Avoiding and Dealing with a Toxic Workplace

You’ve probably heard of them. If you’re unfortunate, you’ve even worked in one. Toxic workplaces are psychologically, emotionally, and physically draining. They create chronic stress that can actually make you physically ill. That’s why your best bet is to avoid them whenever possible. If you find yourself working in a toxic workplace, you need some strategies for dealing with it in a positive way.

Spotting a Toxic Workplace Before and During Interviews

A toxic workplace is full of subtle and not so subtle clues that you can spot if you pay attention. While you wait for the interview, watch how the employees interact. A lot of stressed out, hyper-focused faces is a warning sign. Is your interviewer engaged or going through the motions while they stare at their computer? If the latter, consider it an omen of behaviors to come.

Also read: 10 Workplace Dysfunctions That Create A Toxic Culture

Ask about retention rates. High turnover almost always means you’re dealing with a lousy work environment. If you aren’t sure about the place, reach out to current or former employees. Ask them about how promotions work and how higher-ups react to feedback. Their responses can shed light on the situation.

Recognizing a Toxic Environment After Getting Hired

Sometimes you go through the interview process and everything looks fine. It’s only after you start work that you start seeing the signs of toxicity. For example, arbitrary promotion policies leave employees unmotivated and angry. A culture of bullying is another clear sign of a toxic workplace. Overly-bureaucratic organizations become toxic by virtue of stifling actual work.

You can avoid the toxicity to some extent by not engaging in the worst of the behaviors. Refusal to bully or gossip won’t win you many friends, but it should leave your conscience clear at night. If you work as a rank-and-file employee, look for an opportunity to jump ship. The situation isn’t likely to change on its own. If you occupy a leadership role, you have other options we’ll cover next.

Reforming a Toxic Environment

Leaders wield substantial power to reform toxic environments if they exercise it. After all, culture follows from the leadership’s behavior. If leaders engage in, tolerate, or reward bullying, that behavior will become the default for the entire organization. Reforming a toxic workplace means remodeling behaviors from the top down.

Also read: How To Reduce Stress At Work

Achievements, for example, must receive acknowledgment. It supports employees’ well-being and engagement. Leaders must ensure that employees understand what constitutes good performance, as that typically defines eligibility for raises and promotions. Apply rules with a ruthlessly even hand, even if that means firing high performers who behave in unacceptable ways.


Sometimes the fickle gods of employment land you in a toxic workplace despite your best efforts. Even worse, some toxic work environments prove immune to improvement. When you find yourself in that situation, the only way you can avoid the toxic workplace is to leave it. If you discover the situation within the first few months of joining an organization, it puts you in a tough spot.

Your first option is to hold your nose and stick it out for a year. After that, you can leave without anyone wondering about your short tenure. Your second option is looking for another job immediately. If you take option two, you might benefit from contacting ecmagency.com. They’ll help you polish your resume until it glows. That can help smooth over your short stint with your current employer.

The best way to avoid a toxic workplace is never to get hired into one. Do your research about the company and watch for warning signs during the interview. Try to avoid getting sucked into the most destructive behaviors if you do end up in one. If you’re in a position to change things, focus on even-handedness, transparent expectations, and acknowledging achievements. If all else fails, though, leave. Your health might literally depend on it.

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