Surviving in a toxic workplace is HARD! Let’s face it, we have probably ALL worked with a bossy Bernadette, a manipulative Michelle, a controlling Catherine or a patronising Paula at some stage.
I know I have! Ok, so maybe they had different names but they were exactly as I described. Bossy, manipulative, controlling and patronising. These people lie, sneak around and even take credit for YOUR work. Some of them are masterful brown nosers. Others are blackmailers. Even more are conniving. The common thread, what is it? Usually Narcissism.
These people, they seem to sail through life like nothing they do is ever wrong. Because hey, according to them nothing they ever do IS wrong! They point fingers at everyone else instead of themselves. They convince themselves that everyone ELSE is too sensitive… too weak… too picky… whatever. They exploit the system to get what they want. Covertly and overtly. They have no shame because they take pleasure in creating chaos, and getting away with it.
These people? They result in appalling workplace absence statistics because everyone else needs a day off from dealing with them! They single-handedly cause anxiety, depression, picnic attacks, nervous breakdowns and serious mental health episodes in otherwise ‘normal’ stable, healthy people.
But the worst thing? These people, they aren’t going ANYWHERE! Of course, YOU are the one who should leave if “you” have the problem! (insert eye roll here!). Sound familiar?
Until this point you’ve allowed it. Excused it. Justified it. Tolerated it. Handled it. Tried to forget it. But now? You’re a raging ball of anger wanting to take the beast down! You hate your workplace. Hate your job. Question everything. Go home angry at night and dump it all on your family. Finally, you have a mini melt down then say…RIGHT…. NO MORE!
Surviving in a toxic workplace... so what do you do now?
A) Throw an adult tanty and quit your job thus giving them the greatest ego inflation they’ve ever had?
B) Stay and meet them where they’re at? Because you know all the tactics to use now right?!
C) Stay and RISE ABOVE THAT SH!T?
If you chose C, RISE ABOVE THAT SH!T, I’ve got your back. Below are some tips to help you maintain your sanity while enduring the 9-5 with this horrible excuse for a human.
Never, EVER, stoop to their level
Once you do that, there is almost certainly no turning back! That single decision to “play the game” could be used against you in any number of professional scenarios, and for many years to come. When you copy their tricks in an effort to cut THEM down they’ll come back stronger … much like a pesky little weed in your backyard. Prepare for a ten-fold increase in corporate tactical assault if you go down this path! After that, be prepared for those ‘healthy’ colleagues to sway the other way. Remember, this horrible human is looking for ANY display of emotion. Consequently, anything they can use to prove that YOU are in fact the crazy making employee, they WILL use! If they feel your fight back they will make sure EVERYONE knows of it. They will manipulate friendly Fiona into changing ‘teams’ and very quickly you’ll find yourself isolated. Hence, surviving in a toxic workplace requires strategy!
Maintain good records
I’m talking diary entries, emails, communication chains, meeting minutes, project plans, contracts, clock on and clock off times. ANYTHING that will help you prove your own version of events. Print them, file them, copy them, store them, and share them. They may be able to argue your word but dump a stash of cold hard evidence and they’ll likely shrivel, just a little. When it comes to surviving in a toxic workplace, above all else, documentation is crucial. If you never have to use it, no worries. But being prepared is key.
Stay focused on YOU
I’m assuming that by now you have now worked out that NOTHING you do will change this person. No amount of understanding, patience, tolerance, empathy or compassion is going to make them see the light. So STOP trying so hard. Give yourself a break. You will never be able to rationalise this with them or make a plea to their emotional, ‘warm’ side… because they almost certainly don't have one. Save your sanity and LET GO. Focus on what you CAN change in the situation and that is… the way you choose to react or respond to their behaviour. Yes, there is a difference between ‘reacting’ and ‘responding’. One dis-empowers you and the other EMPOWERS you. One sees you operating from a place of self-sabotage while in contrast, the other sees you operating from a place of self-preservation. Your body will tell you what is healthiest for you.
Set concrete boundaries… and enforce them
Sometimes people are just, well, too nice! So many people are having their rights violated and are being ABUSED simply because they allow it to continue. (I’m talking corporate world here… not seriously graphic human rights violations and abuse.) When you have sloppy personal boundaries these toxic people sniff you out like a dog sniffs out a bone! We need to remove the negative connotation attached to boundary setting and re-frame boundaries in a POSITIVE light. And, you know what? The ONLY people who will have a problem with you setting and enforcing them is the TOXIC employee! Any other healthy, emotionally intelligent, rational adult will understand their benefit. I love this quote from Dr. Phil … “You teach people how to treat you”. Boundaries are a way to build our self-worth and make us actually respect our own needs. They create clarity. And they promote personal safety. But most of all they allow YOU to own your power whilst surviving in a toxic workplace.
Weigh up what’s important to you
Ask yourself “What are the COSTS of staying in this toxic environment?” Is it your physical or mental health that will suffer long term? Your self-worth? Your motivation? Consider what you will have to endure, sacrifice, settle for and accept if you continue working in this environment. Then ask yourself “What are the BENEFITS of staying in this job?” Career progression? Financial freedom? Friendships? Consider what you will miss out on or give up if you decide to leave.
Above all, set aside the emotion and get logical for a while as you asses the reality of the situation. Be brutal, just like this colleague. In short, you seriously need to consider the pros and cons of all options for dealing with this person. Work out what’s required to make your decision. Discuss it with friends or family and finally, get professional support on board if you need it.
Enjoy this article? Know someone who might benefit from reading it? Feel free to share it using the links below. The more people who see this the better as we fight to make workplaces HEALTHIER.
And, as always, if you need support, I’m here for you. x
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Erica has a passion for Women’s Health. She works with women who want to be heard, supported and empowered! Erica is a survivor of many life experiences. A Mum. A travel lover. A green thumb in training and an eternal optimist!