How to tell if you’re in a toxic work environment

All jobs have some level of stress — even on good days. However, if going to work — or the thought of going to work — makes you feel tired, depressed, or even physically ill, that’s more than just general work stress; these are the signs of a toxic work environment. It’s not always easy to spot a toxic workplace. Sometimes the problems lie just under the surface but inevitably destroy the morale, attitude, and performance of even the best employees.

A toxic environment can be a combination of many factors including a general lack of trust in management, whether an employee’s ideas are disregarded, or if the office has too much gossip. This workplace toxicity even has a negative impact on your health; the stressful environment can raise cortisol levels or even lead to heart attacks or strokes. Our bodies are very adept at letting us know there’s something that needs to be addressed, so we need to pay attention. Check your mental health frequently with questions like:

  • How are you sleeping? Are you regularly getting at least eight hours?
  • What’s your eating like? Are you often too stressed to eat, or do you tend to overeat?
  • Are you feeling safe at home and at work?

Your number-one priority would be to protect your mental health. If you’re not able to exit the company, there are a number of ways to improve the situation of your workspace and make yourself more comfortable.

Start by drawing a line between work and personal time. Keep yourself active during your off-hours and focus on small achievements in the office. During work, you can improve conditions by limiting your interactions with those who tire you out and build relationships with positive people. However, be prepared for any professional disputes that might come your way.

To find out if you’re in a toxic work environment and to learn more about coping strategies, check out the following infographic put together by

Infographic: How to deal with a toxic work environment according to science

How to deal with a toxic work environment according to science

Does the thought of work stress you out? Do you feel depressed and overwhelmed while you’re there? Do you have a hard time disconnecting yourself from your job when at home?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, you may be in a toxic workplace.

3 ways a toxic workplace will negatively affect your life

  1. It can make you sick. High levels of stress hormones can put you at a greater risk for heart attacks and strokes.
  2. You are more likely to experience depression. A constant source of psychological distress can significantly increase the chances of suffering depression.
  3. You feel less motivated. Being surrounded by negativity can drain you mentally and physically, leaving you tired and demotivated.

How to handle a toxic work environment

It’s not always possible to walk out of a bad job. Sometimes you have to tough it out until something better comes along. Try out the tips below to make your toxic workplace more bearable.

Before you go to work

  1. Don’t check your emails before work. It’s likely anything work-related will put you in a negative mindset. By engaging with work earlier that you should you’re needlessly spending more time in this negative and stressful state.
    TIP: Try using a separate alarm from your phone to prevent you from looking at emails when you wake up.
  2. Start your day with small “wins”. Small wins such as exercising or leaving for work on time prime your brain to achieve more victories. This routine leads to a mindset focusing on positives instead of negatives.
    TIP: Make your bed. This act of organization helps you control your day leads to larger accomplishments and routines.
  3. Create a gratitude list of everything you like about work. Put together a list of all the positive benefits of work keeps your brain from dwelling on negatives and puts you in a positive mood.
    TIP: Start small and simply list five things you like about your job. Once you’ve established the positives, you can expand upon them in future gratitude lists.

While you’re at work

  1. Stay away from coworkers who create conflict. If you’re aware of particular colleagues who instigate conflicts, stay away from them. Their conflicts cause stress and can lead to workplace negativity.
    TIP: Don’t suddenly avoid these people, instead slowly lessen your contact with them. This tactic will avoid resentments from developing.
  2. Make friends. Friends can provide you with a support system in which you can share your feelings in a productive manner. This will make your work seem less toxic.
    TIP: Befriend coworkers who try to stay positive in this negative environment. An upbeat friend can help shield you from the worst in the office.
  3. Document everything. Keep a record of positive and negative interactions. If you need to file a complaint, this will ensure you have the information you need.
    TIP: Don’t document daily events in front of managers or coworkers. This could make them paranoid or resentful to around you.
  4. Seek ways to improve yourself. By learning new work skills you stay motivated and build your skillset for future job opportunities.
    TIP: Focus on strengthening a skill that you find to be lacking. Feeling more confident about your skills can help strengthen your defences against a toxic work environment.
  5. Practice reframing. When confronted with a negative interaction, try to think of it as a learning experience. Viewing things objectively can help reduce your stress as it lessens the emotions you invest in an interaction.
    TIP: When a challenge arises, take a deep breath to prevent yourself from immediately considering the negative aspects of the situation. These few seconds will help you reframe the challenge in your head and allow you to focus on the positive outcomes.
  6. Create a positive workspace. A positive workspace can make you feel safe amongst the chaos of a toxic work environment. Personalizing your workstation will give you a sense of ownership and make you feel more in control.
    TIP: Tidy your workspace and keep clutter to a minimum. This creates a sense of control and positivity.

After you leave work

  1. Create a distance from your job. It’s important to separate yourself from your job because it creates distance between the stress of work and the comfort of home.
    TIP: When you get home, detach yourself from work by exercising or engaging in a hobby that you enjoy. These activities put the day behind you and the routine separates you from work.
  2. Create an exit strategy. Ensuring that you have a plan on how to leave your job should it become too stressful will stop you from feeling trapped in your current workplace.
    TIP: Keep your résumé and cover letter updated. This allows you to quickly apply for other jobs and prevents you from procrastinating during your job hunt.
  3. Practice healthy coping techniques. When you develop a routine of healthy coping techniques, such as reading, exercise or meditation, you create a boundary between yourself and the toxic work environment.
    TIP: When you get home after a stressful day, take a shower or a bath. This coping technique will take your mind off work, and is a healthy way to wash the day off of you.

If you’re in a toxic work environment, I encourage you to use these tips to help you with your stressful situation. If you’re finding these tips aren’t helping, however, maybe it’s time to update your exit strategy