What to do if your workplace environment is toxic and you can’t leave


September is sort of like our second chance at New Years – the last chance to renew goals before the end of the year. But, if you’d said any of this to me this time last year, I probably would have sworn at you.

In January this year, I wrote about burnout, and the powerful impact that it had on my health and wellbeing. One of the major reasons why I don’t feel as bad this year is that I left the toxic work environment that was, in no small way, crushing my soul.

The reality is that not all of us can leave this kind of situation straight away, and living off your savings for a few months while you work out what to do is not an option for everyone.

But there are coping mechanisms that can help you to minimise the impact of the workplace on your emotional and physical health. Here’s a few.

1. Get an outsiders opinion (so you don’t feel like you’re losing your mind)

A toxic workplace eats away at your self-esteem. It can make you feel worthless, or undervalued. Others at your work (like your boss or your colleagues) may try to convince you that it’s normal to work like this. Sometimes you might think – it must just be me. It isn’t.

That’s why it’s helpful to talk to someone objective (i.e. a therapist or psychologist) about your work environment. Your family and friends will always be on your side, but when your work culture erodes your sense of self-worth, you might not believe them. Sometimes you need that external sounding board, to reassure yourself that things are bad, and that it’s not just you.

2. Set boundaries.

You don’t need a constant reminder of the place that is making you feel yuck. When you go home, let it be a separation from the work environment.

Delete your work email from your phone – and do not take work home. Whilst you’re at it, leave the work Whatsapp group or mute it.

This can be really hard when your work friends are your real friends too. If that’s the case, set rules about not talking about work, to prevent that spiral of negative work talk.

READ MORE: Questions to ask yourself before making that career change

3. At work, take time to do things that please you

I don’t mean spending a whole morning watching Suzelle DIY or the latest Carpool Karaoke (though one or two can really help your mood).

Take a set of earphones and listen to some good music or a great podcast while you’re working. If you work in an open plan office, this can also stop you from eavesdropping on everyone’s conversations, and being tempted to jump in on some moaning and groaning.

If you have a lunch break, take it. Leave the office for one hour. It is the law that if you work five hours you must get a lunch hour. You must obey the law. Be a good citizen! Take your book, and sit outside, and disentangle your mind. Or try a mindfulness app for just ten minutes a day.

4. Make an exit strategy

One day, this current situation will be just a memory. That day might not be tomorrow or this month or this year, but it will come. I promise.

Plan and prepare for when you’re going to leave, and ask yourself what steps you can take to get there. Protect yourself from negative energy by focussing on yourself, and your own potential.

Be careful about who you tell that you’re planning to leave. A toxic workplace makes people nasty, and they may mock you, or convince you that you’ll never do it. You will. Today is the day you take those first steps, because you deserve better.

WATCH: How I survived workplace bullying

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For only R75 per month, you have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today.
Subscribe to News24
Voting Booth
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
Yes, I believed it was authentic
7% - 430 votes
Yes, I didn't want to spend that much money on the original item
20% - 1261 votes
No, I always shop at reputable stores
13% - 810 votes
No, I don't wear designer clothing
60% - 3721 votes