I have a question for you… Did you know working in a toxic work environment is common?
Often, a lot of shame is associated with a toxic boss or job. Everyone is so quick to believe it’s them. It’s their fault; maybe they’re even uniquely upset about their circumstances. Their coworkers are fine. They seem to be handling the situation with composure and grace. Unhelpful thoughts, like “Why am I like this?”, “Am I being dramatic?” and “Why can’t I be more like them?” bubble up to the surface.
The research is in, and it’s not just you. According to The American Psychological Association’s (APA) 2023 Work in America Survey, one in five employees describe their work culture as “toxic.”
And I’m right there with you. In my 40s, a brief stint at a toxic job taught me what I wanted and didn’t want and helped me see my path forward—and now I’m sharing everything I learned along the way.
Discover the methods I used to heal from a toxic work environment and continue to use with my clients today.
Leaving a toxic work environment is like getting out of an unhealthy marriage or toxic romantic relationship.
Healing starts with understanding. Like a messy divorce, unfair treatment, gossip, and cutthroat office politics trigger complex emotions.
Work with a therapist or coach to process your feelings.
Identify your non-negotiables and learn to advocate for yourself in the future. Pinpoint the most common signs of an unhealthy work culture and learn to avoid them.
Most importantly, be open and honest about how the experience made you feel. If you’re struggling with confidence, imposter syndrome, or feelings of inadequacy, a professional can help you work through them.
Give Yourself Permission to Feel
Imagine your energy like water flowing through a hose. When you permit yourself to feel, the system is intact. Your energy goes from point A to point B without any trouble.
When the hose is kinked, your energy gets stuck, and your well-being suffers.
What kinks your hose?
Downplaying your emotions (“It wasn’t that bad,” “I don’t know if I’d describe it as a ‘toxic job’…”), a lack of clarity about your emotions, and stuffing down or avoiding your feelings all make things worse.
To combat these kinks:
Honor your feelings. Name them. Get specific. For example, is your malcontent really frustration, exhaustion, overwhelm, or boredom? The more granular you can be when you describe your emotions, the more beneficial it will be to explore them.
Express frustration, annoyance, anxiety, and irritation. There are healthy ways to lean into emotions related to anger and fear. Journal, color, paint, scream into a pillow, write your frustrations down on paper and rip them up, dance, shake, call a friend, or rearrange your home office.
Professionals unconsciously tie their work to their well-being and self-worth, meaning work culture matters. When 20% find themselves at a toxic job, they take it personally. They feel less confident. Getting in tune with our emotions gets us back on the path toward healing.
What Can You Learn?
Before I get into it, let me emphasize you did nothing wrong. People from all walks of life end up in toxic work environments. It’s entirely unrelated to your talent, worth, or professionalism. Often, we don’t have control over whether we end up in a toxic work environment. There are so many external factors that come into play.
What we do have control over, however, is what we take away from it.
Whether you recently left or are still in the process of leaving a toxic job, I highly encourage you to use it as an opportunity to learn about yourself.
Right now, I’m working with several clients who are contending with this issue—and they all had something in common before coaching.
Before coaching, they devoted all their time and energy to work. Their identities were 100% wrapped up in their careers. They didn’t know who they were outside of their job. They didn’t make time for fun when they got home and didn’t really understand what brought them joy.
Healing from a toxic job is the perfect opportunity to take a step back and seriously reflect.
Work was the only thing driving my clients’ daily happiness, so I’m asking them to consider how we can change that.
I suggest starting small. It can be as simple as walking outside to see the fall colors. One of my clients began painting again. Another told me all about their love for comedy. Now, they are actively carving out time in their day to sit down and enjoy comedy specials.
“Grow through what you go through.” Whenever we’re in a challenging work culture, it allows us to learn about ourselves and grow as we make changes.
Put Things into Perspective
What if you’re still at your toxic job?
When we’re currently in a given situation, it feels too close for comfort. Getting clarity about it feels all but impossible. This is when an outside perspective is beneficial.
My client Sarah is working to find a new position to get out of a toxic work environment. Before our most recent call, she was feeling pretty hopeless about it.
During our chat, I reminded her that she was doing the work. Sarah is actively applying to other jobs. She’s taking all the necessary steps to find and go after new opportunities.
Sarah’s doing everything she can. Her current circumstances are temporary. They’re not forever. I can empathize with how hurtful it feels to be part of a damaging work culture, and I can also say with confidence: You will find something else. You will heal. You’re going to be okay.
Plan Your Next Steps
Use your experience with a toxic work environment to make a plan.
The most important part of the healing process is seeing a different future for yourself. Allow yourself to picture it.
When I was tangled up in a problematic work culture, it made my next steps crystal clear. First, I identified what I didn’t want: messy corporate politics, late nights and weekends in the office, micromanagement, and a toxic job misaligned with my values.
This pointed me to what I wanted: to mentor and coach others, listen, and share everything I’ve learned while reinventing my career six times. I dreamed of guiding others along the path to career confidence. After years in the game, I knew I could help clients skillfully knock out the particulars (resume writing, optimizing their LinkedIn profiles, in-person networking, and interviewing) while teeing them up to ask more significant questions like, “What does my dream career and life look like?”
Working in a toxic work environment inspired deep self-reflection and helped me find my True North to move forward. I’m happy to help you use your experience to create a roadmap and design your dream life.
Learning that the job you celebrated comes with a toxic work culture is challenging. Please don’t downplay it. It’s a type of grief, and it’s valid.
As with any other grief, your next steps are to process your feelings and heal.
The methods above will serve you well, but it can feel lonely tackling them on your own. If you want to walk the path with someone who’s been there and will gently but firmly hold you accountable, I’d love to be your coach. Let’s talk. Grab a spot on my calendar for a free 45-minute career clarity consultation.