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How to Deal with a Toxic Work Environment

By Errin Weisman

Building upon the previous article, How to Recognize a Toxic Work Environment, Dr. Errin Weisman shares part 2 on ways to cope.

If you read the last post, you might be recognizing some signs of a toxic work environment, feeling burnt out, and chronically exhausted. The Sunday dreads are getting the best of you and you’re convinced that bringing these concerns to your supervisor will be fruitless (or maybe you’ve already tried!) 

Recognizing that you’re unfulfilled at work can feel overwhelming. But, good news, now that you see the issue, you can do something about it. It’s scary to look our monsters in the eye, but that’s the only way we can get confront them. 

Here’s another piece of good news:  it’s not “all or nothing.” You don’t have to storm into your boss’s office tomorrow, throw your resignation down and quit on the spot. You also don’t have to grin and bear a sucky situation. You have options. Let me say this again, you have options. You are not stuck. 

Find someone you trust 

Before you do anything, find someone who has earned your trust and talk everything out. When I realized that I wanted to quit my full-time job as a physician, the first person I talked to was my husband. I’m glad I did because he gave me advice that I still tell my clients today. He said, “Don’t make a decision right now. Give it six months.” 

Your person can be a friend, mentor, life coach, or colleague. They don’t have to understand all the nuances of your situation, but they should be someone who has your best interest at heart. Choose someone you can talk to openly and honestly, and who has plenty of patience to just listen to your situation. Above all, they should want you to be happy. 

Explore all your options 

At this point, you’re probably thinking, “Ok lady, you told me I have options. What are they?” Well, I’m glad you asked. Every situation is different, but when it comes to making changes at work, I categorize decisions into four categories. 

  1. Tweaks. These are small changes that you can make right now, both inside and outside of the workplace. It can be as simple as taking yourself to a nice lunch, instead of leftover meatloaf at your desk again. Or asking your boss for a shift in your schedule so that you can leave 30 minutes earlier on a Friday. These small adjustments make a world of difference and help you regain control of your situation. This keeps you energized while you figure out your next move! 
  2. Hops. These are slightly bigger changes. You still stay on the same general career path, but they are more significant than tweaks. Examples include asking for a promotion or changing roles inside your current company. If you feel stagnant in your current job, but enjoy your career overall, hops can be helpful for injecting a new sense of agency into your life.  
  3. Pause. Pauses are probably my favorite option, but they often feel the most threatening. When I mention pausing, most people look at me like, “huh? I can’t do that!”. But deciding to not decide (yet) is a perfectly reasonable option. Depending on your workplace, this may look like maxing out your PTO or taking a sabbatical. Take some time to touch base with yourself and reflect on the true nature of your challenge. What is really weighing you down?
  4. U-turns. This is the big fish and is often what we think of when we’re exploring changes. Quitting your job, selling all your stuff and moving to a beach in the middle of nowhere counts as a U-turn. So does applying for a new degree or shifting out of your career altogether. These big shifts are sometimes necessary! All I ask is that you try out other options for at least six months before going this route. It takes a few months to process and execute at this level.

Remember that you can mix-and-match here! Maybe you do a hop and realize a year later that you really need a U-turn. Or maybe little tweaks add up to a new and improved environment. The important part is to recognize your needs and adapt. 

You are in control

Burnout sucks. Toxic bosses suck. Feeling weighed down by a job you spend 40+ hours per week at sucks! It’s important to recognize your feelings. It’s also important to act on them. Speaking from experience, the worst-case scenario is trying to shove those feelings down and ignore them. 

Start with some tweaks and see what modifications make a difference in your mood and outlook. No matter how small the changes, you can revel in the fact that you’re the one making them. And small changes compound into bigger ones later on. Whatever you do, remember, you are not stuck. You have options. 

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