagues that can offer support.

If you don’t have any trusted connections in the office, you should look to find positivity and relief elsewhere, by meeting up with friends or family in a comfortable environment. You can also contact ACAS to make sure that your rights are being upheld as an employee.

4. Find ways to stay positive and de-stress

‘Staying positive’ is often easier said than done, but when you’re grappling with a challenging workplace, positive action can prevent you from becoming overwhelmed.

To help you stay positive, try and find ways to de-stress at the end of the working day.

You might find enjoyment in attending gym classes, practising meditation, reading books, or even just listening to your favourite music. Everyone is different, so it’s key to find activities that will allow you to properly unwind.

And always remember - although it can feel as if your job is the most important thing in the world, it’s important to put things in context. A toxic workplace can cause stress and anxiety that infiltrates every area of your life, so you need to detach yourself from the situation and remind yourself that friends, hobbies, and interests exist outside of the office.

5. Reach out to a recruiter (and plan your exit)

Sometimes enduring or navigating a toxic work environment just isn’t feasible, and if you’re finding that your mental health is declining, you’ll need to start searching for new job opportunities as quickly as possible.

To help you assess your career options and line up interviews, try reaching out to a recruiter for guidance.

Not only will a recruiter keep any issues you have with your current employer totally confidential, but they’ll also be able to help you take quick, decisive action to find a new role at a better company.

Recruiters will have an up-to-date understanding of the current job market, meaning they can enable you to transition to a workplace that’s infinitely better for your career prospects, personal development, and general well-being.

If you’re currently dealing with a negative workplace, or noticing signs of a toxic business culture, don’t hesitate to reach out.

At Barclay Meade, we can help you to discover fresh job opportunities with progressive employers that offer a positive working environment - so you can leave the toxicity behind, and focus on growing your career with the support you need.

Click here to launch your career search, create a job-seeker account, or get in touch with one of our recruitment specialists.

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