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Five Ways to Recover From a Toxic Workplace

What sacrifices have you made to provide for yourself, your family, your pets, and your Amazon binging habits? By sacrifices, I mean what negative behaviors have you endured from others and maybe yourself in any given work day? Here's a sign, your inbox pings with an email from that dreaded co-worker who instantly triggers your fight or flight response. Your face gets flush, your heartbeat quickens, your palms get sweaty, and you haven't even opened the email yet.

I had been in a toxic work environment that is still having considerable amounts of residual effects on how I conduct myself professionally. For me, clear signs I was in a toxic workplace were the gaslighting, being bullied, being ignored, and the lack of consideration for other people's feelings. The final straw for me was when I was no longer able to do my job in an equitable way. I could not contribute to the team in an ethical, responsible manner.

I started to have physical reactions to this environment. I started to feel a knot of pain in my neck/shoulder, headaches, mood swings, poor attitude (which was unlike my optimistic-self), and a large self-awareness that this was happening and I had to stop it. The worst part of the realization was how I actually felt toxic. My presence, my overall feeling of being well completely diminished. I felt like I was breathing in/out toxic air that weighted on my heart and lungs - like a heavy cloud of green smog.

For you, these signs might be different. A toxic workplace is one marked by negative behaviors. Traits of a toxic workplace include, a lack of trust, no error for mistakes, bullying behaviors, being asked to sacrifice ethical practices, unrealistic deadlines, a complete lack of boundaries, lack of support, and manipulation and gaslighting is built into the culture.

Now that you've identified that you could be in a toxic workplace, how do you right the ship?

Set tighter boundaries

It is perfectly acceptable to create and hold tight boundaries at work. In fact, it is expected for a happy and health work-life balance. If you are part of an environment that expects you to put the Company first, above your mental health, your family, your personal time, your overall well-being, start a list of values important for your to live a balanced life.

Quick exercise:

Identify two situations or people in your life that you experience as disempowering. For each situation, identify the consequences of your feeling of disempowerment. Reflect on these two situations/people and write a list of why you found each disempowering. Now, name a boundary that you could tighten.


Situation - every time you suggest the legal approach to the problem at hand, you are gaslighted to believe the problem isn't what you are making it out to be.

List - your opinion wasn't heard, your expertise is being questioned, you are unable to do your job adequately, your integrity is being questioned, and your overall reputation is on the line.

Boundary - you value your integrity. If your team is not supportive of your expertise, you know that is crossing a boundary you hold high among your values list.

Ask yourself, what standard would you set for yourself to make that righter boundary work? Holding yourself to your own standard is another way to hold your boundary tight.

Don't repeat the past

Don't live in the past. If you want to recover with your current employer, move out of past behaviors and into positive behaviors. Although it is easy to allow past emotions creep in, you must approach each situation through a new optimistic lens. Try a new approach from your standard reaction to a situation. Instead of going back to your office and stew about a situation you could not control, try taking three deep breaths and repeating a mantra. Get away from that negativity a quickly as possible and into some positive thinking patterns.

Reframe your triggers

Remember that email that pinged your inbox and your instant flood of emotions? This is an opportunity for you! Noticing the trigger is half the battle. You've done that! Now tell yourself, okay this is a trigger for me and then pause. Tell yourself, this isn't about me. Ask yourself, what is it about this email/person that triggers me? Just having the awareness and giving yourself a moment, will make all the difference.

"Your perception of me is a reflection of you... my reaction to you is an awareness of me." - unknown author


Find an ally. There may be someone who you can share with who will help you and you can help them. Sometimes confiding in someone may help your situation. Speak to your supervisor if you have a trusting relationship. Speak with a member of your HR team to explain what you are experiencing. Also, get comfortable for standing up for yourself. Take small steps toward what you find acceptable and what you don't. Tap into your boundaries and values here.

Be kind to yourself * so important

Most importantly, be kind to yourself. No negative self talk, no putting yourself down. Treat yourself like you would treat your best friend. Words of self-encouragement go a long way. Take a 5 minute break each morning and afternoon to do box breathing. On your lunch break, go for a walk, phone a friend, read your favorite book - do something that makes you happy.

If you have exhausted these five recovery tools and see no change, it may be time to plan your exit. Ask yourself what will I be leaving behind if I were to leave? This is a great first step to allow yourself to stop carrying the weight of an environment you cannot change.

Start your job search and be mindful of the next employer you choose. Here as some tips to help you avoid entering into another toxic workplace.

During the interview process ask these questions:

  1. What do you like about working here?

  2. How would you describe the culture of the department and the organization?

  3. How do you measure success?

  4. In what ways do you celebrate your staff's accomplishments?

This will help give you an idea of the environment you are entering without setting off any alarms that you are seeking to leave a toxic work culture.

When you start at your new employer, use the Five Ways to Recover From a Toxic Workplace. These steps will allow you to start anew. You can set your boundaries quickly and reinforce them as necessary.

If you are in a toxic workplace and want to dig in more on ways to recover, click below.


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