By Pieter De Wit

In 2015, I was working as a department store manager. Turned out, my ideas of how to handle my job and create a better workplace were not in alignment with my team and higher management. The negative atmosphere at work was stressing me out and began affecting my mood in my spare time too. 

After a long period of frustration, lousy communication and misunderstandings, I was burnt out. I decided to leave the company soon after. I hope by sharing my experience and insights,that  maybe I can help you to deal with a toxic work environment. 

What Is A Toxic Work Environment? 

Any job that has a profound negative impact on your wellbeing is toxic. Individuals experience stress differently, so YOUR perception is what matters most. Your colleagues, boss or even your friends might tell you’re overreacting, but if you experience severe negative energy at your workplace, trust yourself. 

While any negative input can create a toxic environment, the most common signs to look out for are: gossipy coworkers, tyrannical upper management, a lack of positive encouragement, inconsistent rules, work-life disbalance, unhappy employees, poor communication, and high employee sickness and staff turnover. 

What Should You Do?

In my case, I waited too long, and the situation escalated, until I thought leaving was the best option. But looking back, I could have considered other options. According to Eckhart Tolle, the author of The Power of Now,  “When you complain, you make yourself a victim. Leave the situation, change the situation, or accept it. All else is madness”. So let’s look at how these three options can help you deal with your situation! 

Change The Situation

At first, it might be best to try to improve the circumstance you’re in. If you’re overworked, start with setting boundaries for yourself. Take your lunch break. Stick to the tasks agreed upon in your contract and say no to more work and overtime, if you’re not happy to do it or if your boss refuses to adequately compensate you.

If the toxicity is coming from the social environment, try to find support with a coworker. Having someone to vent to can help and together you can find a way to counter the negative energy of other coworkers. 

Avoid participating in any gossip, speaking openly is the key to real change. Do this first with a trusted colleague and in your performance review. If you can organise an open meeting, where everyone feels safe to express their honest opinions, you might be surprised how many people think the same way you do. 

Accept Your Work Environment

Maybe the problems are rooted too deep in the corporate culture, and change will not happen any time soon. Or perhaps you can’t find another job and your only option, for now, is to accept your work environment. Then remind yourself that most people are inherently good at heart, at least that’s what Anne Frank believed. The toxic people that ruin your workday often act from their own insecurity and weakness. Their negativity is nothing more than a cry for attention and love. 

I understand if you don’t believe this at first, but if you feel emotionally strong enough, see it as a challenge to cultivate your inner Buddha. Break down their emotional defences and share love and positivity with them. 

This may be easier said than done, especially, when you are suffering emotionally. Therefore it can be helpful to train your brain to stay strong. Anything that helps you relax could work. For me it is going for a run, reading a book with a nice cup of tea or practising relaxation breathing exercises.

Cope with negative energy through meditation, yoga, going for a walk, listening to music or having fun with your friends. By calming your mind, and creating a positive mindset, you’ll find it easier to not let any negative energy influence your zen. 

Leave!

Sometimes, you need to stop fooling yourself and just leave the job. Try to speak openly to your boss about why you want to go, thank everyone for the time you had and move on with your head held high. Deciding to resign does not make you weak, but instead shows great strength and courage. Don’t regret any wasted time, but be grateful for this learning opportunity and start to look forward to a new chapter.  
Most of us spend more time at our workplace than with our friends and families. A healthy work environment is crucial for our wellbeing. If you feel something is off, hone in on the possible negative signs indicating you’re in a toxic environment. But always trust your gut—whatever you are experiencing is always right. Then take control of your happiness and change, accept or leave the situation, because all the rest is madness!