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How Do You Leave A Toxic Work Environment?
How DO you leave a toxic work environment AND do so without drama? I have had to ask myself that question a few times in my career. If you are reading this article, perhaps you are in that boat now.
You can feel as though you are all boxed in and the walls are caving in around you when you are in a toxic environment. But, after working through it a few times, I can now share some steps that you can take to make it easier – and healthier – to leave.
- What to look for to KNOW that you are in a toxic work environment.
- The most effective ways to find and assess the OPTIONS open to you.
- Why preparation is CRITICAL and how to go about it.
- When you do decide to take ACTION, the things that are most important.
- The self-care STRATEGIES that will help you to recover and rebound.
You leave a toxic work environment gracefully, courageously and assertively. It is critical that your decision to leave is not dragged on until you become aggressive, broken and bitter. That will not be good for you, the company or the most important people in your life. After recognizing that you are in a toxic environment and you have made a decision to exit, it is time to begin laying the path stones to walk away.
So, let’s take it, step by step and let’s make sure that your mental health and your well-being are intact.
Step 1 – Recognize The Signs Of A Toxic Work Environment
In my early career, I had no idea what a toxic work environment was. As a University Graduate, I was overjoyed to be interning with one of our country’s top Executives. That is all that mattered.
I dived in and gave the job everything I had. There was no orientation and no other experience to benchmark my own experiences against.
- a lack of communication,
- high turnover rates,
- negative employee morale,
- excessive demands on my time, and,
- poor recognition and reward,
I still gave my all – and then some.
Within two (2) years, I was suffering from burnout and seeking interventions to salvage my mental health and well-being.
Employees were rewarded because they did the bidding of their Supervisors and Managers not because of their performance and growth. If you did not fall in line with these behaviours, you were left to fend for yourself.
Thankfully, a few decades on, you are fortunate to have access to support and the experience of others. Know that you are not alone in this journey and you owe it to yourself to Change Your Script.
Additional Reading >>>> How Can I Survive In A Toxic Workplace Without Going Crazy?
Step 2- Evaluate Your Options
Now that you know you are in a toxic work environment, how do you go about evaluating your options?
Here are a few points to consider.
a. Can You Be Transferred?
The first thing to assess is whether your toxic work environment is isolated or if it exists across the company. If it is isolated to your area or department, (or boss), you can explore being transferred.
Of course, that is only if you are comfortable working for the company.
In some situations, your Manager or Supervisor may be creating the toxicity or feeding its growth. That may make addressing it a bit more difficult to navigate. If s/he has to approve a transfer for you that may also bring things to a halt.
b. Can You Get Support From HR?
If you have a Human Resources (HR) Department, you may be able to obtain some advice, coaching and support there. However, I would caution you about diving in deep from the get-go.
There are many situations in which HR finds itself caught in the middle and unable to maintain its independence. This is not what you want to hear, I know, but it is the reality.
HR is human and has its own failings.
Make sure that you can trust HR to give you the confidentiality and support that you need.
c. Is It Time To Look For Another Opportunity?
You may have arrived at this juncture and your instinct is telling you that you should move on but your emotions are still connected to the very same toxic work environment.
Change is never easy, especially when you have invested a lot into something (or someone). There is always a feeling that you can hold on a bit longer, waiting for things to become different.
However, this should not be done by sacrificing your health, well-being and peace of mind.
Know when to walk away and it never hurts to quietly explore alternatives.
Step 3 – Start Preparing To Leave
You have exhausted all your staying options and you have come to terms with the fact that leaving is the best decision to make.
As much as possible, start preparing BEFORE you walk out the door. Here are some essential things to have in place.
a. Have Some Savings
This is something that you should be doing all through your working life – living BELOW your means and not above them. You will appreciate having done that when you have to make decisions like these.
Practice the 45-25-30 Rule. This is actually my rule.
45% of your after-tax income on what you NEED, 25% on what you WANT and 30% into savings. Savings should be split into 50% in stocks and shares and 50% into pooled investment funds.
You can thank me later.
b. Update Your Resume
Your résumé should be updated regularly. Every time you complete training or a certification program or move into a new job role, update your résumé.
That way, when it is time to move on there is no last-minute scrambling.
Make sure that you inform your References that you are on the lookout for new opportunities. That way, they will be ready when reference checks are being made.
c. Network. Network. Network.
Nothing beats someone blowing your horn for you and unlocking and opening doors. Always be networking, volunteering, supporting others and helping where you can.
Networking is career real estate. People remember your kind gestures and will return the favour when you are in need.
Remember to always be professional and do your best to avoid burning bridges. Try to be on good terms always.
Some Additional Insights >>> Is It Worth Taking A Pay Cut To Leave A Toxic Work Environment?
Step 4 – Make your Exit
You have reached this far and now it is time to make your exit.
At this stage, you will be managing more of the emotional impact of leaving the toxic environment. There WILL be feelings of guilt, anxiety and even Impostor Syndrome.
You WILL be thinking that you could have done more or that this is all happening because of you.
Stand in front of a mirror and talk yourself out of it. Remind yourself about your worth and what you deserve. Write down some affirmations on post-it notes and stick them up around your home where you can see them.
Read them aloud, regularly.
Keep them in your car and sing them out while driving and visualizing yourself arriving at your new destination.
You got this!
Step 5 – Invest In Some Self-Care
So, you have made it out of the abyss. You survived. You are moving on towards a new horizon.
It’s time for some self-care before you begin the next journey. And please, make sure that you have a break before you start your new venture. You will need it.
This is the best time to spend some time with you and your loved ones. Here are some things that you can do to bring yourself some joy and recharge your batteries:
a. Take a mini-vacation.
b. Buy the pair of shoes that you have been admiring for months.
c. Spend some time with your hairdresser and treat yourself to a new hairstyle.
d. Go for a massage.
e. Have a facial.
f. Get a manicure and pedicure.
g. Take yourself to dinner at your favourite restaurant. Better yet, take your best friend with you.
h. Pamper yourself with flowers.
i. Sleep late and watch your favourite movies in bed all day.
j. Take a cooking class.
k. Go dancing.
You get the picture, I am sure.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What Are the Signs Of A Toxic Workplace?
- Trust is lacking or non-existent. People always have their guard up.
- People act out of fear and not because of enjoyment or satisfaction.
- Relationships are unhealthy.
- Your growth is not important and your initiatives are not supported.
- Behaviours swing from passive to aggressive with limited assertiveness.
- Work and demands never seem to end. Hours are long.
- You feel guilty when you have to take time off for yourself.
- People are not respectful of each other.
- You are damned if you do and damned if you don’t.
Why Is It So Hard To Leave A Toxic Job?
It is hard to leave a toxic job or work environment because of habit. We become accustomed to our routines, as hard as they may be. We prefer not to “rock the boat” and hold on to what we know. The feeling that “things could always be worse” is always at the front of our minds. If we left and things got worse, we would never be able to forgive ourselves.
Can You Change A Toxic Workplace?
The straight-up answer is “no” unless you are the one who is toxic or is leading the charge and can directly influence or impact change.
I have worked in a few toxic environments over the years. I did not realise it until I had invested a lot in the environment. Toxic people are good at masking themselves and things.
After trying my best to do my best, if I was unable to directly make a change, I left. It may sound flippant but I cherish my peace of mind and well-being above all else.
Can A Toxic Employee Be Fired?
Yes, a toxic employee can be fired. But, the more meaningful question is, will a toxic employee be fired?
Depending on their employment records, performance assessments and other documentation, firing a toxic employee can be a lengthy and difficult legal process.
Your reasons for termination MUST be legitimate and you MUST have consistent documentation to defend your reasons. This includes providing opportunities for behaviour adjustment and training and development opportunities.
When Should You Leave A Toxic Job?
You should leave a toxic job or work environment as soon as you recognize that it is causing you damage, (dis)stress and is negatively impacting your mental health and well-being.
Signs will start to emerge such as losing self-motivation, feeling overwhelmed or overworked, becoming burnt out, having frequent thoughts about leaving and being disinterested in the environment and the people in it.
Do not allow things to fester and always know that there are options you can pursue.
My Closing Thoughts . . .
Knowing when to leave a toxic work environment can be tricky sometimes. However, most of us ignore the signs and try to prove ourselves wrong. If the situation(s) causing the toxicity is (are) not addressed then build-up occurs and things get progressively worse.
You start to feel that your mental health and well-being are being threatened and become dissatisfied and unhappy with yourself, your environment and the surrounding people.
That is when you know for sure that it is time to prepare for your exit and get ready to leave professionally and gracefully.
On a couple of occasions, I have fought to hold on but to the detriment of my own functioning.
Today, as I reflect on my career, achievements and position in life, I can confidently say that it is not worth it. Life is much too short to sacrifice your happiness.