A toxic work environment can feel like a never-ending nightmare. The constant negativity, drama, and lack of support can take a toll on our mental health, leading to feelings of stress, anxiety, and burnout. Affected professionals struggle with a decreased mental readiness that in turn threatens their focus and productivity at work.
If you find yourself dreading going to work each day, feeling drained and unappreciated, and struggling to find a sense of purpose in your job – you’re not alone. A recent study found that 30 million US workers experience their workplace as toxic and according to a 2022 survey toxic company culture is the No. 1 reason workers are quitting.
Toxic Workplace Blues: Micromanagement and Negative Feedback
Maybe you can relate to Liza*, a lively college graduate who started working for a marketing agency three years ago with lots of energy and plenty of ideas to support her company’s mission. After her first manager was laid off during the pandemic, things started to go south: “I got assigned to a small team where the new manager was known for his micromanaging and harsh criticism. Meetings that I used to enjoy have since frequently been filled with negative comments and blame-shifting, leaving me feeling demotivated and worthless” she recounts.
“I’m no longer given the opportunity to express my ideas, and even when I do, they are met with skepticism and even cynicism.”Liza, 27, Social Media Content Producer
Another prime example of a toxic work environment that can affect your mental health is recounted by Randy*, a young and ambitious consultant, eager to make a name for himself in the industry: “After graduating from a top university, I landed a job at my favorite consulting firm, but soon I found myself very irritated. Inside the shiny facade of the renowned firm, a toxic work environment started rearing its ugly head.” Randy’s team is brilliant but overworked and understaffed, and management is demanding and dismissive.
“Since I wanted to learn and grow, I found myself putting in more and more hours, sacrificing my personal life, and constantly second-guessing my abilities.”Randy, 28, Junior Consultant
Despite his best efforts, he hasn’t been able to please his boss and constant criticism is all he’s earned so far. The continuous stress and negativity are beginning to take a toll on Randy’s mental health. A very confident person, he’s lately been feeling anxious and depressed, always fearing his performance at work may suffer. “My wake-up call came last month when my girlfriend left me and I realized that I can’t even reach out to friends for support, because I have neglected my entire social relations due to my fixation on beating a toxic workplace”
Sounds familiar? Then what can you do to maintain your mental readiness, even in the face of a toxic environment?
Riding the Waves and Staying Mentally Afloat
First of all, it’s important to remember that you have the power to maintain your mental well-being, even in very adverse situations. Yes, it is difficult and sometimes impossible to change the external factors. But you can take steps to protect yourself and even thrive at work if you adopt the right mindset and a few key strategies. Let’s start by exploring ways to boost your mental readiness and navigate the challenges of a toxic work environment.
- Set boundaries: starts with saying “no”. It needs practice and consistency in both, your professional and private life. You may need support in how to communicate your needs and how to structure your arguments.
✅ Liza is now seeing an executive coach who’s teaching her how to say “no” when she begins to feel overwhelmed by unreasonable demands from her manager. She’s learning to prioritize her workload and working on ways to communicate her needs in a clear and non-judgemental style.
- Prioritize self-care: it’s important to make time for activities that help you relax, recharge, and feel good. This might include things like cooking, going out with friends, exercising, or spending time in nature.
✅ Randy is now forcing himself to take time for himself outside of work, regardless of how pressing deadlines are. He’s rejoined his old soccer team and is making plans to finally make that trip to Europe soon.
- Seek support: A toxic work environment can be isolating, and it’s important to seek support from friends, family, and loved ones. Joining a support group or seeking professional help can also be beneficial.
✅ Liza started visiting her relatives more often to strengthen the social fabric she needs to feel safe. Together with her best friend she started a cooking blog where she can pour her creative energy into,
- Document the toxicity: Keep a record of the toxic behavior and any instances of it. This will be useful if you decide to report to HR or your supervisor. It also helps you identify triggers and patterns, and you can monitor your own response.
✅ Randy uses a free audio journaling app to reflect on each day and track his mental health. He also started collecting messages his management sends him outside of work hours.
- Communicate with your supervisor or HR: If you feel that the toxic behavior is impacting your mental well-being, it’s important to not keep it to yourself. Communicate with your supervisor or HR. Aks them to address the issue and provide support. Be as specific as possible and ask them to create a clear plan of action together with you.
✅ Liza and Randy both scheduled a meeting with HR and are now following a set of steps they agreed upon.
- Look for new opportunities: Sometimes, the best way to maintain your mental readiness in a toxic work environment is to look for a new job. Remember that you deserve to work in a positive and healthy environment.
✅ While Liza is still confident she will turn her situation at work around, Randy says he will probably accept another job offer and try a fresh start.
Whatever direction you decide to go, the most important thing is to be proactive and not just accept a toxic work environment. Weigh your chances of creating a psychologically safe space around you and start protecting your mental readiness today. A first step could be to use some of the above strategies. Make a plan and get in the driver’s seat of your journey towards sustainable mental health. Over time you will reap the benefits in all areas of your life.
Maintaining mental readiness and showing up as your best self in a toxic work environment is tough. It takes time, intention and effort, but it’s worth it in the long run.
You may have to leave a job you love, but you will keep the learnings and grow your skills wherever you go.
By taking care of yourself, seeking support, and communicating clearly, you can protect your well-being and continue to excel in your job.
Ready to take control over your mental health and protect you mental readiness at work? Start using Earkick, a free and completely anonymous self care app.
*Names changed for reasons of privacy