In a world where work is no longer just a place but an extension of our lives, fostering a healthy and positive environment becomes crucial. Toxic cultures can significantly negatively impact individuals and organizations, punishing behaviours and traits that should be celebrated.
According to a survey conducted by Harvard Business Review, about 80% of individuals reported experiencing toxicity in the workplace. This prevalence indicates that toxicity isn’t just a minor problem but a pervasive issue that impacts a large proportion of the workforce.
Much advice is given on how to fix a toxic culture and on not how to manage yourself in that toxic culture. We often overlook that while organizational change is essential, individual strategies can be influential in mitigating the effects of a toxic environment. So, what can you do, here and now, to navigate this tricky terrain?
An Individualized Approach
Toxic Culture change takes planning, time, and effort from all levels of an organization, so what can I do right now to help me manage my situation? How can I make this better for me?
If you find yourself entrenched in a toxic culture, it can often seem like there’s no way out. But remember, you’re not alone, and you’re not powerless.
Here are some immediate steps you can take inside and outside your workplace. These strategies aim to empower you, helping you regain control and perspective in the face of adversity. It’s crucial to remember that you have the power to influence your thoughts, decisions, and behaviours.”
Strategies at Work
1. Acknowledge the situation
Toxic cultures thrive when individuals are unwilling or unable to recognize their existence. Acknowledgement is the first step towards making a change. By acknowledging poor behaviours, unhealthy relationships or other red flags, you can begin managing the stress associated with them.
Action Items: Pause to note or mindfully observe what’s happening. Afterwards, if you have the opportunity, note down the details of your experience. This will help you objectively acknowledge and categorize the events.
2. Establish boundaries
Toxic cultures often expect us to be ‘always on’ or overworking as a show of dedication. It’s essential to assertively establish limits to prevent overworking and protect you from burnout.
Action Items: Write down what boundaries you want to set. This might mean setting specific work and personal time hours or choosing not to check work emails after certain hours. This could also mean deciding what’s acceptable and not acceptable for ways that people interact with you at work. Communicate these boundaries to your colleagues and organization as necessary.
3. Align with your values
Toxic cultures often embody destructive values despite what is written on the wall. It’s easy to lose sight of your core values to fit in or avoid conflict. However, staying true to your beliefs is essential for maintaining your integrity and well-being. Your values can guide your actions, decisions and help you navigate challenging situations. When your workplace’s practices consistently conflict with your values, it might signal that the environment is not conducive to your growth and well-being.
Action Items: Spend some time identifying and articulating your core values. These might include ideas like honesty, respect, family, or curiosity. Once you’ve identified these, practice making decisions with these values as guides.
4. Foster relationships
The Harvard Study of Adult Development, the longest study of adult life ever conducted, powerfully concludes that strong social connections are the key to happiness, health, and longevity. Toxic cultures often thrive on division, competition and taking advantage of each other. Engaging in constructive communication, sharing positive feedback, and offering help can be small but significant steps toward you feeling better.
Action Items: Identify colleagues you work well with and get along with. Look for ways to foster positive relationships with them. Engage with them, offer help when possible, and recognize their achievements. Remember, the goal is to build mutually supportive and respectful relationships.
5. Document everything
Toxic cultures will twist your idea of what’s acceptable. Documentation can serve as evidence if you need to report the behaviour to a trusted leader, Human Resources or another authority in the future.
Action Items: Maintain a record (electronic or handwritten) of instances where you observe or experience toxic behaviour. This can include dates, times, locations, people involved, and a detailed description of what happened. The more details and organization, the better!
Strategies Outside of Work
6. Seek support
Toxic cultures can be emotionally draining. It’s essential to have a reliable support system outside your work environment. This can include family, friends, a mentor, or professional help. Talking about your experiences with someone you trust can offer a fresh perspective and provide emotional relief.
Action Item: Identify at least one or two people in your personal life who you can talk to about your work situation. Learn how to identify whether or not someone has the capacity to support you. And If you’re comfortable, consider seeking professional help, like a counsellor or therapist.
7. Exercise self-care
Maintaining a regular self-care routine is crucial when dealing with a toxic culture. Self-care can include activities that help you relax, recharge, and maintain your physical and mental well-being. This might involve regular exercise, sufficient sleep, or engaging in hobbies you enjoy.
Action Items: Develop a self-care activity or routine that suits you. This could be anything from exercising, reading, meditating, or pursuing a hobby. Set aside dedicated time each day or week for this activity or routine and treat it as non-negotiable.
8. Consider other options
Finally, going elsewhere might be the long-term solution if a toxic culture persists. It might be time to consider other options. This could mean seeking a position in a different department or exploring options at a different organization. While this is a significant step and should not be taken lightly, your health and well-being are paramount. Even if you don’t make a move, knowing there are other opportunities can be a source of comfort and motivation.
Action Items: Assess your long-term career goals and what you find rewarding and meaningful. Updating your resume, contacting others in your network, and even applying and interviewing for other company roles. To help with this process, assess your long-term career goals and what you find rewarding.
You Hold the Power
No one should tolerate a toxic work environment long term. It’s your right to work in a place that respects you, values your contributions, and promotes a positive and healthy work culture. You should never compromise your health, well-being, and personal development for the sake of a toxic work environment.
With the strategies outlined above, you’ve begun filling your toolbox with the necessary tools to navigate, cope, and potentially transform your situation. Change doesn’t happen overnight, but every effort counts. In the face of adversity, resilience and persistence are your allies.
As you exercise these strategies, you will continue to learn, grow, and make a difference for others around you. The journey may seem daunting, but every step toward standing up to toxicity leads you closer to a more empowering professional future.
Jason Boivin, Lead Content Strategist at innerlogic.
Jason holds a master’s degree in Human Kinetics with a concentration in Intervention and Consultation from the University of Ottawa in Canada, is a Certified Mental Performance Consultant with the Canadian Sport Psychology Association, and is a Chartered Professional Coach with the Coaches Association of Canada.
Jason is driven by his passion for helping others succeed in a meaningful way. Through his extensive work with high-performance teams, Jason has developed a deep appreciation for culture and its impact on relationships and results.